Friday, March 24 2023

The New York Jets and the Detroit Lions are trading places in the playoff hunt. The Lions kept their postseason dreams alive with a 20-17 win over the Jets at Metlife Stadium on Sunday. And in return, Detroit sacrificed New York’s playoff hopes in the process.

The Lions (7-7) now have a 42% chance of making the postseason in the NFC hunt. And the Jets (7-7), who got out to an impressive 6-3 start, are in meltdown mode. They have just a 23% chance of making the postseason.

Before we get into this New York nosedive, let’s give the Lions their flowers.

They’ve been at their best this season when they can get on the offensive. They don’t mind engaging in shootouts, because quarterback Jared Goff can be prolific, with help from weapons like Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark and, recently, Jameson Williams

But this game wasn’t the typical offensive eruption — a race to the finish. Instead, the Lions played patient football. They defended the run extremely well, with Jets running back Zonovan Knight struggling to find space (13 carries, 23 yards) and the Jets offense averaging 2.3 yards per carry.

That smartly forced quarterback Zach Wilson to throw the ball — often from the pocket. Wilson returned from a recent stint on the bench; coach Robert Saleh suggested the second-year QB needed some time to reset his fundamentals. And Wilson’s return wasn’t a product of a resurgence at practice. Instead, quarterback Mike White suffered a rib injury, which ended Wilson’s benching early. 

On Sunday, Wilson made some brilliant plays, often as a result of boot-action or a scramble. That included a 20-year connection with Elijah Moore on fourth-and-18 on the final offensive play of the game. But Jets kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 58-yard field goal attempt that would have sent the game into overtime.

That was, roughly, what the Lions wanted. They wanted to see if Wilson could beat them. He nearly did. Nearly. But Detroit managed to get its late lead from an impressive play design on fourth-and-inches. A quick pass to tight end Brock Wright went for a 50-yard touchdown.

The Lions kept their core tenants: Aggressive decision-making and late scoring. But Detroit also managed to control the game better than it has in recent games. Goff is playing smart football. The Lions defense (which had been truly putrid) is playing substantially better. The team’s two-headed RB attack looks as efficient as ever. And now they’ve won six of their past seven in an attempt to reinsert themselves into playoff contention.

So let’s get back to the Jets, shall we?

Because for the better part of this year, the fans in New York and New Jersey pleaded with the NFL community to believe in them.

This team was not the Same Old Jets, the fans said. And I agreed.

I think I still agree — though not wholly. I think Saleh has turned this team around much faster than anyone could have expected. And while fans won’t be happy if the Jets miss the postseason, few thought New York would be in contention at this point in Week 15. To some degree, this season is already a success for New York. 

But it was also a reminder that the Jets have a quarterback problem.

After sitting for three games, Wilson didn’t look like a new man. No, he looked the same as ever. He was deeply inconsistent, going 18-of-35 (51%) for 317 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also took four sacks. He made electric plays outside the pocket — flashing that unique arm talent. But he struggled with accuracy on basic throws, with bad timing, a lack of touch and poor ball placement. 

Wilson’s big plays are alluring. His inconsistencies are crippling.

And New York might be stuck with Wilson for another game, with White still healing and the Jets playing on Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wilson’s disappointing play feels all the more frustrating because he’s holding back an impressive cast of young pass-catchers. Receiver Garrett Wilson did his best to win this game for the Jets. He made Zach Wilson look much better than he actually was. That has been Garrett’s M.O. for the better part of this season — elevating the poor play of the Jets quarterback corps, which has included Zach Wilson, White and Joe Flacco.

Even running back Michael Carter was out there saving Zach Wilson from himself. The quarterback threw a duck that looked like an easy pick-six opportunity for the Lions. But Carter went up and fielded the pop fly.

Ultimately, the Jets and Wilson (and the other Wilson) couldn’t do enough to get a win. Quarterbacking is their biggest issue. And while they won’t spend a ton of time thinking about that in the coming weeks, it will be their biggest decision of the offseason.

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Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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