A couple of numbers strongly suggested the differences between Joe Flacco's performance at Cleveland a week ago — four touchdown passes, no interceptions — and Sunday's 27-12 loss to the Bengals at home — no TD drives, four personal turnovers. And that of course led to a negative reaction from the green-and-white-clad fans in the MetLife stands.
The Jets quarterback said he understands.
"Listen, when you're not winning games, you're losing, you're struggling a little bit ... the fans are here to watch football, but they're here to watch their team win," Flacco said. "You get the frustration. But at the same time, it's a two-score game. We put one in the end zone ..."
His voice trailed off because, while it was true that the Jets had opportunities to claw their way back into this game, they came up short for a number of reasons, not all of them landing on Flacco's shoulder pads.
"He obviously didn't get much protection," head coach Robert Saleh said in assessing Flacco's passing line of 28-for-52 for 285 yard, four sacks, two lost fumbles and two interceptions. "It was no different than Baltimore. I'm sure there are a lot of plays he wants back. I'm sure he'll say himself it just wasn't quite good enough."
But neither did the Jets offense help optimize their QB's production. In pass protection, for instance, Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson led the path to Flacco's doorstep with 2.5 sacks, two of the strips and four of the visitors' nine QB hits, working on sore-kneed LT George Fant, who departed early for the locker room.
Before Fant left, rookie WR Garrett Wilson had four receptions for 46 yards before taking a second-quarter shot to his ribs and departing for a locker room exam. Almost a quarter later, he returned, but his back-end numbers were two catches for 14 yards.
"I tried not to think about it," Flacco said of losing last week's star pass-catcher at Cleveland. "You could tell it was his ribs. I was hoping it was nothing crazy and he just got the wind knocked out of him. ... You're so in the zone when you're on the field going through a drive that you don't have time to think about it."
The Cincinnati run defense also rose up to tamp down the Jets rush, which gained 76 yards on 20 carries for 3.8 yards/attempt. Michael Carter, who set a career high in last year's 34-31 win over the Bengals with 172 scrimmage yards, was held to 46 YFS. That, combined with the injuries, hindered any effective play-action that Flacco could generate.
See the best images from the Week 3 matchup between the Jets and Bengals at MetLife Stadium.
And veterans on both sides of the ball committed costly penalties. For the offense, WR Corey Davis and Bengals CB Eli Apple got into a shoving match at the end of a pass play. Each reached for the other's facemask and Davis was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead of third-and-6 at the Bengals 14 with 10:30 to play in that two-score game, it became third-and-21 at the 29, then on fourth down Flacco lost his second fumble. Davis' penalty wasn't the final nail in the coffin but it was one of them.
Flacco was asked about some veterans making the miscues in this game and didn't disagree.
"Anytime you lose a game and you're not able to get going as much as you want to, it's tough," he said. "You have to look yourself in the mirror and make sure you're doing everything you can to pull the team forward. At the same time, you don't want to press, do too much, do other people's jobs. I think the message to veterans is it's just about doing your job, being there for the guy next to you. When we all work together, that's when it works well."
Well-stated, and well-executed against the Browns, not so much vs. the Bengals. Whether Flacco will get another chance to test that approach remains to be seen. The thinking has been that if everything goes well on and off the practice field, QB Zach Wilson would return as the starter for Game 4 at Pittsburgh, which is next Sunday. Wilson has been limited in practice, but all his work there and during pregame warmups has looked good.
"You may know more than I do," "Joe Cool" said to reporters who asked if he knew whether he would get one more start at the Steelers. "I'm just going to keep my head down, keep working, and do what I can do for the team, whatever it may be."