EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — With a little razzle-dazzle and some big-time defensive stops, the once-struggling New York Jets are suddenly on a winning streak.
That's right, two victories in a row for a squad that appeared on a collision course with 0-16.
“It proves that we don’t quit," linebacker Tarell Basham said after a 23-16 win over Cleveland on Sunday. “It proves that we still are approaching every week to win.”
Of course, this late-season surge comes at a cost. No longer are the Jets (2-13) in play for the No. 1 overall draft pick in April. That belongs to Jacksonville now. New York clinched the second selection, and that means it likely won't get a chance to take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
And that has some Jets fans unhappy with these late — some would say, meaningless — wins.
“You know, my daughter's my fan,” Basham said. “And she's pretty excited about her dad winning these last two games.”
The Jets have played well lately, pulling out a 23-20 win at the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday and hanging on to beat a hungry but short-handed Browns team this week.
“It’s huge,” said Sam Darnold, who was 16 of 32 for 175 yards and two touchdowns. “Our guys are just so resilient with everything we do. Coming out here and playing the way that we did, for us as an offense, struggling a little in that second half and our defense and special teams having our back, that’s how we play football. They did a great job there, so I’m just super proud of the guys.”
This one nearly slipped away, though.
The Jets led 20-3 in the third quarter, helped in part by an early 43-yard touchdown pass by wide receiver Jamison Crowder to Braxton Berrios.
“What a dime, though,” Darnold said of Crowder's toss.
But Baker Mayfield led the Browns on consecutive touchdown drives that made it 20-16 early in the fourth.
Sam Ficken’s 34-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining gave New York a 23-16 lead. The Browns got down to the 16, until New York's defense came up big again.
On fourth-and-1 with the Browns driving for the potential tying score, Mayfield tried to push forward for the first down but lost the ball when Basham smacked into him. Kareem Hunt recovered, but by rule, Mayfield was the only one who could advance the ball — and the quarterback was short of the first down.
“We got so much knock-back on the inside,” Basham said. “Baker had nowhere to go.”
The call was upheld by video review, and the Jets got the ball with 1:18 left and sealed their second straight victory as Darnold took a knee three times to end it.
“This team doesn’t have any quit in them,” center Connor McGovern said.
The wins don't take away the murkiness of the team's future, though, particularly involving Darnold and coach Adam Gase.
The struggles of Darnold and the offense had fans dreaming of Lawrence, and it's uncertain whether the Jets will target a quarterback at No. 2 or if they still believe the 23-year-old Darnold is the quarterback of the future.
Gase is likely to be fired after two seasons. He's 9-22 with the Jets, who haven't made the postseason in a decade. That's enough to have CEO Christopher Johnson shake things up after the season finale at New England next Sunday.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Gase said. “I haven’t had any discussions with Christopher about any of this. My job is to get us ready for the next game, so that’s what I’m going to worry about.”
Some players have spoken highly of Gase in recent weeks, including Basham. They point to how the team has stayed together despite all the losing early — and some of that can be attributed to the coach.
“Coach Gase is a great coach," Basham said. "I hope that he’s still around. I hope that we’re still working together. I hope that I’m still around. He’s a great guy. ... The players that play for him, love to play for him. I can say that. I love to play for him.”
But far too often the past two seasons, that affection hasn't led to wins.
“When you lose games, then win a couple in a row, you kind of look back and say, ‘What if we did this, this, and this different?’” Gase said. “But it is what it is at this point. I’m just glad the guys are still fighting, that they practice the way they do, they prepare the way they do.
“When they come out on Sunday, they give everything they have.”
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