Robert Saleh is not one to make excuses or offer worn-out clichés. Confronted by the reality of Sunday's 26-0 loss to the Broncos in Denver, the Jets' first-year head coach was direct and to the point as he and his team grappled with an 0-3 record to start the 2021 NFL season.
"We play hard, but playing hard is not good enough sometimes," he told reporters after the game. "We simply have to be more efficient and more precise."
The generally upbeat and positive Saleh spoke in quiet, measured tones as he searched for a few positives to take from the shutout. He mentioned how the defense stood its ground, as it did last week against New England, and a punt that was tipped by Del'Shawn Phillips. Beyond that, Saleh said: "Everybody, we all have to look in the mirror. During the week we have high execution, we have to find a way to bring it to Sunday or else other things are going to happen."
Three games into the season, the Jets have been outscored by 46-3 in the first half. The team has now gone eight quarters without scoring a touchdown and on Sunday rookie quarterback Zach Wilson faced unrelenting pressure and a run game that never got untracked. And when he was able to find open receivers, a few passes were dropped in key spots.
"It's execution," Saleh said. "There's a lot of things that obviously need to improve when you're averaging 6 points a game. You could say some things are broken, but at the same time we have young guys out there. When there's a clean pocket, the quarterback has to throw it and receivers have to catch it. On every play, there seemed to be one breakdown from every position, coaches included."
Throughout his short tenure as Jets coach, Saleh has stressed the need for his players to be precise, to limit mistakes. Against the Broncos, however, the Green & White committed 8 penalties for 89 yards, several of them either drive killers (Jets), drive extenders (Denver) and even one that took points off the board.
Early, with the game still scoreless, Shaq Lawson was offside, giving Denver a first-and-5 in its own territory. The Broncos went on to complete an 11-play, 75-yard drive for a 7-0 lead. The Broncos added a field goal early in the second quarter before Wilson deftly moved the Jets from their own 25-yard line to the Denver 38. The drive stalled and the Jets set up for a 56-yard field-goal attempt by Matt Ammendola. The kick was good, but the Jets were flagged for delay of game. Saleh sent on the punt team. Then, with time running down in the first half, Brandin Echols was flagged for pass interference, which set up Denver with a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Melvin Gordon fought his way into the end zone and the Jets trailed, 17-0 at the half.
"We have got to transition faster," Saleh said about the penalty on the field-goal attempt. "We have to operate faster, get our guys on and off the field faster and get the ball off. It's not discipline. You get a roughing the passer call [in the fourth quarter] with Shaq [Lawson] and a taunting call on [Justin] Hardee [in the third quarter]. An offside on the D-line? Just silly. We will get better."
There was also a facemask call on Marcus Maye in the third quarter and an ineligible receiver downfield call on rookie LG Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Wilson is experiencing growing pains, completing 19-of-35 passes for 160 yards and 2 interceptions. He had a QB rating of 42.6 and had only 2 pass completions of more than 20 yards: one of 23 to Keelan Cole, another for 22 yards to Braxton Berrios.
Asked if Wilson had regressed, Saleh said: "I wouldn't call it regression. We've played three really good football teams. Carolina and Denver are undefeated and have top-5 defenses. But I do expect plays to be made and progressions to be made. It's all position groups, we all have to make a play for each other. It's just a matter of being precise in what you do when you get the opportunity to make the play."
He added: "For a rookie quarterback, it's going to be tough. We do want to see growth day-in and day-out, with the entire offense in general we want to see growth and precision. I feel like we've had great weeks of practice but obviously the games are not showing it. We have to stick to our guns and to our philosophy.
"Again, I don't want to sugar coat anything. Zach had his best week of practice, he really did. He's just got to stick to it and trust the process. At same time everyone has to pitch in. It's a collective effort and something we have to get fixed."
It won't get any easier, with Tennessee (2-1) and bruising running back Derrick Henry visiting MetLife Stadium next Sunday.
"Playing hard with great effort is not going to cut it," Saleh said. "Offense, defense, special teams ... everyone operating at a high level, precise level. We're missing that part right now and have to get it fixed, quick."
See Best Images from the Week 3 Matchup in Denver