London games are funny in the NFL to watch as a fan. You know that by the early afternoon your day will either be made or ruined. You can put this one in the “ruined” category for Jets fans as they fell to the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 in an all around dismal performance.
The Jets had a catastrophic first half as they trailed 20-3 at halftime. A defense that had typically bent but not broken in the early phases of the season did both. They were hurt on the first drive by a very suspect roughing the passer call on a would be third down stop, but the Falcons did pretty much whatever they wanted.
The defense failed to get itself off the field at key junctures. There’s a tendency to blame the offense’s inability to sustain drives for the defense spending so much time on the field and getting worn down. There’s certainly some validity to that. It was another dismal start to the game offensively for the Jets, but Atlanta put together successive 14 and 10 play drives to begin the game. The defense wasn’t tired at that point.
There are numerous plausible explanations for such a poor performance.
In the NFL there is a phenomenon among West Coast teams to play poorly in road games on the East Coast with early afternoon starts. The long travel combined with a kickoff time that in the morning on the players’ body clocks creates a lethargic start. This might have happened to the Jets, but it’s difficult to let the team off the hook if so. Unlike your typical cross country road game, both teams had to deal with this.
It’s also possible that a young team got a little overconfident and read too many headlines after a thrilling overtime victory last week.
Maybe the Falcons just had too many edges in key matchups, or the Jets just played poorly for reasons that have nothing to do with anything mentioned above. The coaching battle was also won by Atlanta. My guess is the coaches will probably take too much of the blame for the Jets, but they do have to answer for their lack of answers for Kyle Pitts in a game where the Falcons had few other viable options outside of Cordarrelle Patterson.
Though five weeks one thing has become increasingly clear to me. If you want to win games consistently in the NFL, Zach Wilson is not ready to be a starting quarterback.
Now I’m not saying Wilson’s career is doomed. Nor am I saying he is a bust. The statement above could be made about a great many rookie quarterbacks. Adjusting to the NFL is difficult. For a team undergoing a youth movement and perhaps focused more on development than the win-loss record, having Wilson learn by doing might be the best path forward.
Last week we saw there are flashes of brilliance that you hope Wilson will be able to channel with greater frequency as he gains more experience. At this point in time, however, his field vision and processing aren’t there. He also had a huge bout with inaccuracy in this game. At this point I wonder whether the groin injury that was reported a few weeks ago was worse than the team let on. Despite some late game stat padding, you won’t win many games when your quarterback is at 65 passing yards at any point in the fourth quarter.
This isn’t purely a Wilson loss, though. The defense simply wasn’t good enough. The Falcons only punted twice all game and had scored 17 points by the time the Jets defense finally got a stop. Whenever a big stop could have swung the game, the defense was nowhere to be found.
Late in the second quarter the Jets got on the board with a field goal to cut the Atlanta lead to 17-3. They were getting the ball to start the second half. A stop on the final drive of the second quarter could have allowed the Jets to get the ball with a chance to cut the lead to one score if not have a chance to score before the half to cut the deficit going into the locker room. The Falcons put together a 10 play field goal drive where they converted a pair of third downs to go into halftime up 20-3.
In the fourth quarter the Jets scored a touchdown to cut the game to 3. A stop there would have given the Jets a chance to get the ball back and either score to tie or take the lead. What followed was a 9 play touchdown drive with another pair of third down conversions.
So what can we take from this game?
The unusual dynamics of traveling to London make me hesitant to draw sweeping conclusions from anything specific to this one particular game. The Jets have their bye week ahead which they will hopefully use to fix some of the things that are wrong and heal injuries. Anything we take away should be based on what we have seen over a multi-week basis.
On the positive side, this team once again showed fight. This is a young team that did not quit when down 17 points early. They didn’t see a week off and decide to pack it in. The fact they even had a chance in the fourth quarter is a positive, even if Atlanta helped them along the way with miscues.
The team is still a work in progress with young players up and down the lineup. Frankly some of the young players who are featured right now will not last long in the NFL. This season in some ways is about sorting out the keepers from the short-term players. We can expect more inconsistency and losing.
The offense is a problem, particularly the early game offense. This needs to be addressed yesterday. We will likely talk about some of the issues and potential fixes in the days ahead.
Hopefully as the calendar turns and the weather gets colder, we will see improvement. Things certainly don’t look great now, and frustration is justified.
The future, however, is unknown. After the Denver loss I heard talk of the Jets threatening 0-17. After the Tennessee victory I heard Playoff talk. It’s important to not get too high after the wins or too low after the losses.
Based on the first five weeks, what we have is a young team that is still near the bottom of the league. There are some signs of growth and potential if you know where to look. The big questions are to what extent that potential will blossom and how much better things can get.