The world of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and the Jets was thrown into turmoil scant minutes into the season-opening game against AFC East defending champion Buffalo when QB Aaron Rodgers went down with what proved to be a torn Achilles tendon.
"My dad [Paul Hackett, the Jets OC 2001-4] told me a long time ago that change is the norm," Hackett told Eric Allen days after the Green & White reached .500, at 3-3, after defeating the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles. "When you don't embrace change and don't get excited for the next man up, it can take you down to a dark place. Train every man like he's a starter because you never know who's going in there."
After six games, the Jets have welcome time off before they return to practice next week ahead of the Oct. 29 "away" game against the Giants.
"We've had a unique past six weeks," Hackett said. "Everyone has to get away from football and enjoy their time and get ready to come back for the next couple of games.
"It's funny. Every year you always say that things can't get as crazy as last year. This year has definitely gotten just as crazy. It's been a grind. We've played some good football teams. We've had some injuries and had to adjust. Credit to the entire staff. We've all kept our heads down and stayed together. It has definitely been a grind."
So the season, which began with soaring expectations tied to the coming of an 18-year, elite veteran quarterback, turned unexpectedly when the understudy -- Zach Wilson -- was thrust back into the spotlight.
What was Hackett's reaction when Rodgers hobbled off the field and was carted to the locker room?
"Originally, I just wanted to make sure he was OK," Hackett said. "I could see his face, I've been around him a long time. My heart sank. I know how much it means to him. That was the hardest thing to deal with, one of the harder games I had to call. But we have a job to do, and Aaron wanted us to go out and win the game, support Zach and go ahead and win the football game."
For Wilson, a season that was supposed to be spent learning a new system and soaking up all Rodgers had to offer was suddenly turned on its head. The Jets went on to beat the Bills in overtime when rookie Xavier Gipson returned a punt for a TD.
"With Zach, we wanted to teach him a new system, a new way to do things," Hackett said. "Working with Aaron, showing all the tricks of the trade Aaron had. He's been like a sponge, he's been amazing trying to absorb everything and then it was right into the fire. You don't want to do as much as we do Aaron, who has 18 years of experience that you can't coach, and you can't replace. Zach's done a good job, kept his head down, taken a lot of what Aaron has said. What he's done with the offense ... he's making it his own. Every quarterback is a little bit different, every quarterback needs to be different and that's what we're focused on."
The opening victory was followed by three straight losses (at Dallas, and vs. New England and defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City). The OC said that the outside noise that arose with the Jets at 1-3 was exactly that -- outside noise.
"You know, everybody says we do a great job ignoring the outside," Hackett said. "We don't have time, most of the things we started hearing about, for us it's what we see on tape, people might not know what we're asking him [Wilson] to do. We see improvement. The outside has every right to say what it wants and as I said before, we have the right to prove everyone wrong. It's about him being able to play well, take care of football and make plays. Say what you want about it, it's us getting the job done with the guys we have."
Though the Jets have battled back with wins at Denver and then last Sunday over the Eagles, Hackett is well aware that the offense was 1-of-9 in red-zone efficiency over those two games. And that one score came late against Philadelphia when Breece Hall scampered in from 8 yards out late in the game, largely unopposed by the defense.
"It can't get any worse," Hackett acknowledged. "Nine trips there, it's something a lot of us are not accustomed to. We've had opportunities, but we've been shooting ourselves in foot, hurting ourselves and missing opportunities. We have to do better, and it starts with me. The players have to execute, we have to show that improvement. We haven't yet."
While "change is the norm," Hackett, the assistant coaches and the entire offense have had to adjust on the fly. First Rodgers went down, then OL Alijah Vera-Tucker also sustained a torn Achilles tendon (replaced by Max Mitchell). Mekhi Becton, who started the season at right tackle, shifted back to his more familiar spot on the left when Duane Brown was placed on the injured list. Rookie Joe Tippmann, drafted as a center, turned in strong performances at right guard until he was injured in the Philly game, replaced by Wes Schweitzer. And that's only the changes on the offense.
One of the bright spots for the offense has been the strong return of RB Breece Hall from an ACL injury, which ended his rookie season in Week 7. So far this season, Hall has been the engine on the ground, turning in two of the three longest runs from scrimmage in the league -- 83 yards vs Buffalo and a 72-yard TD dash back in Denver.
"We want more, we're so close to getting more." Hackett said. "No one is satisfied with the run game, the pass game, third down, red zone. Nothing. We have so much more we can do and there's so much better that we have to get."
He added: "I give a lot of credit to this team. The players make the plays, they play for each other. We always put a plan together that we think best fits our guys. To see this team come together ... how close everybody is, how tight. As the offense starts picking up and moving the ball keeping the defense off the field, you'll see what we're capable of. There are so many good things going on. To watch the group together and celebrate together, it's a great culture that Coach Saleh has built here."