From the depths of disappointment comes optimism and belief, two qualities that are coursing through the veins of every player, coach and staff member working at One Jets Drive.
"It's been cool watching the development," HC Robert Saleh told reporters on Monday. "I think you could say that about a lot of guys on offense and defense. There's been a lot of guys who never would have gotten opportunities. We had 12 starters out injured, 10 on the Covid list. There's been a lot of opportunity for guys stepping up and taking advantage."
That was clear in Sunday's 28-24 loss to the Bucs as the offense, (mostly) minus rookie Michael Carter, who ran for 54 yards before sustaining a head injury, and veteran Tevin Coleman in the backfield, amassed 150 rushing yards against the No. 3 rush defense in the league. Add in a shuffled and reshuffled offensive line. Center Connor McGovern, out for the season with a knee injury, was replaced by Dan Feeney -- who played a strong game. LT George Fant, who himself filled in nearly all season for Mekhi Becton, sustained a knee injury and up stepped Chuma Edoga. And don't forget the seamless integration of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who joined the Jets late in the season, the impressive rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker and the ageless Morgan Moses.
"It's been so much, attention to detail, having an offensive coordinator [Mike LaFleur] that sees we're being successful, communication up front," said Moses, another one of the building blocks on the O-line. "Backs running hard, the quarterback getting into the right plays. We're seeing a team, this young team, develop like some older teams. Younger guys stepping up becoming veterans and veterans stepping up and taking it all in. The quarterback speaking up and asking more of his guys. Playing fast, everyone getting a hat on a hat."
Just as the offense has begun to click, the defense -- which had been gashed several times -- has rallied and been powered by a slew of young players. Guys like CB Brandin Echols (who had his second career NFL interception on Sunday, off none other than Tom Brady), CB Michael Carter II (who had his first career NFL sack, off Brady) and Jason Pinnock, drafted out of Pittsburgh, who planted a seed at safety in an extreme manpower pinch.
"As many young guys as we have grown up fast and I think we've earned our keep," Carter II said. "We've made strides in all the areas we might have fallen off early in the season: stopping the run, pressure on the quarterback, third down. We've been improving every single week in every category.
"It's exciting. I'm just excited to see what the future holds for everybody. I'm happy for everybody, to see us all having success. It means a lot and I know we can be the future of this organization, and where we're trying to go and accomplish and what we're building here."
For his part, Saleh said that he is most proud of the collective effort, the shared mindset that has seen young players and veteran players grow each day, each game, to come together and remain truly a team through a challenging season.
"It's been a collective effort, coaches and players creating consistency, that's so important," Saleh said. "The development of the quarterback, consistent play, guys being where they're supposed to be. The run game and the quarterback have improved the most.
"It's cool and awesome to watch."
Elijah Riley: 'It's Been a Whirlwind'
Growing up a Jets fan in Port Jefferson on Long Island, Elijah Riley is clear.
"I was not a fan of Tom Brady coming up," he said on this week's edition of "Inside the Jets" with Bart Scott and Dan Graca. "In flashbacks I've seen it, the comebacks, before. But to have it done to me. ... Very unfortunate."
Riley was, of course, referring to Brady's 33-yard TD pass to Cyril Grayson that gave visiting Tampa Bay the win on Sunday. Riley, playing, at safety, for the first time since sustaining a concussion at Miami a few weeks ago, was a whisker late in getting to Grayson and the ball.
"I learned a lesson against arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks ever," Riley said. "The offseason is about detailing my work, not putting myself in that situation again, make the play to finish the game. I know I'm capable and that I should have been able to do it. It's a learning experience. I have to trust my angles and my eyes and come down with the ball."
Riley, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has emerged as one of the feelgood stories as the young Jets grow and evolve. He started the season on the Eagles' practice squad, was signed by the Green & White after injuries decimated the safeties room and has proved that he could be a player to watch in the future.
"It's been a whirlwind," he said. "I've had a limited opportunity to sit back and soak it in. I try not to get caught up in the hype of it. It's been nonstop, I just have to keep on my toes and locked in. It's been a fun experience so far.
"I've enjoyed having been afforded the opportunity to play the way I have and to be a starter so far."
He circled back to Sunday's game, pointing out some of the impressive takeaways.
"We're (15) seconds away from beating the defending Super Bowl champs," he said. "There's promise in that it shows we're capable of big things, we just got to be able to finish and close. We've seen flashes throughout the season, good in one phase or another, but not able to finish. Next season the biggest challenge is being able to finish. We've proved we can play with the best of them, now we have to prove we can finish it off."
See Best Images from the Game at MetLife Stadium
Injury update: LT George Fant (knee) has his ACL intact and is being evaluated, with a decision on his status expected on Wednesday. ... Rookie RB Michael Carter is in the concussion protocol and could be available for the Buffalo game. ... TE Dan Brown(hip) will not be available for the Bills game. ... DL/LB Bryce Huff(ankle) will be evaluated on Wednesday. ... The status of Jamison Crowder (calf), who missed the last two games, is still to be determined. ... Rookie WR Elijah Moore(quad) had "a really good workout today," HC Robert Saleh said on Monday and will try and practice on Wednesday. ... And LT Mekhi Becton (knee), who has been out since the Week 1 game at Carolina, will not play again this season.