You would think NFL players and coaches signed standard contracts that contain a no-silver-linings clause. But sometimes there are a few good subparagraphs in the contract to explain why a dark cloud of a particular defeat won't lead to ruination.
"There's no moral victories in this league," linebacker C.J. Mosley said following the Jets' 14-point third-quarter lead that faded into a gut-wrenching 28-24 loss to Tom Brady and the visiting Buccaneers. "But nobody in our circle flinched. That's all you can ask for.
"You can't win every two-minute possession, you can't win every single game, but we sure did our best. Guys executed well. Offense, defense and special teams played well. We played physical. We communicated. We adjusted on the sidelines. So it's just unfortunate that we came up short at the end."
Head coach Robert Saleh had a similar take on the no-excuses approach toward defeat in the NFL.
"I don't believe in moral victories. You win and you lose," Saleh said, adding a big-picture view of his offense, his defense and his young team. "I feel like we've improved — we've done nothing but improve. Zach [Wilson] has gotten better. All of our young guys have gotten a lot better. The defense has gotten a lot better over the course of the last half of the year. Obviously that's not what we're going to talk about, but that's what happened."
From the Green & White's defensive perspective, there were some thunderheads towering over their latest frustrating showing against the Greatest Of All Time. Brady, after all, completed 34 of 50 for 410 yards — his eighth 300-yard passing game against the Jets and his first 400-yarder. The Bucs totaled 26 first downs and 467 yards of offense and converted nine of 15 third downs.
The Jets defense might have survived all that, but two of Brady's completions cut them to the quick:
■ With 5:56 left in the third quarter, Brady, facing third-and-20 at his 15, completed exactly a 20-yarder to second-year WR Cyril Grayson to keep that series marching toward Brady's second of three TD passes to cut the Jets' lead to 24-17 late in the third.
■ The crusher came with 15 seconds to play, when Brady threw a smart bomb 33 yards past diving S Elijah Riley to Grayson in the end zone to put the Bucs ahead for good.
"It was a great ball by a great quarterback," Mosley said of the TD. "If it was thrown a little bit more outside, a little bit more inside, it probably would've been incomplete. So just kudos to them for making a great throw and catch."
"We have to be better from a coverage standpoint," Saleh said. "They shouldn't be hitting explosives in that situation. We're basically in a two-shell and he still managed to catch a fade ball. It's not good.
"I felt that with no timeouts, we'd do a good job keeping the ball in front of us. I thought we did a god job a couple of times of tacking inbounds and making sure the clock ran. We had an opp. We just needed to tackle them inbounds one more time and we would have been looking at a last-play effort to win it. Unfortunately, it didn't get to that."
See Best Images from the Game at MetLife Stadium
Yet some of those young defenders flashed in their first meeting with the most iconic of pro football icons. Rookie CB Brandin Echols snared an interception — only Brady's second turnover in his last six games vs. the Jets — to set up a half-ending field goal. Bryce Hall had nine tackles, his career high, and broke up two passes, giving him 16 PDs — the most by a Jets DB in the last eight seasons. Rookie CB Michael Carter II secured a second-quarter blitz sack, the Jets' only sack of TB on the day and the first sack of MCII's pro career.
When all the video has been digested and practices begin this week for the 17th and final game of Saleh's first season at the helm, the dark questions will be asked again. Can some of the missing defenders return to the mix and give the Jets the personnel formula they need to duplicate today's effort against new Green & White tormentor Josh Allen and the Bills? On the road? Can they hang on this time, or will it be another dark day in Western New York?
Mosley offered his simple game plan for the season finale and beyond: "Like I said, there's no moral victories. We have one more week to put our best foot forward and go from there."