There was a lot to like for the Jets and their fans out of Saturday's 23-14 preseason victory at Green Bay. But underlying the performances of QB Zach Wilson, WR Corey Davis, TE Tyler Kroft and the scoreless second-half defense was a painful dark undercurrent.
Still, Robert Saleh spoke with wisdom beyond his half-year so far as an NFL head coach, advising all that the Jets' injuries — the biggest of which was DE Carl Lawson's Achilles tear at Thursday's joint practice with the Packers, ending his season before it started and after a very strong offseason and training camp — won't stand in the way of their progress.
"I've said it before — the NFL train stops for nobody," Saleh said when asked about the impact of Lawson's injury on the Jets' budding pass rush and defense. "When someone falls off the train — I want to make sure I say this the right way — it's another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We'll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they'll work their tails off to reciprocate."
Besides Wilson's practice exit, the Jets appeared to suffer another problematic injury when inside linebacker Jarrad Davis, one of the unrestricted free agency acquisitions by general manager Joe Douglas and Saleh, left the field with an ankle injury early in the second quarter.
Saleh had some provisionally good news on Davis: "The initial prognosis is positive. But again, he's got to get more tests."
Also leaving the Packers game early were backup QB Mike White (ribs) and backup T Conor McDermott (knee). Also from practice, S Zane Lewis (knee) also went on IR. (Two other players, T Morgan Moses and CB Bless Austin, didn't play due to personal reasons.)
"You never want to suffer injuries, the big one obviously being with Carl," Saleh said. "But it's part of the dog days of summer. We're expecting all these guys back. The only ones we're not expecting back are Zane and Carl."
The coach said Lawson's injury pulls at his coach's heartstrings but that he's buoyed by how he feels the player will attack this season rehabbing mostly away from the team.
"I always go back to the individual, and that's Carl. The man puts in the work. He does everything the right way," Saleh said. "Despite getting paid, he still wants to do more. That's where all my attention goes. I just feel bad for him."
That underscores Saleh's approach to finding the players who can take Lawson's place, such as Bryce Huff, John Franklin-Myers and free agent rookie Hamilcar Rashed among others. He said that while Douglas and his staff will explore possible transactions that make sense for the Jets in all areas, "Right now our focus is on the men who are in the room."
With some players sitting down and others stepping up, the Jets defense had a different look against the Packers than they did the week before vs. the Giants. Instead of shutting down the Green Bay passing offense that was led most of the way by third QB Kurt Benkert as they did the Giants' passing game, the Jets yielded a back-breaking 19-play, 81-yard, 10:19 drive that finally concluded with a touchdown pass with 3:27 left in the half to give the Pack a 14-10 lead.
But after that, the Jets D, led by S J.T. Hassell, CBs Brandin Echols and Lamar Jackson and LB Jamien Sherwood, in the second half allowed 97 yards and no points and came up with three second-half takeaways on six series to do their part to nail down Preseason Road Win No. 2.
Saleh, as grim as he might have been dealing with the injuries his team suffered especially in the past week, had no regrets about the joint practices with the Packers and the two more joint practices with the Eagles on Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week.
"I personally love the work," the coach said. "Especially when it comes at a time when you're bored playing one another on the same team. Ideally we got out of there without an injury. Unfortunately we had a couple. But the opportunity to work against a championship team was priceless."