The effort was good to see. The resilience was reflective of a team clearly coming into its own. The fact that an early 17-point deficit later was essentially 36 inches away from potentially becoming a defining victory was terrific.
All of those things were encouraging signs for the Jets on Sunday at Minnesota.
But there was one thing, far and away, above and beyond, that was the most important part of the aftermath of the Jets’ nerve-fraying and ruggedly entertaining 27-22 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and it was summarized best in the words of the men whose three-hour quest landed achingly short.
Quarterback Mike White: “By no means are we into moral victories. Moral victories don’t count in the NFL.”
Cornerback Sauce Gardner: “We shouldn’t have let this slip away.”
Receiver Garrett Wilson: “Frustrating as hell. We need to finish that.”
On and on, all across the locker room and the postgame podium. That is the Jets’ attitude now. That is the standard. It isn’t enough that the Jets (7-5) have already won one more game this year than they won the last two seasons combined. The players on the roster didn’t sign up for baby steps, in the same way they’ve refused to accept the hoary green vestments of “Same Old Jets.”
“If we play like that,” head coach Robert Saleh said, “we’ll win more often than not.”
But Saleh, the one whose narrative the team embraces so completely, also added: “It wasn’t good enough today.”Mike White and Kirk Cousins after the Vikings defeated the Jets on Sunday.AP
It wasn’t good enough because the defense suffered a rare first-half hiccup, surrendering 20 points across the first 30 minutes as the Vikings took a 20-3 lead late in the half. It wasn’t good enough because the offense visited the red zone six times and came away with just one touchdown, a noxious percentage. It wasn’t good enough because Braxton Berrios had the game in his hands, a few steps across the goal line, but couldn’t squeeze it to the ground.
It was a game that left 66,973 locals roaring in delight and blaring their Viking trumpets and celebrating their continued hold on first place in the NFC North.
And it was a game that left 53 Jets salty and eager to prove, in seven days’ time at Buffalo, that they truly belong with the NFL’s best, as it sure looked for the final 30 minutes on Sunday.
“I’ve got to make that play,” Berrios lamented of the play, with 1:43 left, on which he bobbled, then dropped, a fourth-down pass from White in the end zone. “It was there. Mike put it in the only place he could. I’ve got to come down with that one.”
It was a locker room swimming in accountability, which is kind of funny given that one of the seminal moments of the season occurred two weeks ago when Zach Wilson all but volunteered to turn in his QB1 letter sweater for sideline civvies by refusing to be even a little bit accountable after that grisly loss in New England.
It was enough to see just why Saleh had so little choice but to make the switch at quarterback, even if you don’t factor in that White has thus far maximized his chance with back-to-back games of 300-plus passing yards.Garrett Wilson goes up to make a catch for the Jets.USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t just that Wilson sounded like a spoiled kid pointing fingers at everyone else; it’s that he is by all evidence the only one in the room who would’ve even considered pointing a finger at anyone other than Bill Parcells’ old friend, “The Guy in the Glass.” It makes for a united team. And also one that, you have to believe, will absolutely show up next week in Orchard Park, spoiling for a fight.
“We can handle whatever,” Gardner insisted.
“This team,” White said, “fought its freaking tails off.”
“Today,” Garrett Wilson said, “was the definition of a game of inches. Over and over and over.”
Thirty-six of them, in fact, with the Jets sitting in the shadow of the Vikings’ goal line, on the precipice of a signature win. It didn’t happen. Still, instead of a sense of satisfaction for an effort well fought, they chose instead a sense of yearning for another crack at it. Next Sunday, they will get their chance.