Jubilation. That’s the best way to describe Jets players when the clock struck triple zeroes this past Sunday.
Rising from a set of victory formations for the first time in 2020, the Jets ended a 13-game losing streak with a 23-20 upset win over the Rams. Sam Darnold looked like a 1,000-pound boulder had been lifted off his shoulders. Frank Gore, 37, looked like a bright-eyed rookie who just won his first NFL game. Adam Gase, who went to the Super Bowl as the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2013, said New York’s triumph over the Rams resulted in more excitement among players than Denver’s AFC title game win.
“Probably the best I’ve felt after a regular-season win,” Henry Anderson said, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “Unlike any win I’ve ever been apart of.”
While the Jets celebrated in the SoFi Stadium locker room, and then on their plane ride home, their fans sunk to a new level of pain. New York’s win over the Rams severely hurt its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft — and a potential franchise-changer in Trevor Lawrence. In the blink of an eye, Jets fans saw their dreams of Lawrence hoisting Lombardi Trophies while donning Gotham Green vanished. Only their team would find a way to mess up a generational opportunity.
It’s no secret that a large majority of New York’s fans had been actively rooting for the Jets to finish 2020 with an 0-16 record. Doing so would have guaranteed Lawrence and a chance at a fresh start after years of suffering. Players, meanwhile, have rebuked the notion that they should roll over and endure 16 straight losses to help the future of an organization they might not even be part of for much longer.
“It might be easy for someone sitting on the couch eating pizza, chips and dip to say they should keep losing, but if they’ve ever strapped the pads on, that sounds like an impossible thing for me to do,” Connor McGovern said last week, per NorthJersey’s Andy Vasquez. “So, I’m gonna do whatever I can do.”
Even as the team celebrated, the Jets, as an organization, faced plenty of backlash following their first win of the season — an unheard of concept in a league and city that is predicated on, well, winning. The tabloids bashed New York for squandering its chance to pick Lawrence, while fans continued to vent their anger on social media.
Then, Mekhi Becton got involved.
“You ain’t really a fan if you didn’t want us to win, honestly,” Becton said of Jets fans rooting for a winless season, per SNY. “I mean that in the nicest way possible. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. But I mean, if you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly.”
Becton’s comments were met with numerous reminders of the disappointment Jets fans have dealt with for decades. Lawrence was their white knight, and because New York won a game that meant nothing to anyone but the players at One Jets Drive, the Clemson star was rerouted from the Big Apple to Jacksonville with little time to change course again.
Jets fans usually back their stars through thick and thin, but not this time. Beating the Rams was the final straw for a group whose hopes lied on the shoulders of a quarterback yet to throw a professional pass. The fanbase’s desire for Lawrence created a disconnect that can only be fixed by one man: Joe Douglas.
Douglas’ task is clear: put a winning product on the field and fans won’t have to root for their team to lose. Accomplishing that is easier said than done, though. Douglas will first have to find the right replacement for Gase (assuming he is fired this offseason) before turning his focus to building back up through free agency and the draft. Without the right coach leading the charge, the personnel moves Douglas makes will not matter. He could hit home runs on every free agent signing and draft pick, but at the end of the day, the Jets will not take flight without the right man flying the plane.
It’s on Douglas to repair the current disconnect between Jets fans and players and make sure it never happens again on his watch. He has a small margin for error in his quest to do so, but Christopher Johnson hired him for a reason. New York has faith in Douglas’ ability to get Gang Green back to the postseason. Now, it’s time for him to deliver.
If he doesn’t, the endless cycle of Jets fans rooting for their team to lose for a better draft pick and players questioning why their fans would actively root for their team to endure loss after loss is bound to continue.
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