The Jets reporters that accompanied the Green & White to their season finale at Miami today had a series of similar questions for head coach Robert Saleh after their 11-6 loss to the Dolphins was in the books.
What do you make of a third consecutive game without a touchdown on offense? How do you get a handle on your team's seven-game losing streak at Miami? What happened during the six-game losing streak that knocked your Jets out of the playoff picture?
"Ah, it doesn't matter," Saleh said. "I can explain it a million different ways. It was a six-game losing streak."
Saleh wasn't being flip or combative. He was feeling the pain along with a host of other people who thought maybe this was the year the Jets ended their droughts of losing seasons and no playoff games. And when the pain lifted, he was quietly confident about what lies ahead for the Green & White.
"It's frustrating because you know you're right there, you know when you're rolling on all cylinders at 7-4, pretty healthy," he said. "Then one thing leads to another and you lose six in a row.
"I'm not going to fault these guys for how hard they fought. They took Minnesota, Buffalo, Detroit to the wire. I didn't like the way we played in that Thursday night game [vs. Jacksonville] or at Seattle."
But, he said of this game, in which it was impossible for them to get a 9-8 record or get into the playoffs, "We asked the guys to fight and they absolutely fought all the way to the end. Give credit to Miami, they're going to the playoffs. But we gave 'em a run."
Fight was the right word. It seemed like a fight just to fill out their active roster this past week, with three starting offensive linemen and a starting safety went on Injured Reserve, Joe Flacco stepped in for QB Mike White and his aggravated rib injury, and during the game both defensive leader C.J. Mosley and rookie phenom Sauce Gardner left the action with injuries. Mosley returned and Gardner, who again helped to defuse the explosive plays that can be provided by Miami WRs Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, wanted to come back.
The Jets offense struggled again to low totals — no TDs for the third straight game, 187 yards, 11 first downs. At least they suffered no turnovers (although a fumble on the last-play lateral resulted in a Miami safety for the game's final two points), and they also converted seven of 16 third-down situations.
But Flacco, starting his fourth game this season and first since September, had a reaction similar to his head coach about the offense: "I'm proud of my guys. Things were kind of tough sledding, but we battled."
And those are the qualities the head coach still sees as he executed a Saleh segue to discuss what lies ahead now in the seemingly interminable NFL offseason before the next season gets under way. Why, how is it that he feels that way?
"Because we've got a good team. We do," he said, softly insistent. "Seven-and-four wasn't a mirage. We've got a championship-caliber defense, we've got a bunch of young guys who are going to get healthy and get back here, an offensive line that's going to get healthy and get back here. And I know we're going to get the quarterback position right. And when we do, it's going to be about finishing. And it's going to be about finishing all offseason."
See the best images from the Week 18 matchup between the Jets and Dolphins.
Those are a few of the words he offered to Woody and Christopher Johnson and their team and employees and fans.
"I know it's been a long, long ride, not being in the playoffs when it was right on our fingertips and we're not going," he said, but added, "I know what kind of team we have. I get it, I get the outside noise, I get all that, the disappointment of the six-game losing streak. The silver lining is we've got an unbelievable core group of guys. I'm really excited for this offseason, to see them take off. When we get this opportunity again, we've got to go finish."
But first, Saleh will have to put a stake through the heart of what the '22 season turned out to be, then wait for the spirit of '23 to take hold. He admitted he didn't know how long that would take.
"This one's going to be on my mind for a little bit. I don't know," Saleh said. "But I've got seven kids and a beautiful wife at home. They'll help me forget pretty quick."