If the Jets defense's No. 1 task Sunday in Minneapolis was to control the player who many feel is the best wide receiver in the NFL, then perhaps the Green & White would have come away with a narrow victory over the Vikings instead of their narrow 27-22 defeat.
Justin Jefferson, who was averaging more than seven catches and 100 yards a game this season, was held to seven catches for 45 yards by the Jets' coverage, a lot of it coming from veteran cornerback D.J. Reed. Yes, Jefferson scored an important 10-yard receiving touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but that should have been manageable for the Jets, again if that's all they had to worry about on this day.
Reed, although he said Jefferson "is definitely one of the elite receivers in the league for sure," also said, "He didn't do [anything] all game. ... He got that one route on me so I'm frustrated. I felt I did a good job containing him. I don't want to give up the touchdown and be the reason my team lost. I'm going to look and see what I can do to play it better, but for sure I held my own with him."
But Reed wasn't the reason the Jets lost the game, and the defense as a whole, while it was a reason in the first half that the Jets fell too far behind to catch all the way up, was also the reason in the second half that this game ended with the Jets knocking on the Vikings' doorstep for the go-ahead touchdown (and not getting invited inside) in the game's final two minutes.
"I won't get into schematically a few of the adjustments we had to make on defense," head coach Robert Saleh said. "We were just giving up too many things, especially on third down. But at the end of the day, it was just missed opportunities all over the place in the first half that we felt, if we could just play a little more efficiently, we'll start moving the ball, we'll get our stops and we could make it a game."
"We've just got to start faster," LB C.J. Mosley said. "As a defense, we gave up 20 in the first half. At the end of the day, that's hard to come back from, especially on the road, so we're putting that on us."
This chart shows just how much the Jets D scuffled in the first half against a good offensive unit playing in its loud 'n' rowdy home venue — and how much they came roaring back in the second half to at least put a scare into the home side:
|Category||Vikings' 1st Half||Vikings' 2nd Half|
|Plays / Total Yards||40 / 198||26 / 89|
|Yards / Play||5.0||3.4|
|3rd Down Conversions||7 / 11||2 / 7|
One set of numbers on the board that bothered senior DL spokesman Sheldon Rankins, back for the first time in three games due to a sore elbow, were the rushing TDs. The Vikes ran it in twice in the second quarter, a 4-yarder by Dalvin Cook and a 14-yarder by Alexander Mattison.
"Without watching the tape and understanding the true scheme, we just can't allow those," Rankins said. "That's something we pride ourselves on, no matter if we're in a light box or everyone's stacked up on the line. We take pride in not allowing teams to run the ball in on us. For a team to be able to do that twice, that was a punch in the gut for us."
The third-down improvement was also key to tightening the game up. Saleh offered up a few details in regard to what adjustments the Jets made after two quarters.
"We just wanted to take away a lit bit more," Saleh said. "We felt there was a little bit of space in there, and again, credit to Kirk [Cousins], he's a good quarterback, he was finding that space. They were doing a good job in protection at times. and we just felt like if we could take that space away and amp up in the pass rush, we'd be able to get off the field. And we felt guys did a great job of executing that in the second half."
But certainly one intangible that helped the Jets turned this purple tide around was the feeling the Green & White players have for themselves. They weren't happy with their defense and they got it corrected.
"We just settled down," Reed said. "We said we aren't playing our standard of football. We've got to have swag, have fun, celebrate when somebody makes a play."
All of this was enough to get the Jets refocused for the final 30 minutes to make this a closer loss than it appeared it would be after the first 30 against what on paper looked to be a fair Minnesota offense. Will it be enough in a week's time to get the job done when the Jets fly up to Buffalo and take on one of the NFL's best offensive outfits, with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder over the 20-17 loss they suffered to the Jets last month?
"We wanted to win," Mosley said of the Vikes game. "At the end of the day, that's what it's about. We definitely felt we had a chance at the end. It didn't work out that way and we've got to move on. We have a big division game on the road and it's going to be cold. We've got to correct our mistakes and get ready for the division game."
See the best images from the Week 13 matchup between the Jets and Vikings.