The Jets' three losses to open this season all have things in common and yet have offered some unique, unfavorable developments as well.
The size of all three defeats has been roughly the same, although they have gotten slowly larger, in part because the team's injury list has gotten steadily larger. QB Sam Darnold has tried to rally the troops as the array of players has changed around him, and his games have had moments of smart play marred by fatal flaws.
Sunday at Indianapolis was a case in point. For a half, the Jets looked better, scoring their first, first-half touchdown of the season — in the red zone, no less. The offense moved the ball for a respectable 188 first-half yards against a Colts defense that came into this weekend as No. 1 overall and against the pass in the NFL, even while Darnold worked with a wideout unit missing its top three receivers.
But the good was undone again. The Jets' best stretch came in between two pick-six interceptions thrown by Darnold, with a red zone INT tossed in the middle of it all. And the Colts came out galloping from the start of the second half for a 36-7 victory.
"Yeah, obviously didn't play well enough today, didn't execute well enough," Darnold said. "The turnovers cost us big-time. The first one, just based on [CB Xavier Rhodes'] leverage, maybe I shouldn't have thrown it. Then the red zone turnover, I thought Rhodes made a good play. Obviously shouldn't have thrown it, but yeah, he made a really good play. I think they busted their coverage.
"Then the last one, just, yeah, just didn't see it well enough. Got to be better."
There were no easy answers for the still-23-years-young third-year QB as he replied to reporters' questions.
"I'm not playing consistent enough to play well in this league," he said. "And so for me, I just need to play more consistent, make the plays when they're there. And when they're not, just get rid of the ball, check it down, do all the right things I need to do."
For that small first-half window, Darnold and his battered offense were doing a lot of those right things. He threw his first interception to Rhodes on his second pass of the game as he tried to hit undrafted free agent rookie WR Lawrence Cager, elevated from the practice squad because Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman were both inactive. Rhodes took it 44 yards to the Lucas Oil house for the game's first score.
Darnold and the offense rebounded sharply to put together their best drive of the season: 14 plays, 88 yards that included six completions, one 6-yard scramble to convert a third down and then Darnold's best scramble yet to avoid pressure and find Braxton Berrios for an on-the-move 16-yard touchdown dart that tied the score at 7.
"Me and Braxton have always had a good connection, I think," Darnold said. "He was out there making really good plays for us."
The decent offense continued into the second quarter, when, after the Colts opened a 17-7 lead, Darnold appeared poised to cut the margin to three points on another red zone drive. But on first-and-goal from the 7, he tried to find Cager again, this time in the end zone, and instead again found Rhodes, this time for the touchback.
It didn't help that the offense, playing with Chuma Edoga replacing George Fant (concussion) at RT, had to replace first-round rookie Mekhi Becton, who injured his shoulder late in the half and never returned, with Conor McDermott going in at LT. Still, Darnold declined to reach for any alibis.
"The coaches do a really good job and players, my teammates, do a really good job of knowing the game plan even though they're not technically starting," he said. "And that's why I think we do a really good job of having that next-man-up mentality. We were driving the ball down the field. We've just got to execute in the red area, put it in the end zone."
But as the QB and his teammates know too well, getting out of this hole won't be any easier in the short term. Some injured players could return, some may not, but no one will have the luxury of a full week to get ready for the also winless Broncos, who come to MetLife Stadium for Thursday Night Football this week.
"We've just got to take it one day at a time," Darnold said. "We've got a short week. We start getting ready for [Denver] tomorrow. We're looking forward to the challenge. It's like I said, it's take it one day at a time right now. ... That's where we're at."