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How Jets turned my gloomy predictions upside down

I was wrong.

I picked the Jets to go 4-13 this season, and obviously I am going to be way, way off. The Jets already have four wins, and they look as if they could finish with plenty more.

Looking back at the prediction I made in the summer, I clearly underestimated some things about this team. So, now with six weeks of games in the books, I have been thinking about what I missed in my preseason evaluation.

Where did I go wrong? Let’s count the ways.

1. The defense, dummy

The Jets had the worst defense in the NFL last season by many statistical measures. I knew the Jets would be better this year (they couldn’t be worse), but I did not anticipate them playing this well. The Jets are No. 9 in the NFL in yards allowed, and they have given up just 27 total points in their past two games. The Jets defense completely shut down Aaron Rodgers last week, and the Packers could not run the ball on them at all. The Jets have 10 takeaways this season.

Quinnen Williams makes a tackle.
Quinnen Williams leads a Jets defense that ranks among the NFL’s 10 stingiest in yards allowed.

Quinnen Williams is playing at an All-Pro level. Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers have been strong off the edge. C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams and Kwon Alexander have been tackling machines. Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed have been great in coverage.

I did not see them playing like they have, and that is a big reason they are winning.

2. Ranking rookies

Evaluating rookies before they play a game is so difficult. It is the reason I never include them in my top 25 before training camp. I always go back to 2013, when we anticipated Dee Milliner being great and Sheldon Richardson was a question mark. Milliner was benched three times. Richardson won Rookie of the Year. You never know.

The same goes for this year’s class. Everyone was excited about the draft class – particularly Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson and Breece Hall. It was clear Joe Douglas upgraded the talent level on the Jets, but you never know how rookies will play, especially how soon they will play well.

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver River Cracraft (85) from quarterback Skylar Thompson (not shown) during the first half at MetLife Stadium.
Sauce Gardner and members of the Jets’ rookie class have played major roles in the team’s surprising 4-2 start.

These rookies have had no delay. Hall and Gardner are already two of the best players on the team. Wilson had a great game in Cleveland. Johnson has been a nice role player. The game does not look too big for them.

The emergence of Hall and Gardner has been a huge factor of why the Jets are better than I expected. I knew Gardner would be a good player, but I thought he would go through some growing pains. He’s had a few minor ones, but he is making many more plays. It was clear that Hall would be good from the minute you saw him on the practice field, but the Jets like to split time in the backfield. I was not sure how quickly he could win the lead job from Michael Carter. It did not take him very long. Now you find yourself watching games wondering why they don’t give him the ball on every play. Gardner and Hall are studs and Rookie of the Year candidates.

3. Who needs a quarterback?

I had major questions about Zach Wilson entering this season, and many of them still exist. But the Jets have not had to lean on the second-year quarterback to win games. He came up big in the fourth quarter in Pittsburgh in his first game back, but since then he has played a supporting role to a strong run game and the aforementioned defense. Wilson completed 10 of 18 passes for 110 yards in the win over the Packers.

Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets calls out orders in the second quarter of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Jets have been careful not to put too heavy a burden on Zach Wilson.
Getty Images

I’m not sure how long the Jets can downplay their quarterback, but they have done it the past two weeks. At some point, you would expect they would need Wilson to carry them. I’m still not sure he can do it, but the Jets have shown they can win with him being a game manager.

4. Schedule surprises

When the schedule came out in May, it looked as if the Jets would have a brutal first nine weeks before the bye. They opened against all four AFC North teams followed by the upstart Dolphins at home and trips to Green Bay and Denver.

This is why projecting wins and losses off the schedule in the offseason does not always work. The AFC North is nowhere near as fierce as expected. The brand-name Steelers and Packers are struggling more than they usually do. The Jets have also caught some breaks with Deshaun Watson getting suspended, Kenny Pickett playing his first game against them and the Dolphins being down to their third-string quarterback. It looks as if that may continue this week with the Broncos playing worse than anyone expected and quarterback Russell Wilson now dealing with a hamstring injury.

I don’t intend for this to demean the Jets’ wins. This is the NFL. Injuries occur, and you can catch teams at the right time. For once, things are breaking the Jets’ way. They are long overdue to get some luck, and they have taken advantage.

Carl Lawson (58) chases down Dolphins quarterback Skylar Thompson in Sunday's game.
Facing the likes of Dolphins third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson hasn’t hurt the Jets’ effort to play their way into early playoff contention.
Getty Images

No one knows how the final 11 games will go for the Jets. But they already have shown they are much better than I thought they would be.

There’s a lot of baggage

Jets fans are feeling good, and that was evident Monday morning in the Milwaukee airport. At 5 a.m., Jets fans were walking through the terminal, high-fiving each other and shouting about “taking receipts,” to echo Robert Saleh.

For years, these morning-after airprort scenes have felt like funerals. Jets fans spend money to make the trip, get excited and then get let down by the team. Then they would be sitting in an airport early Monday morning trying to get back to New York or New Jersey for work or school.

This Monday morning felt like a celebration. Jets fans deserve to feel good about this team after suffering through years of bad football. We’ll see if they can keep the party going at the Denver airport next Monday.

Stat’s so

New York Jets running back Breece Hall (20) breaks up field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis.
Breece Hall is already on the cusp of registering one of the 10 best rookie rushing seasons in Jets history, and he’s only played six games.

Jets rookie running back Breece Hall already has 391 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. He is on his way to having one of the best rookie seasons by a running back in franchise history — his rushing total already ranks 11th all-time. Here are the top 10 rookie rushing seasons by a Jet:

1. Matt Snell (1964): 948 yards, 5 TDs
2. John Riggins (1971): 769 yards, 1 TDs
3. Clark Gaines (1976): 724 yards, 3 TDs
4. Leon Washington (2006): 650 yards, 4 TDs
5. Michael Carter (2021): 639 yards, 4 TDs
6. Freeman McNeil (1981): 623 yards, 2 TDs
7. Blair Thomas (1990): 620 yards, 1 TDs
8. Shonn Greene (2009): 540 yards, 2 TDs
9. Emerson Boozer (1966): 455 yards, 5 TDs
10. Dewey Bohling (1960): 431 yards, 2 TDs

Source: Stathead

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