Sunday, May 26

As Robert Saleh holds firm on Jets’ offense, players speak up: ‘We gotta do something’

LAS VEGAS — The New York Jets’ season has turned into a game of Mad Libs. Change a few nouns or adjectives here and there, maybe, but at the end, the story is still the same.

The defense plays well. The offense can’t finish drives. The offense doesn’t get into the end zone. Zach Wilson makes some confounding decisions. Greg Zuerlein has a busy day, kicking field goals, the only source of offense. Thomas Morstead has a busy day, punting, because the offense can’t consistently move the ball. Penalties kill drives. The defense does its job. The Jets are still in the game at the end. Then it’s over.

Robert Saleh calls out the self-inflicted wounds in his postgame news conference, but feels the Jets are close. He won’t blame the quarterback or the offensive coordinator. The defensive players bite their tongues and talk about how the team would win if they could only score points themselves, or hold their opponents to zero points instead of 3, 6, 10 or 16. The offensive players are at a loss for words.

Rinse, repeat. It’s all the same — and Saleh doesn’t seem to have an itch to make the sort of change that might jolt the offense into competence. He won’t bench Wilson. He won’t take play-calling away from offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The Jets lost to the Raiders 16-12 on Sunday, a team so dysfunctional it fired its head coach, general manager and offensive coordinator a few weeks ago, with one of the worst defenses in the league and a fourth-round rookie starting at quarterback. And it was the same as it ever was.

GO DEEPER

Jets fall to Raiders, Zach Wilson throws costly late INT

If Saleh isn’t going to grab the reins of the Jets offense and do what needs to be done to fix it before the season fades away into nothingness — another year without the playoffs, like so many before — then maybe the players will have to take control of the situation themselves.

“They asked me today: Are you OK to speak to the media?” tight end Tyler Conklin said after the game. “I said, yeah, I’ll speak, but what do you guys expect me to say? That’s the thing, it’s a broken record at this point. We’ve gotta figure it out. We can’t keep going out here and doing this over and over again. Letting the defense down, our team down. I wish I had answers to (reporters’) questions about why we can’t score in the red zone, why we had a lot of penalties, all those things, but there’s really no good answer to give you guys besides we’ve gotta figure it the f— out.”

The Jets scored on their first three drives on Sunday night, all field goals. They punted on five consecutive drives after that, followed by another field goal, an interception by Wilson and then the clock running out on the final drive. The Jets haven’t scored a touchdown in 11 quarters. They’ve scored 13 offensive touchdowns in nine games. Wilson has thrown one touchdown pass in his last five games and five for the season. For comparison, Josh Dobbs has accounted for six touchdowns in two games in 12 days since getting traded to the Vikings. At the end of Sunday’s game, the Jets had five punts, four field goals, eight penalties, 14 first downs and zero touchdowns. Five of those first downs came on the final two drives of the game.

“It’s frustrating,” running back Breece Hall said. “I’ve been saying that since the first week.”

Wide receiver Garrett Wilson appeared emotionally distraught after the game, on the verge of tears.

“I don’t know what y’all want me to say,” Wilson said. “I’m tired of this, man. I want to play better. The offense wants to play better. Every week we’re trying to make it happen. It’s frustrating.”

The first words that came out of Saleh’s mouth at his news conference after the game were the same ones he’s said just about every week, win or lose. All anyone wants to know is why his offense has somehow gotten worse from last year, when he parted with Mike LaFleur as his offensive coordinator and revamped his offensive coaching staff.

He has made a lot of excuses. The Jets have not been able to find any solutions.

“The hard part for me is when I’m watching the game — it’s easy to look at the play-caller, the head coach, the quarterback,” Saleh said. “But we’re moving the ball. Today we moved the ball. But it’s just penalties, penalties on the O-line, penalties at tight end, penalties at running back. Just dumb, dumb stuff that we need to get cleaned up or it’s not going to change. But we can clean it up and at least give ourselves a chance to play clean football, to see what it looks like. I still believe it’ll look pretty good.”

The Jets got to the red zone once Sunday, and they didn’t convert. That’s the expectation at this point for the NFL’s worst red-zone offense. But the defense did its job, again, and another mostly impressive performance went to waste. The Raiders were 5 of 15 on third down, quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 153 yards and the Jets held star wide receiver Davante Adams without a catch in the second half. They forced two turnovers, including a forced fumble late in the fourth quarter to stifle a potential Raiders scoring drive. Then Zach Wilson turned right around and gave it back to them when he telegraphed a pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard, allowing linebacker Robert Spillane to jump in front of it for what became a game-deciding interception.

Wilson wasn’t the problem on Sunday, but he remains a problem. Wilson threw for 263 yards, but 92 came on the final two drives. The play-calling did him no favors — at times, it seemed like Hackett was afraid to let Wilson do anything but hand it off or check it down. Breece Hall had 47 yards on three catches, but wasn’t targeted until the fourth quarter, even though he’s the most dynamic player the Jets have with the ball in his hands.

“It’s something we definitely need to look at,” Saleh said.

The Jets defense — which ranks third in the NFL in Expected Points Added, per TruMedia, and seventh in points allowed — is being held to an impossible standard. If it gives up any points, or doesn’t score any of its own, the Jets are probably going to lose. They know it, too. This is not the defense of a 4-5 team. It’s a playoff-caliber defense stuck with a middling, remedial offense.

“I’m not going to say it’s surprising,” cornerback Sauce Gardner said of the 4-5 record. “We’re not playing complementary football. It’s just a fact. It ain’t no surprise at all.”

The defense knows it has zero margin for error with this offense playing this way.

“Yeah, but that’s how we get coached,” Gardner said. “The coaching is if they can’t score, they won’t win. When you embrace that, we always put it on us.”

Saleh may not want to make a change, but it sure sounds like the players are ready for one. This week, that might come in the form of a “players-only” meeting, the cliched get-together for teams that find themselves falling apart at the seams.

“Yeah, all of it is on the table,” Garrett Wilson said. “We’re trying to figure it out. I can see something like that going down soon because it has to. I’m going to take it upon myself. We’ve got some guys in this locker room that know how to lead and we’ll see what it’s like traveling back to New York, what we talk about. We have to do something.”

Conklin took it further.

“We’re definitely at that point where something has to be done,” Conklin said. “We can’t go into next week and roll the ball out there and hope it gets better. I don’t know what it is we gotta do, but we gotta do something this week to get on the same page.”

It is now Week 11. The Jets have played nine games. The offense is worse now than it was before. This should be a playoff team. Instead, the Jets are losing to the Raiders, and barely beating the Giants.

“It’s frustrating as hell,” Conklin said.

(Photo of Garrett Wilson and Nate Hobbs: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)