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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Albert Breer

The Jets Have Plenty to Look Forward to in 2024

C.J. Mosley, a decade into his NFL career, had been around long enough to know what this past week was going to be like for the New York Jets he captains. The team came in at 5–9. The game was on Christmas Eve. MetLife Stadium was going to be half full. And with the Washington Commanders playing out the string on the other side, the chances of checked-out football ran high.

So last week the five-time All-Pro linebacker turned to scripture, finding a Bible verse to take to his teammates to illustrate what was in front of them.

There was no turning the clock back to Week 1 for a group of players who entered the season with Gotham-sized expectations. But what they could do, Mosley told them, was carry the mentality they had that September night—with the idea that those dreams could come back alive.

Mosley joined the Jets in 2019 after playing five seasons in Baltimore.

Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

“That’s the big challenge,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said, as he drove home from MetLife late Sunday afternoon. “[Mosley] read a verse from the Bible and talked about vision over sight. Sometimes in the moment, you can lose touch of the vision. If you’re living in the moment of what’s happening to you now, you lose that overall vision of what can happen later.”

Maybe it sparked something in a Jets team that raced to a 27–7 lead over the Commanders on a dreary day in New Jersey, then had to come from behind with Trevor Siemian for a 30–28 win. Maybe it didn’t. After all, they did almost blow that lead to a last-place team that switched quarterbacks midgame.

Either way, you can count Jets owner Woody Johnson in on Mosley’s message.

What the linebacker told his teammates to do Sunday was essentially what the person who cuts their checks did earlier in the day. Johnson’s actions, in affirming to the New York Post that Saleh and GM Joe Douglas would be back for 2024, did buy into the vision of what the Jets can be, which goes back to what they were on opening night, over the sight of what they have been since Aaron Rodgers went down four snaps into that first game.

With the team at 5–9 before kickoff—and after depth issues at quarterback and along the offensive line had sunk any hope of Rodgers making a miracle comeback right around, well, now—the decision to run it back writ large couldn’t have been a slam dunk. That Johnson would do it with three games left, though, says something about how strongly everyone felt about where the team was three and a half months ago.

“You can quote this one right here,” Saleh says. “Yes, the season’s been very hard. But at the same time, on Sept. 11, at 7:45 in the evening, when the announcements are happening and Aaron’s running out of there holding the flag, and the stadium was what it was, that stuff was all real. There was a lot of excitement. There was a lot of expectations. There was a lot of hope. It won’t be hard to get back to that.

“The challenge is going to be acting on that, keeping the quarterback upright, staying healthy throughout the year and doing what we all felt we could have done this year. I think that’s where Woody’s had great perspective.”

Sunday did bring some glimmers of what could’ve been.

New York’s defense ended the Commanders’ first two possessions with an interception and a sack. Washington wasn’t able to pick up a first down until the fourth time it got the ball. The Jets’ special teams blocked a punt. Breece Hall was physical, exploding for a 36-yard touchdown run. Garrett Wilson looked like himself. Even Siemian was efficient, with the kind of hands-at-10-and-2 quarterbacking the Jets could’ve used earlier in the season.

Then Sam Howell got benched, Jacoby Brissett came in and the Commanders scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to flip a 20-point deficit into a one-point lead.

And that’s the other side of it—and how much of this season has gone for the Jets.

After Siemian and the offense gutted through an eight-play, 31-yard slog to set up Greg Zuerlein’s 54-yard game-winner, Saleh gathered his team. A lot of guys, he says, were upset with how the second half had gone.

“I was like, ‘Hey, guys, if that was a back-and-forth game, we would’ve been pretty excited that we won,’” Saleh says. “No one liked the way it finished. But at the same time, let’s not hang our heads. … Never apologize or be upset about a win. Did we get style points? No, but we’re trying to win a football game.”

And, if the Jets followed Mosley’s advice, there has been a way of looking at days like Sunday and seeing what they could mean down the line.

For both Saleh and Douglas, that very much has begun with a look in the mirror; stripping the team of the quarterback it was built for exposed some rickety aspects of the operation that can be addressed with clear eyes in the weeks and months to come. Those come about both in the big picture and the details, and, the hope goes, the chance to address them aggressively is one silver lining to come through a cloudy fall and winter.

Saleh has been forced to level out his team after losing a star quarterback. 

Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

“There’s a lot of things that opened our eyes,” Saleh says. “I’ll start with myself: There’s a lot of things where I could be better. It’s funny, I’ll be going on my fourth year as a head coach, and, to be honest with you, you learn every day. There’s going to be things that I’ve got to change. There’s things that [DC Jeff] Ulbrich is going to change. There’s things that [OC Nathaniel] Hackett’s got to change. There’s things that all our individual players have to change, things we do in the building.

“Before we ever expect our players to take that next step, we’ve got to take that next step as a coaching staff. It’s a challenge that we’re going to be prepared to attack. … There’s going to be a lot of things. I don’t want to get too detailed into what we’ve seen, but there’s a lot of areas in which we’ll be better for sure.”

Of course, the Jets still have two games left—one on Thursday against the red-hot Cleveland Browns (and former old friend Joe Flacco), and the finale in Foxborough against the New England Patriots.

As Saleh sees it, those games, even without playoff implications, should give the staff a good chance to keep evaluating the team’s roster and methods. Plus, the young players will have more opportunity to develop and create a runway into 2024.

“We’re playing a lot of young guys, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Saleh says. “You just want to see those guys get better every day, take advantage of their opportunities. Jason Brownlee. Xavier Gipson. Izzy Abanikanda got a lot of reps. Garrett Wilson and Breece are still second-year players. Carter Warren’s a rookie playing at the right tackle spot. [Joe] Tippmann’s a rookie at the center spot. You just want to see all these young guys continue to develop, get better and build some momentum heading into next year.”

Hall totaled 191 all-purpose yards Sunday.

Kevin R. Wexler/USA TODAY Network

And Rodgers, for his part, is showing his own desire to do the same and hit the ground running going into the offseason—both in returning to practice this month, and, for a while, on the headsets on game day.

Which, of course, really matters, too.

“You can have an opinion on the man,” Saleh says, “but he’s an unbelievably thoughtful human being. He is all about this team.”

Maybe the best sign that it’ll be Rodgers’s team again in 2024 is how steadfast Saleh is sticking by how the Jets set things up this year—which will give the 40-year-old quarterback what he signed up for this year, next season.

Proof? When I asked Saleh whether his staff will return intact next year, he didn’t miss a beat, saying, “Fully expecting it to be, yeah.”

So even on a dreary holiday work weekend for the team, with every dream it had for 2023 dashed, the Jets gave themselves something to look forward to. And with all the lessons of this year banked, New York can hope that next year may actually be better than this year would’ve been.

“Anyone who is associated with the Jets was very proud of the organization before the season,” Saleh says. “Yes, we can sometimes get lost in the moment, and there’s a lot of things that we can learn from the moments that have passed and have transpired since then. But at the same time, I know that there’s going to be a lot of excitement, a lot of hope. Our players have a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to run this thing back and get to where we know we’re capable of getting to.”

And evidently, they’ve got an owner who wholeheartedly agrees.

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