In the moment, everyone reacted precisely as they were supposed to. Jets players ran around the field at MetLife Stadium, celebrating a fourth victory in 15 games. The fans roared. In his hotel room, the head coach rejoiced. On the sidelines, the temporary head coach shook his fist and hugged his colleagues.
Jets 26, Jaguars 21.
The game film will not be forwarded to Canton, Ohio. The memories of this will fade quickly, mercifully. These were two terrible football teams playing each other, and one of them was going to win. But you know what? For this game, for this one day, it was good to see Jets, and Jets coaches, and Jets fans, happy.
It was good for them to have this moment: Jets 26, Jaguars 21.
“It was an awesome win,” said Ron Middleton, the tight ends coach who stepped in for Robert Saleh when Saleh tested positive for COVID-19 this past week. “I’m glad it worked out for us.”
It was impossible not to feel good for Middleton, who’s paid his dues for almost 20 years as a coach after playing for five NFL teams in 10 years out of Auburn. It was impossible not to feel good for Saleh, who appeared postgame in the team’s locker room via Zoom, who has worn so many other difficult Sundays on his face and on his shoulders.
It was impossible not to feel good for Zach Wilson, who ran for a touchdown and threw for another in the first of what promises to be many showdowns with Trevor Lawrence, the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in the 2021 draft saddled with bad teams and inconsistent play. Lawrence played well, too. But Wilson carried the day.
“You have to take advantage of opportunities,” Wilson said, “and do the best you can.”
And along those same lines, it was impossible not to feel good for Conor McDermott, all 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds of him, a tackle who caught Wilson’s TD pass on a fourth-down play that essentially allowed the Jets to walk off the field this Boxing Day feeling rewarded for taking multiple puncher’s chances at winning.
“My old tight end skills from high school came out,” the big man quipped.
Look, in a season like this, feel-good moments are harder to find than a T-bone steak at a vegan diner. When they happen, it’s perfectly OK to enjoy, to savor, to celebrate, to relish — especially since the next two games are going to be against Tampa Bay, needing to win to solidify its seeding, and Buffalo, needing to win to maybe win the AFC East.
The feel-good moments for this season probably ended the moment Lawrence’s fourth-down pass from the Jets 1 died short of Marvin Jones Jr.’s arms, the Jags simultaneously flagged for an illegal shift. There is an almost 100 percent certainty the season will end 4-13, which means two more wins and one fewer loss than last year’s calamitous edition.
But in that moment, if you root for the Jets, did you really care?
Sure, stuck in traffic on the way home, maybe you heard some disaffected voices on the radio lament how a win was actually counterproductive for the Jets, especially since the Texans upset the Chargers in Houston. This was not a good day for the pro-tank faction of Jetsdom. And you know what?
Look, as a fan you’re entitled to feel any way you want to feel about this stuff. It’s your emotional investment. And so if you are forever rooting for draft position instead of success on the field, you won’t get an argument here. Your team, your heart, your feelings, your rooting interest.
It just can’t be a lot of fun. Or as much fun as this.
And look: what you want most of all from the Jets in this year is to establish some kind of muscle memory, however thin, of what it’s like to succeed. Wilson surely needs that. Saleh, even away from the team, needs it. And don’t forget: there were 20 Jets down because of health and safety protocols. Learning to overcome adversity like that isn’t such a bad thing, either.
“It was different, it was a challenge,” said C.J. Mosely, who saw a game-clinching interception slide through his hands on the third-to-last play of the game and held his breath along with everyone else to see how this would all shake out. “Everyone who stepped in and stepped up helped us win the game.”
They did that. And for one happy moment in a season plagued by such chronic darkness, Jets 26, Jaguars 21 provided a feel-good sliver. Good for the Jets. Good for Jets fans. It was about time.