Thought of as a contender once the NFL's 2023 season kicked off, the New York Jets were eliminated from postseason contention last Sunday. But with three games remaining, starting with Sunday's Christmas Eve date with the Commanders (4-10), the Jets (5-9) insist there is a lot to play for.
"The message doesn't change," HC Robert Saleh said this week. "We're still preparing for something bigger. I know it may not happen this year, but there are things we're all playing for whether you're in your contract year, whether it's a young guy finding a way to try to get better to propel himself into 2024. Whatever your why is, it's really important guys reconnect to that and I've never subscribed to that idea that players stop playing. When you step across the white line and you put a helmet on, your résumé is being built. I have yet to come across a player who has quit just because the season is over."
Life of a Backup Quarterback
Since starting 4-3 without Aaron Rodgers, the Jets have gone 1-6 in a stretch that has seen them play four quarterbacks the past five games. Trevor Siemian, who relieved Zach Wilson in the second half of last Sunday's shutout loss to the Dolphins in Miami, will become the fourth Jets QB to start in 15 games if Wilson does not clear the concussion protocol.
"I think the two times I've played, it's kind of been like trying to throw back in the game a little bit, so it'll be nice if I do play to get a full run at it, but it is what it is," Siemian said. "It's a job. It's the life of a backup quarterback. I'll be ready to play if they need me and, if not, we'll go from there."
While the Jets offensive woes have been well-documented, they'll line up against a Commanders club that has yielded 35.6 pts/g during their current five-game losing streak. The strength of the Washington defense resides in the middle with Pro Bowl DTs Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, the latter who has recorded 3 sacks in his last four games.
"Obviously it hurts not to have the playoffs out there, but I think as a team and for me personally, I have a lot to prove in this league still," said Jets TE Tyler Conklin (50-524-10.5), who needs 74 yards to set a career high in receiving yards. "So, the opportunity to go out there and have three more games to go put my best foot forward, that's all I need to get ready for a game. There are still a lot of things I want to accomplish and I think a lot of our team feels that way."
'Every Snap With Pride'
Breece Hall, who has returned from an ACL tear he sustained last season in October, has played in all 13 games and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry despite facing loaded boxes each game. He also ranks third in catches (53), fourth in yards (441), eighth in yards/catch (8.3) and second in 25-yards-plus catches (five).
"For me personally, I play every snap with pride," Hall said. "I go out there thinking I'm the best player every week and hoping I get chances to show that. For me, I'm just trying to finish the season strong. I'm thankful to be able to say I've been able to play in every game this season."
The Commanders have struggled away from home, recording 5 straight away losses after a comeback victory over Denver in Week 2. Second-year QB Sam Howell (3,568 pass yards) likes to air the ball out, but the Jets are allowing an average of just 134 pass yards their past seven games and they haven't allowed a 300-yard passer in 32 consecutive games. Howell, who was benched in favor of Jacoby Brissett in last week's loss to the Rams, has been victimized by a league-high 15 INTs and he's also been sacked a league-high 59 times. Although the Commanders have 4 targets with 400+receiving headlined by Terry McLaurin, the Jets will counter with a defense that ranks both No. 3 in yards per play (4.58) and yards per pass play (5.57).
"This is a team sport," said MLB C.J. Mosley. "It takes all three phases to win football games. Sometimes when one phase is slacking, the next one can pick up. But we all have to have that mindset that I'm going to be the reason why things change tomorrow."
Sacrifice for Your Brother
Things have changed quickly for the Jets the past two weeks. They had a 30-point second-half explosion in a trouncing of the Texans and then were on the wrong side of a 30-0 one-sided contest at Miami. They now know their season will end on Jan. 7 against the Patriots, but they will remain in the ring for three final rounds.
"As coaches, you're putting your best game plan together, and everyone's watching, and as players, 31 other teams are getting that tape, so it's always your résumé," Saleh said. "It's not necessarily a threat, but it's understood that you are what your tape says you are, and I know that 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."
For the first time since Week 1, the Jets will line up with Rodgers on the active roster. But the four-time NFL MVP won't play as the Jets face QB uncertainty heading into their final home game against the Commanders.
"Obviously the goal is always to win and we haven't been doing that," Breece Hall said. "It sucks and everything like that, but we're still trying to finish our season strong. I don't want to say it's a failure. It's just a lesson along the journey to me."