One opportunity after another on third down came and went without any success for the New York Jets.
They were 0 for 12 until quarterback Zach Wilson scrambled for 17 yards on third-and-11 with 2:19 left in regulation of the Jets' ugly 13-10 overtime win over the Giants on Sunday.
That first conversion was met with cheers — many likely from exasperated fans who watched their team go 2 for 15 overall. It has been that way all season for the Jets, who are 4-3 despite ranking last in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage at a dismal 23%.
The next closest team is Cleveland, which is converting third downs with 8% more success.
“How much time have you got?” coach Robert Saleh said half-jokingly when asked after the game why the Jets are struggling so much on third down. “It’s not good. Not even going to sugarcoat it.”
So, what gives?
“Lack of execution somewhere along the (line) from a player’s standpoint,” Saleh said. "Can we be better as play callers? Obviously, there are always going to be things we can be better at. But it’s a universal thing. It’s not one thing. It’s not the quarterback, it’s not the O-line, it’s not the receivers, it’s not tight ends or running backs or play calling.
“It’s everybody taking turns at not being very good at football on third down and we’ve just got to figure it out.”
But it seems the Jets have been saying that since the season began. Or at least since Aaron Rodgers went down with a torn Achilles tendon on his fourth snap of his debut with the Jets.
It has been a struggle on offense since.
While the defense remains stout — it held the Giants to minus-9 net yards passing — and special teams have stood out, Zach Wilson, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett & Co. need to get better on third down in a hurry.
And in the red zone — where they also rank last in the NFL — and in overall first downs, also last in the league. New York's 18 points per game average is also near the bottom.
“It just goes back to the details of things,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said Monday. “Putting ourselves in a better position on third down and then ultimately, especially the short yardage ones, just going out there and just beating the man across from you."
Special teams. Punter Thomas Morstead placed a career-high three punts inside the 5-yard line against the Giants, becoming the only punter in franchise history to accomplish the feat and just the 15th NFL player to do so since 1970.
“He was the MVP of this game,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said Monday.
Meanwhile, kicker Greg Zuerlein has made at least one field goal in 26 straight games, the NFL’s longest active stretch. He also has three consecutive games with multiple field goals, also the longest streak in the league.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The injury-ravaged O-line. The Jets were down to their fourth-string center against the Giants with Connor McGovern (knee) and backup Wes Schweitzer (calf) getting hurt, and Joe Tippmann (quadriceps) already out. Xavier Newman, elevated from the practice squad on Saturday, filled in admirably, but the Jets need reinforcements, with McGovern and Schweitzer being placed on injured reserve Monday and Tippmann uncertain to be back for the next game.
Left guard Laken Tomlinson will be the only player on the O-line to start at the same position he was at in Week 1.
Newman. He was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 5 after spending last season and this year's training camp with Tennessee, which signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Baylor. Newman is a natural guard who Saleh said took some snaps at center the past few weeks, and he was selected the scout team player of the week as voted on by the defensive coaches for his work preparing the team for the Giants.
“He's been here a short time,” Mosley said, “but he's made his name known.”
Hackett. The offensive coordinator acknowledged the Jets were lousy on third down and in the red zone in their first six games, but nothing improved in their first outing since the bye-week break. There were a few questionable play calls, too, including employing an empty backfield on third-and-1 late in the third quarter when Wilson threw incomplete to Tyler Conklin.
Saleh said the Jets are hoping McGovern and Schweitzer will be able to return this season. The coach added McGovern isn't "out of the woods” on whether he'll need surgery. ... Tests confirmed NT Al Woods is done for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
9 — The number of accepted penalties on the Jets for the second straight game. Quincy Williams and Jermaine Johnson were called for unnecessary roughness on separate plays that helped the Giants to their lone touchdown.
The Jets could make some trade deadline moves by Tuesday afternoon, with frustrated and little-used running back Dalvin Cook and defensive end Carl Lawson possibly on the way out. GM Joe Douglas certainly will be looking at help for the O-line and possibly wide receiver as the Jets prepare to host the Los Angeles Chargers next Monday night.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL
Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press