No one is laughing about the New York Jets now, a team that is now 4-5 and might just have the last laugh when it is all said and done.
The names on the back of the jersey might not be well known, devoid of superstars and marquee players. This Jets team wasn’t being given the time of day in August as the roster, from top to bottom, was openly mocked.
But for an organization that for far too long has chased big names only to be disappointed, this ragtag group of players who make fans scramble for their programs and say “Who’s that?” is playing for this organization. They may not be stars. They may not be recognizable. They may not have been very good before they came here.
But one thing they are is that, to a man, they want to be Jets.
That the Jets beat the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night before a national audience only underscores not just how much better this team has gotten since Week 1, it shows just how foolish the talk from preseason about how bad this team would be. The joke was that Alabama or Ohio State could beat the Jets, a clear slap in the face to a team that was rebuilding but still had some talent.
And at the end of the day, general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles won’t be talking about a top draft pick when the season ends. In fact, they will be wondering what pieces are needed to get this team over the hump and into the playoffs next year.
Yes, playoffs. It isn’t foolish to say that this team is building something and closer to success than many thought.
This is an exciting Jets team that, while nowhere close to dethroning the New England Patriots atop the division, is nonetheless a squad built for the future. The defense has the potential to be a good unit under Bowles and the offense, while still needing to find answers and develop consistency, is nowhere near as anemic as some had feared or predicted.
These Jets are a couple bona fide free agents away from being a playoff contender and Maccagnan as well as Bowles deserve an awful lot of credit for the gutsy work they’ve done. Four wins for the entire year was considered a push just three months ago by many experts. Instead the Jets can certainly rattle off a few more wins this year and set up for a very exciting offseason.
What’s not to like about this team? They are scrappy and hungry, playing like their hair is on fire. They love this game and they love each other, a locker room that clearly has bought into the message from their head coach.
Cast your eyes across town at New York’s other football team and the contrast couldn’t be more stark.
Two years removed from a free agent binge that led to a sugar rush of success in 2015 and a serious crash the next year, the Jets are building something new. This thing looks to be sustainable with lessons learned from last year’s debacle.
The core of the team is young and hungry, perhaps playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. It should be an enticing opportunity for any free agent next year to see a team that is potentially ready to take the next step.
But in the here and now, these Jets are doing what fans of this franchise have waited so long to see and rarely seem to find. On a team that has been infatuated with signing aging veterans of the years, players whose best days were seemingly behind them before they got to the Meadowlands, this group in Bowles’ locker room seems to want to be here.
This 53-man roster to a man want to be a Jet, playing for a head coach who isn’t looking over his shoulder. No exit notes in jumbled handwriting written on a napkin to leave for greener pastures. For Bowles and this team, a year that was supposed to be conceded instead has taken on a new meaning.
And for them, it means being a Jet.