The Jets have an opportunity to change the tenor of their season in a span of five days.
After losing their first two outings by double-digits and never holding a lead against the Bills or the 49ers in Weeks 1 and 2, the Jets will match up with the Colts on Sunday afternoon and then face an extremely banged-up Broncos club on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium to conclude the first quarter of their 2020 regular season. But the Colts (1-1) promise to be a tough out, a physical team on both sides of scrimmage, equipped with defensive studs and a probable future Hall of Famer at quarterback leading a balanced offensive attack.
"We know that guys we have in the locker room, no one's going to back down from a challenge," said QB Sam Darnold. "We've played two games; we've lost both games and it is what it is. All we can do is focus on Indy."
The Jets were a surly bunch this week. Darnold, the amiable passer from Southern California who is always polite and often expansive, said the Green & White needed to do less talking and more acting. To date, they haven't given themselves much of a chance in the second half after having been outscored by a combined 42-6 in the first half.
"You're preparing, you're sacrificing everything [and] you're putting your life on hold to make sure that you do everything you can to get ready for a game," Head Coach Adam Gase said. "Then basically we're not even in the game and that's frustrating and it makes guys get pissed off and rightfully so."
Not only do the Jets want to reverse their fortunes in Indianapolis, but they have 12 players (including practice squad and injured reserve) that spent time with the Colts. That lengthy list includes CB Pierre Desir, who had 5 INTs and 26 PDs with Indy from 2017-19. He was waived in March and joined New York's AFC representative in April.
"It's about going to try to get on track," said Desir, who recorded his first interception with the Jets in Week 2. "We're down 0-2, doing everything I can to help the team, working every day as a defense to fix the things we need to fix and looking to go 1-0."
The short-term goal is to win this weekend, but GM Joe Douglas began to rebuild his roster this offseason with a revamped offensive line. While the Jets continue to be hamstrung by injuries at both wide receiver and running back, the line has shown improvement and Douglas' first draft pick — LT Mekhi Becton — is off to a smashing start.
The Colts made the offensive line a priority under GM Chris Ballard and HC Frank Reich and now the unit, featuring LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly and LT Anthony Castonozo, is widely regarded as one of the top O-lines in the NFL.
"For us, our philosophy has been build it inside out," Reich said. "It starts up front on both sides of the ball. You have to make a conscious effort to make those moves. Sometimes they don't seem sexy or whatever the case may be, but that's how you win football games.
"Yes, you have to have talented skill players, but you have to have playmakers. We talk about this a lot – everybody talks about playmakers being skill guys. I say no. Quenton Nelson is a great playmaker, Ryan Kelly is a great playmaker, [Anthony] Castonzo. They make plays, that's what good football players do. I just think it's very important when building a team that you get the right guys up front."
Through two weeks this season, the Jets defense ranks in the top 5 in the league in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits. They fell victim to explosive plays on the ground last week against the 49ers and they'll have to limit talented rookie RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin), who had his first 100-yard game in a Week 2 win over the Vikings, and QB Philip Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowler who is connecting on 77% of his passes with the Horseshoes.
"It's a big game," said safety Marcus Maye. "Besides it being the next game, it's a game that we definitely need. It's an opponent that we've played before so there are some things there that we're familiar with and we have some players that we got from over there. It's somewhat of a personal game for some people on this roster. But with the situation that we're in, we're looking to come out on Sunday and get a win."
The Jets have a lengthy list of players on the injury report and Darnold will once again work with a rearranged crew at receiver that could include practice-squad call-up Lawrence Cager. Earlier this week, Gase said "whoever has a pulse right now" needs to be ready to play as the Green & White aren't expected to have Breshad Perriman (ankle) and Jamison Crowder (hamstring). And the offensive line could have a pair of new starters as C Connor McGovern (hamstring) and RT George Fant (concussion protocol) could be replaced by former Colts OL Josh Andrews and second-year T Chuma Edoga.
If the Jets were healthy, this road contest would be a tough game. Given the circumstances, they'll need a vastly improved effort than their first two outings to give themselves a chance in the second half. They insist they're ready as they head into the eye of a storm.
"We're up for it and we're excited to play them," Darnold said.