These are the times that try NFL head coaches' souls as they try to right struggling ships.
Robert Saleh continued to seek ways for the Jets' offense to move the chains on first, second and third downs and not just fourth downs. He installed Tim Boyle to implement his calm, confident, quick-release approach to quarterbacking. He tried to get his defense back into form after a struggle at Buffalo to take on the powerful Miami. He harped on cutting down on the mistakes, especially the bad pre- and postplay infractions that cost his team 15 yards at a time.
It almost worked late in the first half, as the Green & White were within a score of the 'Fins and about to head into the locker room. Then came one of those soul-trying developments for the Green & White.
"Obviously going into the locker room, we felt good about the momentum we had gathered," Saleh said after the Jets' 34-13 loss to Miami. "We took our shot off the interception [by D.J. Reed with two seconds left] to try to get one more. ... It was just a very unfortunate play at the end of the half. We felt we had captured momentum, cut it to a four-point game, and gave it right back to them and ... obviously it took away the momentum we had built."
Boyle's Hail Mary pass that was turned into safety Jevon Holland's field-traversing 99-yard interception-return TD was a crusher, but the Jets still trailed by two scores at 17-6. Saleh tried his best to turn the game-turning decision and execution into what political types would call a "nothingburger."
"Always put it on me, because I made the decision to go ahead and take a shot at the end zone," Saleh said of how he addressed the play to his players before they went out for the final 30 minutes. "I just let the team know to put it to bed, put that on me, let's go one play at a time and try to work our way back in."
The working back in didn't work out as planned.
Boyle and the offense didn't gain any life until after the third quarter, when the Jets had totaled two first downs, 0-for-6 on third-down conversions and 50 yards.
"Everybody's young on that side," the coach said of offense. "I know they're fighting, they're working their tails off, the coaches are working top ut them in the best positions possible. They're deliberate. Everybody's doing their best."
The defense, which has been the spotlight unit of the Jets' 2023 hopes and dreams and played that way on into November, struggled again with the Dolphins as it had at Buffalo. Excluding the 99-yard return, through three quarters the unit allowed 13 points. Including all plays in all four quarters, the 'Fins had a typical 395-yard, 11-of-16-on-third-down, 34-point outing.
"It was disappointing the way we finished in the fourth," he said. "I know guys were selling out to try and get the ball, especially on that last touchdown run [Raheem Mostert's 34-yarder]. They're battling. They took the ball away three times today and scored on defense. They gave us a chance at halftime to cut it to one score.
"It's a high-octane offense, and so I felt good about the way the defense played. I just didn't like the way we finished."
Then the major penalties still made their reappearance. With Quinton Jefferson's unnecessary roughness early in the game, C.J. Mosley's facemask call on Mostert in the third quarter, and Micheal Clemons' ejection for inadvertently connecting with an official's face during heated discussions between the teams after an extra point, the Jets defense alone has been flagged for eight majors in the last five games.
"I'd say the most disappointing was the one at the beginning the game — that didn't need to happen," Saleh said. "The one with C.J., it's a glancing blow to the helmet that shouldn't have been called. The scrum on the field goal with Micheal, I thiink it was inadvertent. He's pointing and accidentally hit the referee, but it's still a foul. ... We'll continue to try to find ways to clean things up."
Saleh's thoughts for media consumption about how to turn things around would have worked for preachers and miners as well as coaches seeking polite ways to say that they're working like mad to improve their teams: "We'll keep digging. We've got to keep preparing, we've got to keep coaching, we've got to keep playing. We've just got to keep trying to move the ball and score."
The coach's message to his team had a little more fire and urgency, as Boyle recalled in his postgame remarks.
"Coach said it best at the end of the game in the locker room," the QB said. "We have to get our minds right to have the best six weeks of our life. We have six more games and we have to put our best foot forward."
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