I need to update my list from last month in which I ranked the most embarrassing losses I’ve seen in my nearly 50 years as a Jets fan.
The list itself was irrelevant. By creating it, I violated the first rule of Jets fandom: There is never a rock bottom.
That was proven yet again Sunday in Cincinnati. Falling to a tanking 0-7 Dolphins squad back in Week 9? Ha! I’ll raise you with getting dominated in every phase by the previously 0-11 Bengals before Cincinnati coasted in the second half to a 22-6 humiliation.
It marked the second time this season when the Jets stumbled against a winless team that was at least 0-7. That feat of infamy had never been done before in any NFL team’s history.
Sure, this game had all the trappings of, well, a trap game, if you can call a 4-7 club going on the road such a thing. It terrified me. I had a hunch that the Bengals were looking at Sunday as their best chance to avoid the ignominy of a 0-16 season. They even had room in the tank, since the league’s next-worst teams all had already registered two victories.
I knew well in advance that this would be the week that Cincy would shuck the Ryan Finley experiment by reinstating veteran Andy Dalton as their starting QB over the rookie fourth-round pick. To be completely honest, my other premonition, that star wide receiver A.J. Green would make a swift recovery from his seasonlong ankle injury to make his debut Sunday was proven incorrect.
Still, I’ll admit it — I got sucked back in after the Jets’ 34-3 whipping of Oakland last week. Not that I thought a mere three-game winning streak, with the Raiders the sole non-tanker among the Jets’ victims, had them back on a playoff track. No, that was always a lost cause to me even if the Jets miraculously ran the table. Their dreadful start and conference record would have made winning a tiebreaker at best improbable.
However, the possibility that the team could be playing “meaningful games in December,” as coach Adam Gase predicted during training camp, was still alive. All they had to do was not fall flat in Cincinnati and then exact revenge on Miami next Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
That would have set the 6-7 Jets up to face the vastly superior Ravens for a prime-time match on Thursday Dec. 12, which they would have treated as a win-or-the-season-is-over scenario.
Like it was their playoff game.
Not an outrageous ask.
Instead, the Jets crashed on the runway to that date.
Everything that went right in their winning streak fell apart Sunday. Heading into the week, quarterback Sam Darnold seemed to have exorcised the ghosts haunting his vision downfield. The offensive line no longer acted as a turnstile. And the defense, with unheralded cornerbacks Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet in for injured starters Trumaine Johnson and Daryl Roberts, was playing lights out.
Let’s go in reverse order, starting with a secondary that could ill afford more injuries losing two more starting cornerbacks early in the game. Maulet (calf) was in and out before exiting for good in the third quarter, and slot corner Brian Poole went down the tunnel to check on a head injury before returning later in the first half. In addition, unbeknownst to the public during the game, safety Jamal Adams, the Jets’ heart and soul, injured his foot on Cincinnati’s first series. An obviously depressed Adams, who was limited to one tackle Sunday, was seen wearing a boot in the Jets’ postgame locker room.
The light instantly popped on the Bengals’ sideline. Forget running the ball. Dalton may not be Tom Brady, but he got the ball out quick (2.64 seconds on average, the seventh fastest in the league Sunday, per NFL NextGen Stats) and he was very accurate on his short-to-medium distance throws when given time. And he had plenty, since the Jets only got to Dalton for one sack and one other QB hit on 39 dropbacks.
Behind Dalton’s 155 yards passing, the Bengals, a team that had exceeded 20 points only once in its first 11 games, jumped out to a 17-6 halftime lead.
That proved insurmountable, since it seemed every time the Jets broke off a big gain, a penalty called it back. The offensive line was charged with seven fouls, an egregiously high number. Kelvin Beachum, whom I praised to the moon after last week’s effort, was flagged three times. His first, an illegal block in the back, wiped out a 23-yard screen pass to running back Bilal Powell in the second quarter that would have put New York in the red zone. In the third quarter, Beachum’s hold in the end zone gave the Bengals their cherry-on-top safety. That at least took the bite out of his fourth-quarter hold on running back Le’Veon Bell’s immaterial 3-yard run.
As if the penalties weren’t bad enough, the offensive line reverted to its prior sieve-like nature. Darnold was pressured 16 times on 52 dropbacks, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, and sacked four times.
While he played mistake-free, Darnold went just 10-of-23 for 105 yards in the second half when the Jets were supposedly in urgent comeback mode. That feel for the pocket he had worked so hard to get back after a wretched three-game slump earlier this season evaporated in the heat of the Bengals’ pass rush.
The Jets’ anemic first-half output wasn’t solely on Darnold. His receivers dropped three passes on the first possession alone. Gase called only nine handoffs against the league’s worst rush defense. What game planning!
Gase’s Jets in general came out flat in a game they all swore they had to have and wouldn’t take lightly. That’s par for this course, something that I have yet to learn. Every time I think the Jets have turned a corner, they were really just circling back to the peak of incompetence.