After the six-week-long downer to end the 2022 regular season, Jets head coach Robert Saleh had the equipment staff hang a black T-shirt in the players' lockers at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center the morning after the season finale at Miami. The front of the shirts were emblazoned with a single word splashed in white: "FINISH."
Although Saleh firmly believes that "in the NFL, it's about the fourth quarter," fast forward to the first four games this season and the script has been flipped. While finishing a game strong remains pivotal, the Jets (1-3) so far this season have gotten out of the blocks slowly -- on both offense and defense.
"There is a heck of a lot more to learn on what we can do better to start faster," Saleh said this week, ahead of the Jets' trip to Denver, for the second-straight year, to face the Broncos (1-3) on Sunday. "How can we get them more comfortable earlier in the game?"
In each of the Green & White's games so far (the OT win over Buffalo; and losses to New England, at Dallas and vs. Kansas City), the opposition has built early double-digit leads in each game. Against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs last Sunday night, the Jets dug themselves a 17-point hole before Zach Wilson and the offense (and the defense) got their act together and made a (thrilling) game of it.
"For three quarters, we [the defense] played well, I wish we could have a lot of plays back, it was a bit scrambled early," co-captain C.J. Mosley said earlier this week. "We pushed through it and weathered the storm. It was a fun game to be part of, a lot of good, bad and ugly. The thing is if you give the Super Bowl champ 17 points it's hard to come back."
As accurate as Mosley's statement is, the second-half play of the defense has been excellent. The Jets are No. 1 in the NFL in not having given up a touchdown in the final 30 minutes (plus OT). The team is fourth in the league in points allowed in the second half (an average of 5.8 a game), fifth in net passing yards allowed (77.3) and seventh in yards allowed (143).
Incredibly, the Jets' red-zone defense is No. 1 in NFL in TDs allowed -- 25% (3 opponent TDs in 12 drives). They're allowing 3.8 points per red-zone drive so far. The Green & White is tied for second in the league in goal-to-go defense at 33.3% (2 opponent TDs on 6 drives).
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich acknowledged his unit's strong play in the second half when he said "finishing is the key to all we do," while conceding that the slow starts in all but one game are a concern.
"Execution is a part of it, for sure," Ulbrich said. "I can be better as far as simplifying things going in a little more, playing a little more vanilla. Taking myself out of the game and letting the players play. We have to emphasize early, let's roll and come out with the right energy and focus. It's a huge emphasis, starting is important and not starting good enough has hurt us and been the difference in a few games. Execution in the first half has got to be better."
The same certainly goes for the offense, which has failed to score a single point in the first quarter of the four games so far this season. On top of that, the Jets are No. 32 in the league in third-down conversions (26.5%), earning a new set of down 13 times in 49 attempts. Not surprisingly, their best number came against the Chiefs when they converted 5 of 12 (41.7%).
"The offense together as a group was more efficient on third downs and got us into more things we wanted to accomplish," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said on Thursday. "But we still have to be better.
"I think overall as an offense we haven't been efficient enough. We haven't been able to get into things we wanted to do. This game [vs. KC], on third down we got into what we wanted to do." He added: "The first couple of games we never got into a rhythm."
See photos of the Jets during Thursday's practice during Broncos week.