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Sunday, March 3, 2024

After beating Bills, it’s clear these are not the Same Old Jets


A fallen sky-cam cable that delays a football game for 11 minutes? Strange, but believable. After all, technology is not perfect.

An opening kickoff that ends in an unwanted squib because the kicker falls on his butt while taking it? Odd, but also conceivable, because kickers, even good ones, are imperfect.

The New York Jets moving to 6-3 and showing why they are one of the most dynamic, organized and (get this) functional teams in the National Football League? Nah, you’re making that one up, right?

These Jets are not the Jets that you remember, aka the Same Old Jets, as christened by Tyler Conklin, tight end for the Jets (2022 version). “Guess what,” Conklin told reporters following Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills. “We’re not the Same Old Jets.”

The Same Old Jets wouldn’t have beaten the Bills Sunday, because, even if they could have kept pace with Buffalo, they’d have found a way to mess it up in the end.

The Same Old Jets wouldn’t have New York buzzing like this, for how much breathless fervor can you bring to bear when 4-13 (last year’s record) marks a significant improvement on the season before?

The Same Old Jets would get attention only for shooting themselves in the foot, like the time in 2020 when thy stayed winless by blitzing at midfield with 19 seconds left and allowed the Las Vegas Raiders an easy touchdown. Or when they actually won a couple of games later that season, and that was decried as a mistake too, because it cost them the top pick.

The guy they took with the eventual second pick, Zach Wilson, is now part of the rewriting of the Jets’ modern story. Rebounding from a three-interception performance against the New England Patriots, Wilson was what he needed to be on Sunday: solid, consistent and reliable.

Wilson is learning on the job but he has some sophomore swagger, as does 2022 draftee Sauce Gardner, who made a game-shifting interception off Josh Allen and then formed imaginary snow angels on the East Rutherford turf at the end. It was funny and silly, and the sort of thing not seen around here for a while, for no one feels like doing snow angels when you’re losing every week.

Head coach Robert Saleh brought a culture change into being when he arrived before the start of last season, albeit with growing pains that were sometimes excruciating to work through. Saleh praised Wilson, while being thankful for his defense’s ongoing excellence.

“Nothing’s too big for him,” Saleh said of Wilson. “He’s going to be a good football player. He’s still a pup in the league, he’s got a long way to go.”

In a season where sizable win streaks are indisputably out of fashion, 6-3 has some serious heft to it. In terms of record, the Jets are tied for third-best in the AFC and tied for seventh-best in the entire league.

Heady days indeed, which, combined with the surge of the neighboring Giants, makes New York a veritable hotbed for football optimism right now, a claim unusual enough to make you wonder if you’ve wandered clumsily into a parallel universe.

If so, Jets fans will gladly remain there, because it’s quite nice to wake up on a Monday morning to find your team being nationally lauded instead of ignored.

“Yes, the Jets are for real,” FS1’s Greg Jennings said, on “The Carton Show.” “You are a run-first team, that’s who you are. You stick to that script and allow your defense to lead you, you’re going to be just fine.”

This is what progress looks like and the Jets are enjoying it just as much as they should. It is possible that this is the high point, right here, for a tough month awaits, with a visit to the Patriots and a home clash with Chicago, before meetings with two of the best teams in the league — the Minnesota Vikings and a Bills rematch, in Buffalo.

As things stand, a playoff position is entirely feasible, though it will take some more serious work to get there. Even if a numerical tail-off occurs it should be kept in perspective, because only once since 2010 has the team finished above .500.

“A lot of people will be surprised by this,” Saleh said. “But I don’t think there’s one person surprised about this in our locker room.”

Look, it is a surprise. Losing is a habit, and for years the Jets were addicted to it. For the wider football public looking in from outside, it was impossible to see a way that a turnaround like this could happen. But that’s why Saleh is earning his keep, with incremental improvements that are beginning to bear real fruit.

It’s not a miracle. It’s just something strange and unusual, and mightily impressive because of it.

Strange and unusual , like that malfunctioned sky-cam and the butt-landing kickoff, both of which happened in the victory over the Bills, too.

But these aren’t the Same Old Jets, so it didn’t matter. These are the new Jets, which means that when incident or accident arrives, as it assuredly will, the joke doesn’t always have to be on them.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter. 

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