ORCHARD PARK, NY — The noise is loud in the tunnel, but the locker room is quiet. As Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson made their way to the visitor’s locker room at Buffalo Bills stadium, there was commotion behind them. New York Jets defensive end Micheal Clemons and Bills tight end Dion Dawkins had to be separated, a dust-up carried from the field into the tunnel as the two teams headed to the locker room, located in the same tunnel, opposite of each other, not much space between them.
The close combat in question. Michael Clemons and Dion Dawkins need to be separated. Two big dudes almost lock horns. Bounced out of the beef in a 32-6 Bills win. 📸 From my iPhone pic.twitter.com/P7xE0ADi3f
— Otis Livingston (@OlivingstonTV) November 20, 2023
It could have been worse, but several teammates helped contain Clemons amid the chaos, and a coach tried to calm Clemons as he walked to the locker room. Inside, the mood is sour and words are few.
Saleh appeared to be in tears during his postgame news conference. When wide receiver Garrett Wilson spoke, he barely spoke. Tyler Conklin admits he’s run out of ways to explain the Jets’ mess. Most of the time, it’s the same issues, week after week. But in this game, where the Jets lost 32-6, it was worse than last year. They were outmatched, outclassed and laughed off the field by players like Ed Oliver, who yelled at Jets players as they retreated to the locker room.
“What do you want me to say?” Conklin said after his team dropped to 4-6. “If I had the answers or someone had the answers, I’d like to think it wouldn’t have happened like this.”
Perhaps the answer will come with a change at quarterback, but probably not. It’s hard to believe Aaron Rodgers still wants to come back after watching Sunday’s game. The Jets’ issues extend beyond the quarterback position, though Zach Wilson has reached the point of no return — where the Jets could bench him, again, and this time for good. When he was pulled for Tim Boyle with 2:17 left in the third quarter, the Jets were down 29-6. Wilson completed 7 of 15 passes for 81 yards, a touchdown — the Jets’ first offensive touchdown in 40 possessions — and a brutal second-quarter interception. He never completed a pass to a wide receiver.
Saleh has made it a point to say that Wilson is not the problem, and that he will only bench him when it is clear that he is the one gunking up the works. He stubbornly pushed the idea of making a change just to find a spark — and then he did just that on Sunday when the game was so far out of reach.
“We were just trying to see if we could get something on the offensive side of the ball,” Saleh said.
Saleh would not say whether Wilson’s benching will continue into Friday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, whether Wilson, Boyle or Trevor Siemian will take over. It may not matter, and it’s fair to wonder if that’s still Saleh’s call. The Jets have reached the point now with Wilson that if he is benched, the possibility that they could eventually move on from him — as in, release him in-season — shouldn’t be completely ruled out. take care If he’s on the bench, it should be him in a Jets uniform. Wilson is a problem, maybe the biggest problem, but he’s not the only issue. The Jets already had one of the NFL’s worst offenses last year and it only got worse with Nathaniel Hackett running the show at offensive coordinator.
Tim Boyle takes over at QB for the Jets. pic.twitter.com/yipGuKL6eu
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) November 20, 2023
The unit feels like it has reached the point of no return and the statistics are so pathetic, it’s barely worth mentioning them anymore. This week, Saleh said there will be some “personnel” and “schematic” changes to try and jumpstart the offense. That includes giving more playing time to young players like undrafted rookie receivers Jason Brownlee and Xavier Gipson, young tight end Jeremy Ruckert and rookie running back Israel Abanikanda. The Jets also held a player-only meeting Tuesday, and Hackett moved from the sideline to the press box to call plays, as Saleh said, “give him another perspective, get up there and shut up his world.”
None of these worked.
Brownlee played 19 snaps and was not targeted. Gipson caught the opening kickoff and had one catch for 7 yards. Ruckert had a nice 18-yard catch but otherwise his impact was unremarkable. Abanikanda barely played on offense until late in the second half when things got out of hand. And the play-calling hasn’t gotten any better, either: The Jets are 0-for-11 on third down, further cementing it as the NFL’s worst third-down offense, and one of the worst in recent memory. The running game, which should be a key part of this offense, also fell off the cliff: Against the Bills, Breece Hall rushed for 23 yards on 10 carries after getting 28 yards on 13 carries last week against Las Vegas Raiders. Finally, Hackett planned to get Hall the ball more in the passing game and it worked — five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown — but that was the only positive result of the changes this week.
It’s important to mention that the Jets’ offensive line is in shambles. Chris Glaser (zero career starts) started at right guard. When Mekhi Becton left with an injury and did not return, rookie Carter Warren replaced him with his first career offensive snaps. The unit allowed five sacks in total. But before Sunday, the Giants were the only offense worse than the Jets in most areas (like scoring and pass blocking), and then they went and scored 31 points in a win against Washington Commanders. Quarterback Tommy DeVito threw for three touchdowns, something Wilson had never done before.
“I don’t think anyone has done anything now,” Saleh said. “Players, coaches, scheme, it’s clearly not good enough. None of that is good.”
The supporting cast around the quarterback doesn’t help much either. Wilson has had 19 of his passes dropped by his receivers this season, the third most of any quarterback. A few plays after Boyle checked in, Garrett Wilson lost again.
“I was trying to make a play, catch the ball and I decided to try and make a move on the linebacker with poor ball security,” Wilson said. “That’s what happens in this league. This season, I was exposed for it and I had to fix it. I will do.”
Garrett Wilson admitted that the offense’s struggles, and his lack of targets and catches Sunday, forced him to make a play any time he actually got the ball. That may also be the issue for some of his teammates.
“I feel that, and I feel like I play worse when I do,” Wilson said. “So I’m trying to fight human nature and we all can feel that way and that’s combined with the guilt struggles. It’s hard, man, when you play like this and you feel like you have to. I’ve got to get rid of the bad guys. game on the field because I’m forcing it.”
And finally, the Jets defense had its first real bad game of the season. It’s hard to pin most of this group’s problems on them; at some point, the straw will break the camel’s back. Saleh said a few weeks ago that the Jets have “dominated” the star quarterbacks they’ve played this season, comments that are sure to make their way into the Bills’ locker room. Josh Allen fed him the crowbar for that Sunday, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a get-right game for Buffalo, the same week it fired former offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.
“I give them credit, they lead us,” cornerback DJ Reed said. “It hurts to say.”
But it’s not the defense’s fault. If fingers are pointing at anyone, it should start at the top of the organization, in the direction of the most important people running the show:
That’s general manager Joe Douglas, for building an offense that suddenly feels devoid of talent outside of Hall and Garrett Wilson.
It was Saleh, who struggled to turn the ship in the right direction. The Jets have become an undisciplined team prone to penalties and back-breaking mental errors.
That’s Hackett, whose offense has been predictable, boring and wildly unsuccessful — somehow less productive than a lot of terrible Jets offenses in recent years.
And then there’s Zach Wilson.
He’s not supposed to play this year, mind you. He is must to learn from Aaron Rodgers. Instead, he started every game and became the face of the organization’s biggest issue: offense.
Wilson admitted he was “disappointed” to be benched (again), but understood why.
“When things don’t work out, a change has to be made and I understand that,” he said.
Boyle replaced him and completed 7 of 14 passes for 33 yards and an interception, after not getting any reps with the first team all week. He should this week, especially if he replaces Wilson as the starter.
If that happens, the drawn-out end to Wilson’s tenure with the Jets will happen.
Early in the third quarter, Wilson scraped down the sideline and shot Saleh, took him outa fitting image for the state the Jets are in as an organization.
At this rate, the Jets’ decision to roll with Wilson this season could also get rid of Saleh in another way.
(Top photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)