FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When Robert Saleh was introduced as head coach, he promised to win “championships” for the New York Jets. He was purposely plural, a hint of arrogance that was embraced by a fan base that had endured two years of Adam Gase (9-23).
Now that Saleh has been Jets-ified, you wonder what’s going through the man’s mind.
His “Welcome-to-the-Jets” moment occurred on Sunday with a non-competitive stinker for the ages — a 54-13 loss to the New England Patriots. At 1-5, they’re exhibiting all the signs of a team going in the wrong direction.
All gas, no GPS.
The way things are going, you wonder when Saleh will win another game, let alone a championship. The Jets are the worst team in the AFC, and they’d be the worst in the entire NFL if it weren’t for the Detroit Lions (0-7).
This is what happens when you hand a young roster to a first-time head coach and a first-time offensive coordinator. The Jets are worse than we thought, and that’s saying something because this looked like a five-win team at the outset.
Does this mean Saleh is doomed to fail, like so many of his predecessors? No. This is where perspective is needed.
As bad as it looked on Sunday, there was a perfect-storm element at work. Basically, the Jets played three rookie quarterbacks — Zach Wilson, injury-replacement Mike White and first-time middle linebacker Jamien Sherwood — and they were no match for Bill Belichick’s giant brain.
Let’s not forget about the injury factor. Some of the Jets’ best players have missed multiple games with injuries — defensive end Carl Lawson, tackle Mekhi Becton, wide receiver Jamison Crowder, linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Marcus Maye.
That’s a tough deal on a roster already thin on talent. From a macro view, it’s too soon to panic on Saleh, who should be judged on how the team progresses over the second half of the season.
That said, there was no excuse to lose to the Tom Brady-less Patriots by 41 points, especially after a bye week. This performance was an embarrassment of Rich’s — and we’re talking about Rich Kotite, the last Jets’ coach to get 50 hung on him. That was a 52-14 loss in 1995.
“I always look inward,” said Saleh, a nice guy who seems at a loss for answers. “I always look at me first, look in the mirror, see what we can do. Did we chase something? I always look inward. I’m going to challenge everybody to look inward.”
Let’s be fair: Saleh inherited a suspect roster, depleted by all those bad drafts by the previous regime. The Jets decided to go into full-rebuild mode, constructing the youngest roster in the league. You knew there would be growing pains, but you also expected to see flickers of light amid the darkness.
Where’s the light?
The defense overachieved for three weeks, providing some hope, but the good vibes have disappeared. In the past three games, the Jets have allowed 430, 450 and 551 total yards, respectively. The 551 were the most allowed by the Jets since the 1998 opener against the San Francisco 49ers (557), who had future Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young at quarterback. Saleh & Co. were outcoached by the Atlanta Falcons and Patriots’ staffs in the past two games.
The Jets’ offense? Don’t ask. They can’t score early in games, which goes to coaching and inexperience at the quarterback position. After a three-and-out on the first series, they actually showed a pulse, but failed to score in the first quarter — again. That makes six straight games. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is struggling, showing his lack of experience.
They’ve been outscored in the first quarter 44-0.
They’ve been outscored in the first half 106-20.
And now they won’t have Wilson for two to four weeks after an MRI on Monday confirmed a sprained PCL, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Their offseason faux pas, not adding a veteran backup, is about to bite them in the rear.
Look, the Jets are at a talent disadvantage every time they step on the field. How many blue-chip players do they really have? Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is the only one, opposing scouts will tell you. How many current starters are locks to return next year in the same role? Probably only seven or eight.
They need another good draft and another good free-agent haul to be taken seriously, but that doesn’t mean they should get blown out by 41 points — their most lopsided loss since 2010. A smart, well-coached team pushes superior opponents into the fourth quarter, and maybe steals a game here and there.
The Jets aren’t that team yet. They did it against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4, when the Titans didn’t have star wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. That was the only time for the Jets, who fall hopelessly behind and spend the entire second half flailing away.
Belichick, who despises the Jets and gleefully ran up the score, must have enjoyed a good laugh Sunday night. At the top of his postgame news conference, he noted how his players were “ready to go.” Translation: The Jets’ players were not. And he was right, and that falls on Saleh.
The biggest insult occurred at halftime, when former Patriots star Richard Seymour trolled the Jets in a speech for his induction into the team’s Hall of Fame. Speaking to the crowd, Seymour said he was given a choice of which weekend he wanted to be honored. He picked “our homecoming game against the Jets.”
There will be more “homecoming” games in the immediate future because, yes, it will get worse before it gets better. The jury still is out on Saleh, but one thing is clear: His championship dream is about as distant as Mars.