The honeymoon is over.
House money was spent.
A few minutes after 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, in raw, rainy and freezing January weather in western New York, the scholarship period for Robert Saleh and Zack Wilson expired.
The Jets’ 27-10 loss to the Bills at Orchard Park – a game much closer to the indicated final score against the East Asian champions who tore them 45-17 in the team’s first meeting of the season – marked the final chapter of 2021 for Wilson.
Sure, for Saleh, the Jets’ first coach of the year, and Wilson, the Jets’ rookie quarterback, it was fun at times, even while accumulating just four wins for 13 losses. Both men gained invaluable experience in their respective trades. That was what this season was – especially for Wilson – everything would be in the first place.
The 2021 season was never supposed to be all about Jets wins and losses, it was the first year coach implementing his program and developing the rookie midfielder.
That changes in 2022 in Wilson’s favour.
More will not only be expected but will be demanded.
Another 4-13 finish – or anything close to it – wouldn’t be acceptable to the Jets in 2022. Not with Saleh and Wilson in their second season, not with four picks in the first two rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft (Nos. 4 and 10 in the first round and two in the round Second) and about $60 million to spend in free agency.
If Saleh, Wilson and general manager Joe Douglas think they will be treated to 2022 with the relative baby gloves that have been put in place this season, they won’t have to look far to see the consequences of repeated failures.
The Jets just need to take a look at what happened with Joe Judge, Daniel Jones and the Giants this season.
While the Jets took a bright look to the future in Sunday’s game against the Bills despite entering the day with the same 4-12 record that the Giants had before their season-ending loss to Washington at the moribund MetLife Stadium, Sky. Fall in love with the giants of the Meadowlands.
Judge’s Year 2, 4-13 after going 6-10 in 2020, has been deemed understandably unacceptable by angry Giants fans, who want the franchise to clean the house, which could very well be.
“At the end of the day it’s about winning, period,” Saleh said after the match. “Winning four games in this league is not good enough. We all knew this was going to be a rollercoaster of a season with the youth movement we had. We all knew there would be some ups and downs.
“There were some close games. We beat class winners (Tennessee and Cincinnati). We had Super Bowl champions (Tampa Bay) on the ropes. We were one game here with Buffalo.”
Indeed, the stock appears to be pointing upwards for the Jets, who played for the second time in a row Sunday the current Super Bowl contender as if they belonged in the same field.
One week after scaring the Bigs off Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, who had to pull a 28-24 decision in the final seconds, the Jets played the Bills to the wire. Biles clung to a 13-10 lead before scoring with 8:21 left in the game to take a 10 lead and pull away.
Given how poorly the Jets performed, it was a miracle that the Bills didn’t beat them by 30 again. The Jets offense ended with 53 net yards, setting a questionable franchise record for futility, which was 72 yards against the Bengals in 1972.
Wilson finished 7 of 20 for 87 yards and got his team into the finish zone only once. He was sacked eight times for 79 yards in losses, leaving him with only 8 yards passed. Even if Wilson was short-handed with talent around him (minus the top four receivers), that wasn’t good enough.
In 2022, it should be better for Wilson, Saleh, and everyone else in uniform.
“Our ceiling is really high,” said full-back and captain CJ Mosley. “We laid the foundation and saw the things that needed to be done in order to be great.”
I’ve never been a believer in teams that bring the momentum of a strong finish in one season to the next. But this aircraft team has already grown in 2021. Saleh has grown. Wilson grew up. The Jets started 10 rookies during the season, and have drawn more than any team in the NFL.
Everything simply needs to improve in 2022. Four, five, even six wins will not be enough. The 2022 Jets need to play meaningful matches in the final month of the season, seeking victories with watershed effects, not moral victories.
The honeymoon is over. It’s over on Sunday at Orchard Park.