As the season began andat its end, in an odd twist it was the veteran Joe Flacco back at quarterback for the Jets in their season finale at Miami, an 11-6 loss, on Sunday.
From the Sept. 11 opener against the team he won a Super Bowl with, to a miraculous Week 2 comeback at Cleveland, Flacco put a bookend on his 2023 NFL season, his 15th, in the South Florida heat -- his fourth start of the season -- when the Jets offense could not score a touchdown for the third straight game. But beyond the raw statistics and a season gone upside down, the afternoon had extra-special meaning for Flacco, 37.
The story goes like this:
On a radio show, Flacco mentioned that one of his sons was wearing a Tyreek Hill jersey.
"So, I told him, a couple of months ago my dad made this promise to them [the Flaccos have four sons and one daughter] that if their dad happened to be playing in Miami at the end of year, because my second son happens to be, they're all Tyreek Hill fans," Flacco said after the game. "Who isn't? What kid isn't?
"But my dad promised them, 'hey, if you're dad's playing that last week, I'll take you down to Miami and we'll go see the game.' And all of a sudden on Thursday, I'm like, 'hey man, I'm playing. I know you're picking them up from wrestling practice tonight, so when they get in the car, just a warning. They're going to give you hell about going to this Miami game. So, I'm just giving you a head's up, whether you actually meant it or not.' And he's like, 'oh no man.' He was all excited about it and enlisted my mom to help or he wouldn't have been successful."
Flacco continued: "I think that's awesome. I mean how cool is that? To have that opportunity as a little kid. Be on an NFL field and watch your dad go against one of your favorite players. I think it's awesome, too. I felt very fortunate today to be able to see how happy they were. It made me happy. I was excited to go play today. And that was part of the reason I was so excited."
With his sons in second heaven on the sideline, Flacco completed 18-of-33 passes for 149 yards. Nine of those completions went to the dynamic rookie WR Garrett Wilson who logged 89 yards and had a long reception of 36 yards in the first half.
"I went out there today and honestly felt as good as I've ever felt," he said. "When you're sitting on the bench, it's not fun. Every time you get back out there, on the practice field, in the game on Sunday it feels great, it's fun."
Throughout the Jets' six-game losing streak the team's rushing game has had difficulty clicking. And that was the case on Sunday when Bam Knight, Ty Johnson and Michael Carter combined for 38 yards. And with Flacco getting the start in place of injured Mike White, he was playing behind the ninth different combination of players on the offensive line.
"This game was about getting up off the turf and seeing what we could do to make sure we could knock Miami out [Of the playoffs. With the win, Miami is seeded seventh.]," Flacco said. "We didn't do that. We didn't accomplish our goal. But I'm real proud of how our guys played and fought on both sides of the ball.
"Listen, in the NFL you don't always play pretty games. It's how it should be. You got world-class players on both sides. It can be tight and still be a good football game. I thought that's a lot of what happened today."
The offense had 187 yards, 11 first downs, and the Dolphins had the ball on offense for 10 more minutes than the Jets.
See the best images from the Week 18 matchup between the Jets and Dolphins.
After preaching the importance of playing meaningful games late in the season, the Jets (7-10) ultimately were unsuccessful after sitting with a 7-4 record, but losing their final six. But Flacco, who is soon to be a free agent, said he sees promise in the locker room.
"I think we have the pieces in place to be one of those teams," he said. "It didn't show this year. You build a team to win in December, January, February. And I think when you build a team like that, it's not always going to be pretty. I think the first step in that is usually getting your defense to turn the corner and become an elite defense. And I think you could see a lot of that from our defense this year.
"I think when we make a couple of little adjustments on offense, I think you'll start to see a team like that. I still think it might not be pretty, but it's about winning games late in the year, we have the foundation to get that done.
"I think they have the opportunity to build something and be special when they get done."
Flacco did at times flash the rifle arm that brought him the MVP award in the Super Bowl ... connecting with Wilson on that 36-yard catch-and-run slant; a fourth quarter rollout on third-and-9 at the Jets' 12 for a first down to a diving Wilson.
But drives couldn't be sustained, and the game ended with Miami scoring a safety as the Jets tossed the ball around in a desperate attempt to score as time expired.
Only minutes after completing another long NFL season, Flacco was asked about his plans.
"It's so much fun to be out there with those young guys and still doing the thing I love," he said. "And that's what I plan on doing, as long as I can, that's my plan, we'll see what happens this offseason."