Jets get first taste of fanless 2020 football: ‘Gonna be tough’

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This amounted to a simulated dress rehearsal for the season opener two Sundays away, marking the Jets’ first time playing inside MetLife Stadium this season without any fans in attendance.

Sunday’s controlled scrimmage featured two touchdown passes by Sam Darnold against the Gang Green defense, but the most unavoidable oddity throughout the day was the first attempt to replicate the expected 2020 home game-day experience with pumped-in crowd noise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just like everything this whole year, it’s a lot different. It’s weird,” wide receiver Braxton Berrios said afterward. “Nobody’s really played a football game in an empty stadium. The constant crowd noise is [something] they’re trying to replicate or simulate what it would normally be like, but it’s not even close. It’s different and it’s something we’re obviously adjusting to so it’ll be a non-factor come game-time.”

Jets coach Adam Gase thought his team looked “way better than the last time we had a scrimmage atmosphere” last week, with the season opener slated for Sept. 13 in Buffalo and the home opener the following Sunday against San Francisco. In addition to the pumped-in crowd noise, the Jets also simulated TV timeouts and socially distanced at halftime, putting the offensive players in one locker room and the defensive unit in another.

Jets
The Jets take the field at MetLife Stadium.Robert Sabo

“I’m not sure if it was the fact we were in the stadium — that feel — but I thought we got a lot of good work in, going through TV timeouts, crowd noise, feeling what that might be like, the halftime. So that was good,” Gase said. “There’s a lot of positive things that came out of today.”

Some NFL cities are planning to allow limited fans this season due to the coronavirus outbreak, but New York and New Jersey still have not given a go-ahead for large gatherings. And several players noted that it was impossible not to notice the difference.

“To be honest, it’s gonna be tough. For me, it’s gonna be very, very tough,” defensive lineman Steve McLendon said about playing with no fans. “But these times, this time now, we just gotta embrace it and get ready for it. It is what it is and just go out there and do it. We’re still playing to win games and win a championship.

“That doesn’t change, regardless, if the fans are in the stadium or not. We would love to have them here and have them [on the road], but just in order to keep everyone safe, I think it’s just the best thing to do.”

Darnold, who completed TD passes to Le’Veon Bell (nine yards) and Chris Hogan (seven yards), added that “we’re definitely gonna have to adapt” to the lack of fans.

Linebacker Avery Williamson joked that emptiness might help the defense hear the calls from the opposing huddle, but he implored the Jets’ stadium operations staff to boost the noise even louder during the real games than what was done Sunday.

“It’s definitely a huge loss,” Williamson said. “I don’t know how loud they’re gonna have to crank it, the fake crowd noise, what they’re gonna do, but it’s definitely gonna be different.

“We’re gonna see what’s gonna happen, but if they want to make it louder, that would be great. That’s how it’d be actually in the stadium if the crowd was there.”

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