ORCHARD PARK, NY – The noise in the tunnel was loud, but the locker room was quiet. As Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson made their way to the visiting locker room at Buffalo Bills stadium, there was a lot of commotion behind them. New York Jets defensive end Micheal Clemons and Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins had to be separated, a brawl that carried over from the field into the tunnel as the two teams headed to the locker rooms, located in the same tunnel, directly from facing each other, without much space between them.
The quasi-fight in question. Michael Clemons and Dion Dawkins need to be separated. Two big guys almost collided. Spilled by beef during 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 restrain Clemons in the midst of the commotion, and a coach attempted to calm Clemons as he entered the locker room. Inside the atmosphere was boring and words were scarce.
Saleh appeared to be on the verge of tears in his post-match press conference. When wide receiver Garrett Wilson spoke, it was barely above a whisper. Tight end Tyler Conklin admitted he has no more ways to explain the Jets’ mess. It’s usually the same issues, week after week. But in this game, which the Jets lost 32-6, it was worse than it had been since at least last year. They were outplayed, outclassed and taunted off the field by players like Ed Oliver, who yelled at the Jets players as they retreated to the locker room.
“What do you want me to say?” Conklin said after his team fell to 4-6. “If I had answers or someone had answers, I’d like to think it wouldn’t happen like this.”
Maybe the answer will come with a quarterback change, but probably not. It’s hard to believe Aaron Rodgers actually wants to return after watching Sunday’s game. The Jets’ problems go beyond the quarterback position, though Zach Wilson has reached a point of no return, where the Jets could bench him once again, and this time for good. When he was pulled for Tim Boyle with 2:17 left in the third quarter, the Jets were losing 29-6. Wilson had completed 7 of 15 passes for 81 yards, a touchdown — the Jets’ first offensive touchdown in 40 possessions — and a brutal interception in the second quarter. He didn’t complete a single pass to a wide receiver.
Saleh made a point of saying that Wilson was not the problem and that he would only bench him when it was clear that he was the one giving his all. He adamantly rejected the idea of making a change simply to find a spark – and that’s exactly what he did on Sunday, when the game was already too far out of reach.
“I just tried to see if we could get something going 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 whether the decision is entirely Saleh’s anyway. The Jets have reached a point now with Wilson that, if he’s benched, the possibility of them moving on from him altogether — as in releasing him during the season — shouldn’t be entirely ruled out. If he’s on the bench, that should be it for him in a Jets uniform. Wilson is a problem, perhaps the biggest problem, but it’s not the only problem. The Jets already had one of the worst offenses in the NFL last year and somehow it got worse with Nathaniel Hackett running the show as offensive coordinator.
Tim Boyle took over at QB for the Jets. pic.twitter.com/yipGuKL6eu
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) November 20, 2023
It feels like the unit has reached a point of no return and the stats are so pitiful they’re barely worth mentioning. This week, Saleh said there would be some “personnel” and “schematic” changes to try to jump-start the offense. That included 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 players-only meeting Tuesday, and Hackett moved from the sideline to the press box to call plays to, as Saleh said, “give him another perspective, get up there and calm the world down on him.”
None of this worked.
Brownlee played 19 snaps and wasn’t targeted. Gipson fumbled the opening kickoff and had one catch for 7 yards. Ruckert made a nice 18-yard catch, but otherwise his impact wasn’t evident. Abanikanda barely played in attack until late in the second half, when things were already out of reach. And the play-calling didn’t improve either: The Jets were 0-for-11 on third down, further cementing this as the worst third-down offense in the NFL and one of the worst in recent memory. Even the running game, which was supposed to be the staple of this offense, has fallen off a cliff: Against the Bills, Breece Hall rushed for 23 yards on 10 carries after getting 28 yards on 13 carries last week against the Las Vegas Raiders. Ultimately, Hackett planned to give Hall more of the ball in the passing game and it worked — five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown — but that was the only positive outcome of this week’s changes.
It’s important to remember that the Jets’ offensive line is in disarray. Chris Glaser (zero career starts) started at right guard. When left tackle Mekhi Becton left with an injury and did not return, he was replaced by rookie Carter Warren in his first career offensive snaps. The unit allowed five sacks total. But before Sunday, the Giants were the only offense worse than the Jets in most areas (namely in scoring and pass blocking), and then they went and scored 31 points in a win over the Washington Commanders. Quarterback Tommy DeVito threw three touchdowns, something Wilson has never done.
“I don’t think anyone did anything today,” Saleh said. “Players, coaches, schemes, obviously it wasn’t good enough. None of it was good.
The supporting cast around the quarterback doesn’t help much either. Wilson has had 19 dropped passes by his receivers this season, the third-most of any quarterback. A few plays after Boyle checked in, Garrett Wilson lost another fumble.
“I’m trying to make a play, get the ball and decide to try to make a play on the linebacker without good ball security,” Wilson said. “This is what happens in this championship. This season I’m exposing myself and I need to fix it. “I will do it.”
Garrett Wilson admitted that the offense’s struggles and his lack of targets and receptions Sunday pushed him to make a play every time he actually gets the ball. This could be the problem for some of his teammates too.
“I feel like that, and I feel like I play worse when I do that,” Wilson said. “So I’m trying to fight human nature and maybe we all have to feel that way and that adds to the struggles on offense. It’s hard, man, when you play like that and feel like you have to. “I have to get those bad plays off the field because I’m pressing.”
And finally, the Jets defense had its first really bad game of the season. It’s difficult to attribute many of this team’s problems to them; at some point, the straw would have broken the camel’s back. Saleh said a few weeks ago that the Jets had “dominated” the star quarterbacks playing this season, comments that certainly reached the Bills’ locker room. Josh Allen fed the crowd that Sunday, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns in a game for Buffalo, the same week he fired former offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.
“Give them credit, they dominated us,” cornerback DJ Reed said. “It’s painful to say.”
But this is not the defense’s fault. If the finger is being pointed at anyone, it should start at the top of the organization, towards the most important people running the show:
This is general manager Joe Douglas, for building an offense that suddenly seems talentless outside of Hall and Garrett Wilson.
This is Saleh, who has had difficulty steering the ship back in the right direction. The Jets have transformed into an undisciplined team, prone to penalties and backbreaking mental errors.
This is Hackett, whose offense has become predictable, boring and utterly unsuccessful – somehow less productive than many terrible Jets offenses of recent years.
And then there’s Zach Wilson.
He shouldn’t have played this year, remember that. He has been hypothetical learn from Aaron Rodgers. Instead, he started every game and became the face of the organization’s biggest problem: the offense.
Wilson admitted he was “frustrated” at being benched (again), but understood why.
“When things aren’t getting done, you need to make a change and I understand that,” he said.
Boyle replaced him and completed 7 of 14 passes for 33 yards and an interception, after not receiving first-team reps all week. He should do so this week, especially if he ends up replacing Wilson as the starter.
If that happens, the long end to Wilson’s tenure with the Jets will come to pass.
Early in the third quarter, Wilson climbed up the sideline and lunged at Saleh, taking him outan image befitting the state the Jets are in as an organization.
At this rate, the Jets’ decision to go with Wilson this season could eliminate Saleh in another way, too.
(Top photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images)