The Jets wanted to be playing meaningful December games and be back in the postseason conversation. And head coach Robert Saleh and his team, even with three losses in their last four games, are feeling it.
"When you get to playoff football and you're trying to separate yourself when the elite of the elites are playing against each other, it's the details that separate those teams that get you into the playoffs," Saleh said. "So the encouraging thing is we can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Anyone can watch our games and say, 'This team can play with anybody.' "
But can the Jets win against anybody? They need to show they can master the details and prevail at home against Detroit and Jacksonville, two teams with sub-.500 records, in their next two games if they want to put themselves in position for an AFC postseason berth. They're 7-6 now and last season, the first with the NFL's 17-game schedules, 10-7 teams were 4-for-4 in making the playoffs while 9-8 teams were 4-for-5 in NOT reaching the postseason.
Here are five Jets in the spotlight as the Green & White return to MetLife Stadium to attempt to tackle and tame QB Jared Goff and the Lions, 6-7 but winners of five of their last six:
QB Zach Wilson — Eyes are always on the QB and that's especially true this game. With Wilson set to start, he'll be under the microscope to see if he benefited from a "reset" that gave him time to work on his fundamentals. After Mike White averaged 317 passing yards in his 3 starts, Wilson takes over against a Lions defense that is 31st in yards allowed/pass play. Jets doctors have not cleared White for contact and his status remains in doubt for the Jets' game Thursday night vs. the Jaguars. "I mean that's my job as a quarterback is to make sure I'm always ready to go and trying to put this team in the best position possible," Wilson said this week after being initially elevated to the backup position. He'll start his eighth game of the season while Joe Flacco will move into the backup role.
C Connor McGovern and LG Laken Tomlinson — "I think I speak for the O-line," Saleh said about the loss to the Bills, "when I know we could've played a heck of a lot better." The OL can bounce back by setting up the pass with the run vs. the struggling Lions defense. They're 29th in yielding 5.02 yards/carry and much of that has come on opponents' runs up the middle. The Jets have occasionally erupted on the ground, and while they had a modest day at Buffalo, the Bam Knight touchdown run behind McGovern's pulling block and sealoffs by Tomlinson and LT Duane Brown was a thing of beauty for Jets fans. If Knight and even Michael Carter can get rolling, White and the passing game could follow suit.
See the top photos from Wednesday's practice leading up to the Lions game.
DL Carl Lawson — Quinnen Williams, with his 11 sacks and 23 QB hits, is always an eye-catcher but if he's limited or out with his calf injury, the pressure falls on the rest of the unit to slow the Detroit ground game, then try to dent the Lions' solid protection to get to Goff. Lawson's having a strong season, but since his monster 7 QB hits vs. Miami in Week 5, his 8-game numbers are 3.5 sacks and 5 QB hits. Whether it's Lawson or John Franklin-Myers or Bryce Huff or Jermaine Johnson or Micheal Clemons or all together now, it will be important to jangle Goff, who's lost 7 of his 10 giveaways this season on the road.
CB Sauce Gardner — This could be another Saucy game, and not just because Gardner hails from Detroit. He lines up on the offense's right side and Detroit's suddenly potent passing game does a lot of its damage to its right and over the middle, with starting WRs Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark lining up on both sides. Regardless of the yardage gained, the Jets need hands-on coverage. Gardner still leads the NFL with 16 pass defenses but the Jets as a team have just one pick and 11 PDs in the past 4 games. It's time for Sauce, D.J. Reed and safeties Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner to turn on the TO machine.