Today's Jets-Jacksonville game at MetLife Stadium for the longest time looked from the outside to be the matchup of the two rookie starting quarterbacks.
It will still be that — second overall draft overall Zach Wilson for the 3-11 Jets against top choice Trevor Lawrence for the 2-12 Jaguars — but another storyline has intruded: Who will be the players surrounding the QBs and trying to pull out a much-needed win for their team?
COVID and the NFL's COVID protocols have hit both teams solidly. The Jets will be without head coach Robert Saleh and QBs coach Rob Calabrese, both sidelined by the virus. TEs coach Ron Middleton will handle Saleh's sideline duties while senior offensive assistant Matt Cavanaugh will take on Calabrese's responsibilities.
Fourteen Jets players on the active roster and Injured Reserve have been sidelined by COVID, plus five more players on the practice squad, with a few more out due to injuries. The Jets' roster hot spots:
Defensive Line — DL Quinnen Williams was the 14th Jet to be placed on Reserve/COVID this morning, joining Folorunso Fatukasi, on the list for a second week, John Franklin-Myers and Jonathan Marshall. Sheldon Rankins and Nate Shepherd move up inside and Bryce Huff and Kyle Phillips join Shaq Lawson and Tim Ward on the outside.
Guards — AVT (Alijah Vera-Tucker), who'd been the LG starter all season, and LDT (Laurent Duvernay-Tardif), the RG starter the past five games, are in the COVID protocols. GVR (Greg Van Roten) and DJF (Daniel James Feeney, a.k.a. Dan Feeney) get the starting assignments. (LT George Fant, out last week with a knee injury, is active.)
See the Jets Arriving for the Week 16 Game Against the Jaguars
Safeties — This position has been beset by illness and injury. Ashtyn Davis and Sharrod Neasman, who were replacements for Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner originally and Elijah Riley (concussion at Miami), are both on reserve/COVID. Two players who just arrived could be starting. Kai Nacua, wearing uniform No. 1 and with 22 games and three starts under his belt, played on Saleh's 49ers defense last year, and Will Parks (73 games, 18 starts) played his first four-plus seasons in Denver.
Wideouts — This is more an injury position than a viral situation. WR Jamison Crowder (calf) joins the sidelined WRs, which include recently IR'd Corey Davis and Elijah Moore. Available are Keelan Cole — playing against his former team in the Jaguars from 2017-20 — Denzel Mims, Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith, just returned from his own stay on reserve/COVID. (Special-teamer Justin Hardee also is in action for this game.)
The Jaguars have their own issues. LB Myles Jack was added to their reserve/COVID list this morning, joining DE/LB Josh Allen ("the other Josh Allen"), WR Laviska Shenault and RG Ben Bartch, all starters.
It will be up to Jags interim head coach Darrell Bevell on the one sideline and Middleton filling in for Saleh on the other to figure out ways to find points and production and a win with their variety of next-men-up playing on the MetLife turf today.
What's more, COVID has also reached into the Jets' radio team. Bob Wischusen, the Green & White's long-time play-by-play announcer who had never missed calling a Jets regular-season game in his tenure in the booth, has been "Omicron'ed out" of the game, with pre- and postgame ESPN New York radio host Dan Graca moving in next to Marty Lyons to call the plays.
This is the Jets' four-player inactive list:
- RB La'Mical Perine
- S Elijah Riley
- RB Austin Walter
- WR Jamison Crowder
And Jacksonville has only two players on its inactives list for this game:
- RB Ryquell Armstead
- DE/LB Lerentee McCray