Who said the Jets are tanking?

Published: 10/15/2017 10:47:25 AM
Modified: 11/12/2008 3:10:12 PM
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — History has instructed us never to doubt the New York Jets’ capacity for futility. Of the six NFL franchises with a lower all-time winning percentage than New York’s .456, only the Cardinals (founded in 1898) have been losing longer than the Jets (founded in 1960). They drafted Ken O’Brien over Dan Marino. They twice hired Bill Belichick as the head coach, and he never head-coached a single game for them.
They even fumble off their own butts.
That said, the idea that the now first-place Jets (3-2) might be lousy at losing on purpose, well that seems to stretch the boundaries of reason. The Jets have always been bad at things, but losing was never one of them. Still, heading into the 2016 season, the narrative coming out of New York was that the Jets had devised a brilliant scheme to win: They would lose. Taking a page from the NBA where teams give up on entire seasons to score top talent via the draft, the Jets were definitely tanking this year.
The notion of the Jets tanking began with the release of veterans like Darelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The narrative really took hold for the New York media when the team cut veteran linebacker David Harris in June. When the Jets dumped Harris, a trusted locker-room presence and a solid player who was making $6.5 million (a nice cap savings, but also a reasonable price for a starting MLB), it seemed to many that the fix was in. Gang Green wasn’t going to war with all of its weapons.
This narrative held firm through Week 2, when the Raiders gave the Jets a 45-20 beating. Yes, people said, the New York Jets are definitely tanking. But if the Jets really did plan on tanking, why are they playing so hard? And why have the won more times than they’ve lost?
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the idea that the Jets aren’t playing hard looks ridiculous on film. He even cited the Raiders game as an example, pointing to critical stops New York made late in the game when losing by more than 30 points and battling for a late score of their own. After this game, the New York Post said the Jets had "sadly" accpted "their tanking fate."
“Whoever is saying that, I don’t know what games they are watching,” Belichick said. “Maybe it’s fantasy football or some garbage. I don’t know. I don’t know how you can watch that team play and not think they’re one of the most competitive teams we've played.
“They’ve played good in critical situations. They’ve played good at the end of games. They’ve played good for 60 minutes. They play hard.”
Belichick cited a Josh McCown fumble recovery in New York’s win over the Dolphins as an example of a team whose players are playing to win. After Ndamukong Suh stripped McCown, three other Jets players chased the ball with the quarterback. Only one Miami player pursued.
“I mean, you look at the play in the Miami game,” Belichick said. “The ball goes sideways off to the right. Is it a fumble? Is it an incomplete pass? Miami's got one guy running to the ball. The Jets have four guys running to the ball and, ultimately, McCown ends up recovering a fumble 25 yards off to the side of the play and they got four guys right there. (McCown) came up with it, but it could have been one of the other three guys, too. Miami's got one guy there. I think that’s a good example of their competitiveness as a team.”
 Belichick also pointed out that the Jets are winning close games.
“I mean, the other team has as good a chance at winning (those games) as they did,” Belichick said. “I’d say they outcompeted them, out-executed them, outperformed them in critical situations. I mean, look, it’s a two-point play against Buffalo to tie the game at the end of the third quarter. That was a very competitive game, too.”
Interestingly, one metric suggests the Jets have played exactly as well as the Patriots this season. According to the Quality Stats Power Rankings published Cold Hard Football Facts, the Jets and Pats are tied for eighth in league with a score of 3.81. It also has the Jaguars, a team the Jets beat, ranked No. 1. The Quality Stats rankings are noteworthy, because they tend to predict winners. Example: The Patriots finished first last season, and the Falcons were third. (That said, both the Pats and Jets rank far lower in team efficiency rankings at Football Outsiders. It’s likely the two indexes will show more similar results after 16 weeks).
Regardless of how you’re measuring, it’s clear the media failed to properly size up the Jets. While many saw the move to cut four veterans as a deliberate attempt to lose, it’s probably more prudent to observe that dropping four players on the wrong side of 30 is in the interests of winning. We all know Revis was toast last season. Marshall was coming off a down year and asked for his release. Decker played in only three games last year, and has just 16 catches in five games this year. Harris has quite notably taken very few snaps for the Patriots and been inactive in two of New England’s five games.
If the Jets wanted to tank, maybe they cut the wrong guys.
Those who quickly penciled a W onto their Patriots season calendars for Week 6, may be misreading the Jets. If their plan was to tank, they’ve really messed it up, and they’re making this a lot harder than many opponents anticipated.
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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