There are 32 teams in the NFL. We can state, with a fair amount of certainty, that if the Bills had the misfortune to play 30 of them Sunday afternoon, they would wake up Monday morning as a 4-3 football team and not 5-2.
Of the remaining two, they are, technically, incapable of beating themselves, although they sure did give it the old college try at MetLife Stadium. So that leaves one.
That leaves the Jets.
The Jets only lost by eight points Sunday, 18-10, and on one level that should be a sign of progress. They had, after all, lost their first six games by an average of more than 18 points per game. They lost, 24-0, last week. It was the smallest margin of the season.
They actually led at the half, 10-6, and were still up, 10-9, across most of the third quarter, and in this season, whenever you see the Jets with more points than their opponent at any given moment, two things instantly pop to mind:
1. You’re looking at a typo.
2. You’re looking at a scoreboard malfunction.
But that tells you just how vulnerable the Bills were Sunday. And it tells you, more to the point, just how brutal these Jets are — profoundly bad, epically bad, historically bad, as in don’t-wait-for-the-final-record, they-already-belong-in-the-conversation-with-the-’76 Bucs (0-14)-and-the-’08 Lions (0-16)-and-the-’17 Browns (0-16) bad.
Moral victories are a bad look in pro sports anyway, but this wasn’t even a moral victory, not really. The Bills offense kept slipping on red-zone banana peels. The defense, early, seemed barely interested and then — click! — effortlessly flipped a switch and immediately looked like it was playing 15-on-11.
“We can’t look back,” linebacker Tarell Basham said. “We have to look forward.”
See, that’s the problem with a team as woeful as these Jets: Neither option is very appealing. Looking back is the detritus of a season already lost, a season already reduced to playing out the string before it even reaches Halloween. Looking forward means looking ahead. Next Sunday, in Kansas City, the Jets face the defending-champ Chiefs, who are already installed as more than three-touchdown favorites.
“We have to keep grinding,” wide receiver Denzel Mims said. “Fix our mistakes and come ready to compete and get better.”
Mims was one of the few slivers of light for the Jets on this day, the rookie seeming to create some real chemistry with quarterback Sam Darold early, catching four balls for 43 yards (both team bests) in his NFL debut, the talent evident.
The first half, in truth, was the high point of the season so far, the Jets vaulting to a 10-0 lead while the Bills were busily tending to their early-afternoon siesta, Darnold looking sharp, completing 11 of his first 13 passes. It actually looked like the Jets were in position to put some more points on the board late in the first half up 10-3.
If there had been people inside MetLife Stadium, they’d have instinctively rubbed their eyes, not believing what they were seeing.
But these are the 2020 Jets: Reality is always lurking around the corner, loitering in the shadows. On second down at the Jets’ 46, just under a minute to play, Darnold turned in what, for him, is a weekly (at least) brain cramp, forcing a ball into traffic and right into the waiting arms of Dane Jackson.
“I should have moved on with my progressions,” Darnold said. “I shouldn’t have forced that in there.”
In the immediate, it was hurtful because three potential points for the Jets became three actual points for the Bills just before the half. Longer term, it was even more calamitous: From that moment forward, the Jets offense — under the temporary tutelage of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains — picked up 4 yards, total, across the game’s final 30 minutes and 49 seconds.
If you could make this up, nobody would believe you. Every week, the Jets set the bar lower (or higher, depending on how upside down your view of historic futility is), and after a while, all you can do is shake your head and sift through your history and have a look at the ’76 Bucs and the ’08 Lions and the ’17 Browns. Those are the Jets’ neighbors. That is the company they keep.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Adam Gase said, and that wasn’t exactly true. The Bills gave them the chance. The Bills were determined, most of the day, to special deliver a gift, but the Jets were unwilling to sign for it. You don’t get to see history in real time very often. The Jets are giving you that opportunity every Sunday.
So at least you have that.
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