Watching Robert Saleh stone-facing it for most of the game on the sideline during the Jets' last-minute, pull-it-out 30-28 victory over Washington at MetLife Stadium on Christmas Eve, one would be hard-pressed to tell he was enjoying himself. But the Jets head coach admitted to being upbeat for any number of reasons.
"Just keep composure," Saleh said about the message to his team as the Commanders came all the way back from 20 points down at halftime to a 28-27 lead with just under five minutes to play. "We still felt like we'd go down and score. Unfortunately, the second half came around and we had a chance to go up 30-7, maybe 34-7, but [Jacoby] Brissett came in and did a great job of sparking their offense and getting them going. Credit to the guys on defense getting the ball back in the four-minute situation and the offense taking it down to get the field goal and the win."
There would have been much more gnashing of teeth from fans and media if Greg Zuerlein had not nailed the 54-yard game-deciding kick, but win or lose, nothing would have changed with Jets CEO Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson's vote of confidence for 2024 regarding Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, reported in the Sunday New York Post.
But as happy as Saleh said he was ot hear of his boss' supportive words, he said with confidence mixed with humility that he wasn't surprised.
"I always appreciate Woody's support," Saleh said. "There are a lot of things we look back at this season, a lot of things we know we can do a lot better, a lot of things we can learn from. We have two more games to finish, but with '24 looming, there's going to be a lot of excitement to go attack this thing again."
"It's just one of those deals where obviously, I can sit here and give you reasons why I think I'm the right coach," he said. "But at the same time there are a lot of things I have to reflect on, acknowledge, get better at. Use this offseason to make sure we're attacking and getting close to our goal, which is a championship."
The Jets can't vie for the NFL title this year, having been eliminated from playoff consideration with last week's results, including their 30-0 loss at Miami. But at 6-9 and with the excitement (for different reasons) of back-to-back home wins, they put themselves in position of improving on last season's 7-10 with wins in those last two games, at Cleveland on Thursday night and at New England to end the season.
OK, it's not much, but teams do want to take momentum with them into the offseason, especially with QB Aaron Rodgers around for take two to his appearance in green and white.
Saleh was pleased with the Jets' 17 first-quarter points, which allowed them, at 17-0, to tie the franchise mark for largest first-quarter lead and to give his team its first two-TD opening period since 2021.
"It was awesome," he agreed. "The defense made a few stops, there was the punt block, the interception. A lot of positives to take out of the entire first half."
The Jets had the chance to expand that lead with the first series of the third quarter, but Trevor Siemian's offense stalled with five punts and a jolting interception on second-and-goal from the Washington 6 later in the third quarter. That's what helped Commanders QB Jacoby Brissett, taking over for the ineffective SamHowell, to mount three consecutive TD drives for that one-point lead.
"The momentum shifted," Saleh said, "and we just couldn't grab it."
But fortunately, the game situation aligned with what the Jets needed and they did grab it and held on for dear life. The Commanders' TD streak was stopped on a three-rush 3-and-out and the offense got the ball back with one timeout and 1:41 left at their 33. Breece Hall, a multithreat monster in this game with the third 190-scrimmage-yards game of his young career, had the two big plays to get first downs and move close enough for Zuerlein's latest game-winner.
"We got the win today," said Zuerlein, almost as impassively as his coach. "We're going into Christmas with high vibes. Everybody can be happy."
And even though 2023 didn't unfold as planned, everyone in Jets Nation, including the HC and GM, can soon set out on preparations for a happier new year in '24.
See the best game action photos during Sunday's home game against the Washington Commanders.