SEATTLE — New York Jets quarterback Mike White sat motionless at his locker for several minutes, staring down at play sheets at his feet. Eventually, he reached down, picked up the papers and methodically tore them into tiny pieces — a metaphor for the Jets’ once-promising season.
Their 23-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Lumen Field was the Jets’ fifth straight defeat, which eliminated them from playoff contention to culminate an epic collapse. It extended their postseason drought to 12 straight years, the longest active streak in the NFL and now the longest such slump in franchise history. It also clinched their seventh consecutive losing season.
“It stings,” White said. “It’s tough. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s all of the above. You can use any adjective you want to use to describe it.”
The Jets were 7-4 after a 31-10 rout of the Chicago Bears on Nov. 27, seemingly headed towards a slump-busting playoff appearance. Undermined by a cold offense and quarterback instability, they are now in the midst of perhaps the worst late-season nose dive in team history. The last time they lost this many in a row after the 10th game was 1996, their infamous 1-15 season.
“No one is hurting more than the people in the locker room, especially me,” coach Robert Saleh said. “At the same time, I know it’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel, but there are a lot of really cool things to look at for this season. But right now it stings big time.”
Coming off a 4-13 record in Saleh’s first season, the Jets (7-9) weren’t expected to be strong playoff contenders in 2022, but they became one of the biggest surprises with their fast start. Expectations were raised — and everything fell apart.
“We feel s—ty as players,” tight end Tyler Conklin said. “No one is happy about it. I feel for the fans, I feel for everybody. We wanted this, too, and we just didn’t play well enough and it hurts. It sucks. You know you’re not going to get an opportunity to change that until next season, which makes it even s—tier.”
Saleh said he will “look at everything, all the way from the top down, starting with me, obviously.” The offense will get the most scrutiny. It failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game; the Jets have averaged only 12 points per game during the five-game losing streak.
“It’s shocking,” White said of the slump — eight quarters without a touchdown.
The Jets had hoped White’s return to the lineup would provide the spark needed to win the final two games and perhaps sneak into the playoffs. A pair of wins, coupled with one loss by the New England Patriots, would have resulted in a wild-card berth. But, after missing two games because of fractured ribs, White was rusty and looked uncomfortable under pressure Sunday.
White, in his fourth start since replacing the benched Zach Wilson, completed only 23 of 46 passes for 240 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked four times and went 3-for-15 with an interception during duress, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
He didn’t deny that his ribs might have been a factor in his performance.
“I was cleared to play by the doctors,” he said. “The guys in that locker room deserve a certain standard. I knew what I was signing up for. I was cleared by the doctors, I practiced all week. Basically, what I’m saying is, there’s a standard those guys deserve. I didn’t live up to that standard today.”
Different quarterback, same result.
In the past four games — two with Wilson, two with White — the Jets have produced 12, 17, three and six points. It shines a light on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, whose offense has topped 30 points only five times in 33 games. Conklin said they were “flat” at times Sunday.
“We feel like we blew the season,” said rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson, speaking of the team in general. “We wanted a chance at the playoffs. I’m pretty sure this [loss] means we’re not going. At the end of the day, that’s what we wanted to do — and have a chance to prove ourselves beyond that. We didn’t get there, so we don’t feel good about it at all.”
The Jets were out of the game from the start, falling behind 17-3, after the defense allowed three consecutive scoring drives. After that, they never really threatened, as LaFleur got away from the ground game and White continued to misfire. He was 17-for-40 when targeting receivers not named Conklin.
After a few fortuitous results last weekend, the Jets received an unexpected shot at the playoffs — “a blessing from the football gods,” cornerback DJ Reed said. But they squandered their second chance.
“We had high expectations all season and we didn’t meet them,” special teams captain Justin Hardee said. “It’s always disappointing when you don’t take that next step and get to the postseason. We’ll have a bad taste in our mouth for a long time.”