Jets’ December hopes rest on bucking September ineptitude

Back in March, standing on the patio of a posh hotel in Florida, Jets general manager Joe Douglas set the baseline for the expectations for the 2022 season.

“We need to be playing meaningful games in December,” Douglas said during the NFL meetings.

Douglas is right. This Jets season will be defined by whether this team can even be in the playoff race in December, foreign territory for the Jets since 2015. But before we get to the Jets playing meaningful December games, they need to win games in September.

One of the most staggering pieces of the Jets’ recent ineptitude is that they have lost 12 straight games in September. Their last victory in the month was the season opener in 2018 against the Lions. You remember that one, right? Sam Darnold’s debut. The Jets smoked Detroit, 48-17, on a Monday night and looked as if they were on their way before falling apart for another 4-12 season.

The Jets have had two new head coaches since that game, a new GM, six different starting quarterbacks and more personnel moves than one can count. There are just two players still on the roster who played in that game — defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd and long snapper Thomas Hennessy.

The month of September has been a horror show, and the losses have made the Jets’ season feel over before it even begins. It is hard to overcome an 0-3 start, and that has been the Jets record in each of the past three seasons.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas talk
Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas want meaningful December football — but must get out of September first.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post.

That has to change for head coach Robert Saleh’s crew this year. This is a young team that needs a confidence booster early. These are not the Tom Brady Patriots, a team that always seemed to start slowly, but which you knew would figure it out by November. The Chiefs or the Bills could start slowly this year and you’d still be confident they would win 12 games.

The Jets?

If they start 0-3, we’ll be talking about where they’ll be drafting in April and whether they can land star Alabama linebacker Will Anderson.

The schedule-makers did not do the Jets any favors. The Ravens, Browns and Bengals are their September opponents. All three are playoff contenders. The Jets now most likely will have to play some of those games without starting quarterback Zach Wilson, adding to the challenge. The Ravens were 8-3 last year before injuries and a bunch of close losses ruined their season. The Browns, even without Deshaun Watson, are a strong team. The Bengals are the defending AFC champions and will be looking for revenge against a Jets team that upset them last year.

One of the biggest challenges Saleh and Douglas face is erasing the losing mentality from inside the Jets. The organization has been beaten down over the past decade. Though players change, the losing feeling has persisted. A few years ago, one veteran player told me there was a feeling of “Here we go again” as soon as the team hit some adversity.

And these are the Jets. There will be adversity.

July 29, 2022; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh gives a fist bump to quarterback Zach Wilson (2)
Saleh and second-year QB Zach Wilson will have their work cut out for them early in the season.
Noah K. Murray-NY Post

The story of the past few Septembers is not just about losing. It is also about watching not one, but two quarterbacks drafted in the top three lose their home openers, throwing cold water on the hope they provided. Adam Gase’s Dolphins brought Darnold back to earth in Week 2 of 2018, and Wilson was intercepted four times by the Patriots in Week 2 last year. There were blowout losses to the 49ers and Colts in 2020 and to the Broncos last year. There was Darnold’s 2019 bout of mono, which led to Luke Falk starting games. There was Baker Mayfield coming off the bench for the Browns on a Thursday night in 2018 and Cleveland’s Myles Garrett breaking Trevor Siemian in half on a Monday night the following season.

No one expects the 2022 Jets to get to the Super Bowl, but the season can’t be over by Halloween, as it has been for the past three years.

Ultimately, the 2022 Jets will be judged by whether they are still in the race in December and playing those “meaningful” games Douglas mentioned this past March. But there are a few more pages on the calendar to go before we get there.

The Jets can make their December dreams much more realistic with a September to remember.

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