The last time the Raiders came to MetLife Stadium, Sam Darnold led a Green & White attack that ran roughshod over a playoff hopeful. Much has changed in the past year, but the Jets will have another opportunity on Sunday — at the same venue — to again deliver a blow to the Silver & Black's postseason aspirations.
But the Jets have not talked about the idea of playing spoiler. Instead, they continue to be asked about being the NFL's only winless team, with five games remaining.
"The hardest part is it's not going to be perfect and it's not going to be a perfect road in front of us all the time," LB Harvey Langi said this week. "Right now, it's pretty bumpy for us and there are a lot of things you can do."
While Sam Darnold's return to the lineup last week against the Dolphins was anything but smooth, he found the air to his liking last November against the Raiders, passing for 315 yards and accounting for 3 TDs. In seven starts this season, Darnold has connected on 58% of his passes with 3 TDs and 8 INTs. In a passing league, Darnold's season-high yards total was 230 (Week 4) and the Jets have been held to fewer than 200 yards passing in five of his starts.
"You can't control the past," said Darnold when asked about having not thrown a TD in four consecutive games. "You can only control the present and what you do in future. I'm just looking forward to going out there this weekend and playing better. At the end of the day, throwing touchdowns is nice, but all I care is about winning."
The Jets remain focused not only on winning but getting Darnold as many reps as possible to properly evaluate their young signal-caller. After throwing a pair of interceptions against a stingy Dolphins defense in a 20-3 loss, Darnold will face a Raiders defensive unit that is 28th in scoring (29.0 Pts/G), 27th in passing defense (265.0 Yds/G) and 31st in sacks (12)
"I came here to help him, help him develop his career, and we haven't been able to do that," Head Coach Adam Gase said of Darnold. "That's why every game is so important. Keep trying to help him grow."
Rotating personnel along the offense line and wide receiver in 2019-20 has played a role in the disappointing results, but Darnold finally played with the team's top three receivers in Week 12 and connected four times apiece to Breshad Perriman (79 yards) and Denzel Mims (67 yards). Perriman has averaged 18.1 yards per catch since 2018, the second-best average in the league among all receivers with at least 50 receptions in that span, while Mims has produced at least 40 yards in each of his five games and has a 20+ catch in his last four contests.
"I see a guy that's trying to get that chemistry with the wide receivers in practice," Gase said. "Obviously, I feel like he and [Jamison] Crowder do have a good chemistry, they have since we've started. I think just, keep working with Mims and Perriman and keep getting used to throwing to those guys. I thought last game there were a couple throws to Perriman where he gave them opportunities and he made some really good plays."
The Raiders, who displayed an ability to compete with the NFL's elite while splitting the season series with the defending champion Chiefs, didn't have many really good plays in their most recent contest, a 43-6 drubbing at the hands of the Falcons in Atlanta. Las Vegas had 5 turnovers, 141 yards in penalties and some defensive lapses, dropping its second consecutive game after a three-game win streak.
"I'm not going to worry about anything down the road except the Jets," Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden said early this week. "And if you watched the Jets play yesterday, they're a handful. They're going to be hard to move the ball on. Gregg Williams and this defense give people problems, we've got to take better care of the ball, we've got to play better collectively on defense and we've got to make some timely plays in the kicking game. This will be a fistfight no doubt about it. I've got a lot of respect for the way the Jets are competing."
The compete level remains high despite the lack of complementary football. Last week, Williams' unit put together one of its finest efforts of the season, forcing four fumbles, recording two in plus-territory and racking up four sacks, but the offense was unable to take advantage of the favorable situations. This week, the defense will contend with Derek Carr, who's played at elite level at times, and an offensive unit that ranks No. 8 in rushing (125.6 Yds/G) although their bell cow, Josh Jacobs, is battling an ankle injury.
Langi said: "We're going to keep fighting and we believe and that's all we can do is come in every day and put our head down and work and keep crafting and doing the things we can to get that win, that first win."
That victory over the Raiders seems like ages ago. The Jets and Darnold, 23, have not won a game in more than 11 months. They remain desperate for a different outcome in one of the most difficult seasons in franchise history.
"I have to play better and put the team in the right positions to be able to win games and make it close at the end," Darnold said.