The frustration of another season without a playoff appearance is here again for Jets fans. It has been a tradition every January for the past 13 seasons.
The Jets resemble that road construction you see on your way to work — it never seems to end and it is hard to see progress.
These playoffs have several teams that were in similar situations to the Jets recently and turned things around. That can be both a source of frustration and hope for the Jets and their fans.
Watching teams such as the Texans and Lions is a reminder that rebuilding a team does not have to take 10 years. It shows what having a good coach, a good quarterback and a solid supporting cast can do.
The Jets feel like they have the first and the third ingredients and will have the second if they can keep Aaron Rodgers healthy in 2024.
If you go back to the 2021 season, the five worst teams that year were the Jaguars, Lions, Jets, Giants and Texans. The Jaguars and Giants each won a playoff game last season. The Lions and Texans did this past weekend.
So, why is the Jets’ playoff drought hitting puberty?
The simplest answer is often the correct one, and in this case, it is clear the quarterback play has held them back.
C.J. Stroud and Jared Goff were home runs by the respective front offices of the Texans and Lions. The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence has not lived up to his “generational quarterback” label from the pre-draft process, but he is clearly going to be a solid starter for many years. Daniel Jones had a monster season in 2022, and the Giants went to the playoffs in part because of it.
The Jets entered the 2021 offseason facing the biggest decision in recent memory. After going 2-14 in 2020, they had the No. 2 overall pick, a position you don’t want to be in ever again. They had to decide whether to keep Sam Darnold at quarterback or to move on.
Joe Douglas chose to trade Darnold to the Panthers and draft Zach Wilson at No. 2.
The pick has turned out to be a terrible one, and the Jets are expected to trade or release Wilson this offseason.
Nothing sets a franchise back more than blowing a first-round pick on the quarterback. The Jets did it twice in four years with Darnold and Wilson.
To their credit, the team pivoted away from Wilson last offseason and made the trade for Rodgers. That plan, of course, went poof after four plays, forcing the Jets to turn back to Wilson.
That resulted in a second consecutive 7-10 season and Jets fans again watching the playoffs without their team to root for.
The question is whether the Jets can be the team that flips things around in 2024. The defense and special teams were both playoff-caliber in 2023. Douglas has done a good job building those units.
The offense is the question. Is a healthy Rodgers enough? Can Douglas finally get a strong offensive line to protect him? Can they find a wide receiver to complement Garrett Wilson?
It may feel as if the perpetual rebuild is never going to end. But remember the Bills had a 17-year playoff drought that ended in 2017, and they are now a perennial playoff team. The Browns went 17 years before making the playoffs in 2020, and they just went for the second time in four years.
It can be done.
While seeing teams like the Lions and Texans winning playoff games can make you scream if you are Jets fan, it also should give you hope.
A better Bowles?
Todd Bowles’ success with the Buccaneers is further proof that to be a good coach you need good players.
I don’t think Bowles suddenly became a much better coach in Tampa, where he has now won two division titles and won his first playoff game on Monday.
When Bowles was with the Jets, he had a strong, older roster in his first year and went 10-6. The next year, that old roster got really old and the season fell apart. In 2017, the team basically stripped the roster down, and then in 2018, he got one year with a rookie quarterback in Darnold.
It was hard to judge how good a coach Bowles was because the talent on the roster was terrible. In hindsight, Bowles got too much blame and GM Mike Maccagnan did not get enough. Maccagnan failed to give Bowles a roster he could win with.
That is not to excuse Bowles’ mistakes with the Jets, because there were plenty.
But it is worth remembering as we try to evaluate Robert Saleh as the Jets coach that the quality of the players, especially the quarterback, goes a long way in how much success a coach has.
Greg Zuerlein had a great season kicking for the Jets this year. He set a new franchise record with 35 field goals.
Here are the team’s top 10 single-season leaders in field goals made:
1. Greg Zuerlein, 2023: 35-38 (FGM-FGA)
2. Jim Turner, 1968: 34-46
3. Jason Myers, 2018: 33-36
3. Nick Folk, 2013: 33-36
5. Jim Turner, 1969: 32-47
5. Nick Folk, 2014: 32-39
7. Nick Folk, 2010: 30-39
8. Jay Feely, 2009: 30-36
8. Greg Zuerlein, 2022: 30-37
10. Mike Nugent, 2007: 29-36
Source: Pro Football Reference