NEW YORK (AP) — Sheldon Rankins hopped on a video call wearing a black cap with a simple phrase that should serve as a modest goal for the young, struggling New York Jets.
Written in white script letters inside a red oval were the words: “Get Better Today.”
At 1-4 and facing all sorts of issues up and down the roster, overall improvement would be a good start.
“Listen, I think everybody understands the nature of the team, right?” said Rankins, a defensive tackle in his sixth NFL season and first with the Jets. “Everyone understands that we’re a young team and we've got guys who are playing a lot for us who haven’t always played a lot of ball, you know, period — whether they’ve just not played a lot of ball elsewhere or they're rookies, first, second, third year, whatever it may be.
"But at the end of the day, nobody’s using that as an excuse.”
It's certainly easy to point to that, though. After all, coach Robert Saleh is a first-year head coach and both offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are calling plays on a full-time basis in the NFL for the first time.
Combine that with a rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson who's feeling his way through life as a so-called franchise savior and a roster that's among the youngest in the league with several first-time starters, and growing pains could be expected.
But brutally slow starts on offense, Wilson struggling with consistency, LaFleur having some questionable play-calling and the defense having lapses have all caused some to press the panic button five games in.
What if the Jets got the coach wrong?
What if they picked the wrong quarterback?
Is Joe Douglas making the right moves as general manager?
When will things ever change?
Inside the facility, though, the Jets are pressing pause on all that. Their focus remains the same as it was, on exactly what was on Rankins' hat.
“Everybody comes in here with the mindset of that sense of urgency that each day is an opportunity to get better to help us win games now and not necessarily thinking about, oh, you know, we've got next year, we got this or we got that,” Rankins said.
“The end of the day, everybody comes in here with the mindset, the thought process that each day is an opportunity to get better to help this Jets team win now. And that starts at the top. And it’s going all the way to everybody on this roster and we’ll continue that mindset throughout the season.”
For long-suffering Jets fans, that kind of talk can fall flat, particularly when it's not translating into wins. It's understandable since the team they root for has missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons, with an 11th in a row a strong possibility.
But the building blocks are in place. The payoff might not be seen this season, but the steps to it are being taken now.
“You first have to learn how not to lose,” Saleh said. “And when you start to learn how to win, you have to learn how to close.”
Saleh's hiring during the winter instilled a sense of hope through the organization with his “All Gas, No Brake” mantra. That continued when the Jets drafted Wilson, giving them a player the franchise and the fanbase could get behind as a symbol of good things to come.
The results haven't been there yet, and for a variety of reasons. But that hasn't yet spoiled the good vibes that permeated the facility leading into the season.
“My expectation for myself is to do better than this," said Wilson, who has four touchdown passes and was leading the NFL with nine interceptions entering Week 6. "My expectation for the team is to have won every single game, just because I know that we can, and I know that we have the ability to do that.
“But we also know that this is a process, and we’re getting better each and every week, so that’s not something we can necessarily worry about or get down on ourselves for.”
The Jets are using their bye-week break to examine what has worked and try to tweak everything that hasn't. The players are getting four days to step away from football, and even Wilson said he was heading home to clear his head a bit.
The rookie quarterback said work will still be done, of course, even during that down time.
He and the rest of the Jets believe they can come out of this early stretch and change the path of this season — and beyond.
“Really, just kind of forgetting about the past and understanding that, you know what, it sucks to not do super well the first five games, but we have a lot to look forward to,” Wilson said. “I’m very hopeful watching the film as far as just what we’ve shown on film and what we know we can do and how close we are to getting it done. We need to just be able to just keep going with it.”
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