If the Jets want to finish their home schedule with a flourish, Sunday is their only remaining chance. If the Green & White have a closing kick for their final three games of the 2023 season, now is the time to shift to a higher gear.
The Washington Commanders come to MetLife Stadium for the first time in eight seasons, and the matchup could be a good one for head coach Robert Saleh's side. Historically, the Jets have won their last three over Washington after losing eight of their first nine in the interconference rivalry.
And as the Jets (5-9) have struggled in dropping six of their last seven, the Commanders (4-10) have done similarly in losing seven of their last eight — and three of their last four on the road, with the only win coming at New England.
The numbers say the Jets, with their top-10 defense and with their 32nd-ranked offense doing battle with Washington's 32nd-ranked defense, have a good opportunity ahead. But can they regain any edge they had in rising to 4-3?
Saleh says, in perfectly understandable coachspeak, that they have no choice.
"It's not necessarily a threat, but it's understood that you are what your tape says you are," Saleh said this week. "I know that at the end of the day, if your brother's going out there to sacrifice and play his tail off, the expectation is you do it for him and you do it for one another. But that's the cool thing about this group. I do think they'll continue to go out there and fight like they have all year."
RB Breece Hall agrees: "The season hasn't gone the way we wanted. It sucks and all that, but we're still trying to finish our season strong."
Here are six players to watch as the Jets fight to start their next 1-0 win streak against the visiting Commanders.
Jets quarterback — It could be Zach Wilson but only if he's cleared to play from his concussion at Miami. It could be Trevor Siemian getting his second Jets start and his first since his only other start in 2019. It could even at some point be Brett Rypien, who beat the Jets for the Broncos in his first pro start in 2020 (then lost to the Jets at Denver last season). But whether it's 2 or 14 or 15 behind center, the Jets signalcaller and his O-line all have to be mindful of getting the ball out quick so as to avoid taking sacks, and not committing turnovers, issues that hurt the Jets at Miami over their past seven games (37 sacks, 18 turnovers).
WR Garrett Wilson — This could be a good spot for Wilson and the Jets' wideouts. The Commanders are last in the NFL in net passing yards allowed per game and per play, plays of 50+ yards allowed, opponents' overall passer rating and passer rating on first downs. Wilson's burning to post a big game to help the Jets to victory, and this should be a landmark outing for him in at least two ways: With one catch he will become one of three Jets with 80-plus catches in back-to-back seasons and will also move into third place in franchise history with his 32nd consecutive game with a catch from the start of his Jets career beginning as a rookie.
Edge rushers Bryce Huff and Jermaine Johnson — Quinnen Williams is starting to rack up some numbers inside. With John Franklin-Myers working through a hip issue and Quinton Jefferson on IR, heavy pressure on Washington's side of the ball will fall on young quarterback hunters Huff and Johnson. The Jets' top two sackers have combined for 14.5 sacks and 30 QB hits. Huff is still atop the Next Gen Stats list of all NFL defenders in terms of QB pressure rate, and Johnson has become reliably productive with starts in all 14 games and 14.0 total tackles for loss/no gain (6.5 sacks, 7.5 on runs and receptions), third-most on the defense. And Commanders QB Sam Howell has been sacked a league-high 59 times.
CB Sauce Gardner — Time is running out for Gardner to grab his first interception of his second pro season. Sauce has gotten his hands on a number of opponents' passes — his 10 PDs lead the Jets this season — but the big INT or any INT has eluded him. Gardner, D.J. Reed and Michael Carter must keep tabs on WRs Trey McLaurin, Washington's top pass-catcher who had his best receiving game of the season last week at the Rams (6 catches, 141 yards, TD), and Curtis Samuel, but if the opportunity presents itself. Sauce could pour it on with a theft against Howell and the offense, 26th in the NFL in interception rate and with an average of one pick per game.
ST leader Justin Hardee — Hardee has bounced back from his six-game absence due to a hamstring injury to rally the Jets' coverage teams the past three games. But the teams leader and captain knows his work isn't done after the Jets' lowest drive-start margin of the last seven seasons at Miami (Dolphins' 47-yard line to the Jets' 23, a minus-24 margin). Hardee is prepping to lead the Green & White coverage teams against the Washington returners, including former Jets WR Jamison Crowder on punts, and to spring Xavier Gipson for his most impactful kick return since opening night.