Center Connor McGovern said that he could see, could feel and experience the Jets' cultural tide turning late during the 2021 NFL season.
"It starts off with the guys Joe D. [GM Joe Douglas] and the Johnsons [Chairman Woody Johnson and VP Chris Johnson] brought in," McGovern said. "You can tell when guys were buying into what Coach [Robert] Saleh is preaching. He is a true leader of men, and when you get guys to buy in you can feel the tide starting to turn. Every good team I've been on, whether in high school, college or the NFL, when the locker room comes together and plays for each other and everyone is buying into what the coaches are saying, you can see it on the field and we're reaping the benefits of that."
As the Jets (5-2) have gotten off to their best start since 2015, McGovern has quite literally been in the center of a roiling tide that has been in the grip of a constant churn.
"We haven't been in this position at Week 7 with a solid chance of getting to the playoffs and making a nice run," he said. "To be in this position is special and I don't want to take it for granted."
Now in his sixth season in the league (his first three playing for the Broncos), McGovern has been the calm eye in the hurricane that has battered the offensive line -- he has played 100% of the snaps on offense through seven games.
"I don't know if I've ever been around this much shuffling," McGovern told Senior Director, News Strategy and Reporter Eric Allen during this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "You always have some, but from the spring to training camp to early in the season, to have this much shuffling it's been a challenge you don't want to have. We've kind of dealt with it and I'm confident that whomever is out there will rise to the occasion. Look at Nate [Herbig] playing out of his mind, Duane [Brown] playing with a bum shoulder and he is awesome. Everyone who's come in has done a really good job. It kind of goes back to the way the locker room has been built and the guys buying in."
About the only constants so far this season on the offensive line have been McGovern, left guard Laken Tomlinson, who signed in free agency, and second-year man Alijah Vera-Tucker. But now, the versatile AVT, who was called on to play three positions, is out for the season after tearing a triceps in last Sunday's victory at Denver. Enter Cedric Ogbuehi, a former first-round pick of the Bengals who was signed from Houston's practice squad in September.
"He's a freak athlete, a first-round pick," McGovern said. "He's got length. speed and size. He came in and handled it and played good enough to win and a little better than that."
He added: "We were without some of our biggest playmakers, but the offensive line was able to help pull out the win. It's tough to have guys [rookie RB Breece Hall and AVT] go down. You hate to see it, but it kind of shows how the whole team bought in to a common goal. Whomever is out there is willing to do what it takes to win and fight for a common goal."
While last season the Jets were one of the youngest teams in the league, the scales have evened out a bit this season with an influx of talented free agents, which includes Tomlinson, S Jordan Whitehead, CB D.J. Reed, DL Solomon Thomas and Jacob Martin, and TEs C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. McGovern said that the late signing of Brown has been a revelation.
"I remember the day after he came into the training room," McGovern said. "He told me that he'd gotten three or four opinions and all the doctors wanted him to have surgery [on a shoulder]. It would have been season-ending, but he kept saying no surgery. Then I see him on the field. I don't think people realize that if nine of 10 doctors say surgery, you have the surgery. For him to be willing to sacrifice is huge, it's a testament to what guys are willing to do to get the team rolling. To see a guy sacrifice like that, it's easy to get behind."
With second-year QB Zach Wilson back taking snaps from McGovern, the Jets have won four straight games since Wilson returned after having knee surgery in the preseason. The Jets have not turned over the ball, either via interception or fumble, during that streak, and have won four games on the road in difficult venues (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Denver). Even as the Jets contend in the AFC East, in some quarters the view is that the passing game has yet to take off.
"There's a lot of different ways to win a football game," McGovern said. "Zach has been phenomenal doing what it takes to win. He hasn't had to throw for 300 yards for us to win. When people start looking at stats they're digging for ways to kind of split the locker room. The only thing that matters, the one goal we have is to win. And one thing about Zach is that he doesn't worry about stats. The only stat Zach cares about is winning. He knows the other stuff will come. Our formula right now is to wear people down and in the fourth quarter score more than the other team."
To this point in the season, the Jets have outscored the opposition by 74-20, and put up 6 points on a pair of Greg Zuerlein field goals in the fourth quarter at Denver, while holding the Broncos scoreless in the second half.
For all the success so far, with three-straight games against AFC East opponents (two vs. New England, one against division-leading Buffalo), McGovern, his teammates and the coaching staff know the Green & White's strong running game will be challenged in the absence of Hall (ACL tear) and Vera-Tucker (torn triceps). Earlier this week Douglas acquired RB James Robinson from Jacksonville. But as he gets acclimated second-year RB Michael Carter will be thrust back into a starting role.
"He's a freak, too, an amazing player," McGovern said. "Obviously this year Breece got the spotlight over M.C. Now it's M.C.'s time to take that back. He does really well in the spotlight. Also, Ty Johnson I think is a phenomenal running back with speed out of the backfield and in the passing game. We've got a good running backs room and M.C. is the real deal as well."
The culture has been transformed. The Jets are winning football games and with 10 left in the regular-season they have a better than 70% of making the playoffs, according to statistics from the NFL.
"This is something that means a lot to me," McGovern said. "I got to be a part of it in high school, I got to do it in college [at Missouri]. We had some rough seasons, then bumped it up. But to do it here, in New York, the biggest city with one of the best fanbases, to bring it back will be huge. It's fun to have people behind you, they've been incredibly supportive and to be in this market and have the team start winning is special. It has been a lot of fun."
In conclusion, he added: "The next three games ... every game is big ... but division games are really big and to have them back-to-back-to-back, that really is going to affect how division plays out when it comes to the postseason. I think this is the biggest three-game stretch we have. Nobody is taking them lightly. Everyone is really excited."