“I read a quote from Bill Parcells,” Robert Saleh said, driving home from MetLife Stadium around 6 p.m. Sunday, after the biggest win of his head-coaching life. “‘In New York, it’s euphoria or disaster.’”
Yup. Parcells said it—about 78 times a year as coach of the Giants, then the Jets. I’d asked Saleh about his comment that he’s “taking receipts on all the people who continually mock us.” Saleh, a Detroit guy, didn’t care after a lousy opening loss to Baltimore two months ago that he was inviting scorn. In fact, in the grand tradition of Parcells, Saleh wanted the scorn.
“I did,” he said. “You know, until you’re here, you don’t realize it. But there was so much negativity, so much raining down on a young football team. We’re so young. I just felt like it was important to kind of deflect the attention off the players and bring it on me. You know that it was gonna come down on me. Any time you challenge the media, they’re gonna come out guns blazing.
“We have such a young group. They’re so talented. I believed in them, and I just wanted them to have a chance. That statement was more about allowing them to go play freely, and shouldering the criticism myself. In the world of social media, these kids are impressionable. They have feelings too. It’s like, shoot, if they just play football, just play, feel free, play the game they’ve loved since they were kids, hey, they’re gonna be pretty good.”
Jets 20, Bills 17.
The Jets are 6-2 since Saleh began taking receipts.
They’re a half-game behind the almighty Bills in the AFC East.
They’re not going away.
You know what impressed me the most about the Jets Sunday? It’s something I’d call the ethos of Bryce Huff. You don’t know Bryce Huff, do you? You’re about to. He made the biggest play in the biggest win the Jets have had since they beat the Patriots in a playoff-impacting game late in 2015. Bryce Huff. The perfect metaphor for the 2022 Jets.
Why, after this great Jets win that put them a half game out of first place behind the mighty Bills, with boldface names like Sauce Gardner making such big plays, am I hung up on an undrafted free-agent from Memphis named Bryce Huff who played just 15 snaps Sunday at the Meadowlands?
A few reasons. Did you see the play Huff made? Watch.
Jets up 20-17, 77 seconds left, Bills ball, second-and-two at the Buffalo 33-, and the great Josh Allen is 67 yards away from winning the game with one of his big drives in big moments.
At the snap, Huff, who has one of the fastest off-the-snap rushes in football, sped to the outside of right tackle David Quessenberry. He breached the line in 0.74 seconds, per NFL Next Gen Stats, the fastest sprint across the line of scrimmage of any Jets’ rusher on the day. As Huff bore down on Allen, who didn’t see him, Huff hit Allen’s right arm and jarred the ball free, and it bounced backward, recovered by the Bills at the Buffalo 14-. Loss of 19. Incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Jets win.
Huff’s a great example of who these Jets are. Invisible, mostly, but maybe not for long. First, in 2020, he had to prove himself to the coaching staff of Adam Gase, and Huff did. Then, when Gase was fired and Saleh hired, Huff had to prove himself all over again. A lightish 244-pound edge player, Saleh wanted him bigger and leaner. He bulked up to 260, adding 16 pounds of mostly lean muscle without losing his quick first step.
With the Jets pass-rush-rich, Huff took his chances where he could find them. A healthy scratch the first three weeks this year, he’s settled into a depth role, playing 13 to 20 snaps a game (15 on Sunday) and making each one count.
“If you have the ability to rush the passer, you’ll play in this league,” coach Robert Saleh told me. “Bryce can. He wins at a very high rate. I don’t know if I’d put it as ‘elite,’ but he’s got a great get-off and rushes with so much power that he’s very hard to block. The way we feel is, if they’re not chipping our rushers [with a second blocker], our ends should win one-on-one every time. That’s why Bryce is on the field in those critical situations. We think he can win.”
He won. The Jets won. And it was not a fluke. Maybe they’re not better than Buffalo—they’re not—but they’re on Buffalo’s level, and these Jets can compete with the Bills because they can play defense.
Three other things about these Jets:
1. Even without injured star rookie Breece Hall, they can run it. New York ran for 174 yards. When you run it great, you can keep a great quarterback off the field. “I’d be interested to know what our time of possession was in the second half,” Saleh said, “because I think we did a good job of kind of getting them out of rhythm.” The Jets held it for 17:39 of the second half, Buffalo for 12:21. Jets 34 plays, Bills just 25. I asked Saleh about running it so well, and he channeled his Parcells. “The best defenses in the world,” he said, “are the ones that watch. They’re on the sidelines because the offense can eat up the clock.”
2. They got quarterback Zach Wilson out of his funk. One of the first things Saleh said about Wilson (no turnovers after three picks last week against New England) was, “He had a great throwaway. One of the great things about Zach is how he takes coaching. We told him, ‘Trust that throwing the ball away is a positive play.’ We’re not asking Zach to be our Superman yet. One day we will. And there will be times we need him to be, but now’s not that time.”
3. The future is tough, but promising. After the bye this week, the Jets have this tough road: at New England, Chicago, at Minnesota, at Buffalo. Yikes. “Every game’s a championship game,” Saleh said. “Like today—Buffalo’s incredibly well-coached. Incredibly talented. The quarterback’s ridiculous. We can’t let the narrative of this Goliath coming into our building be the story, and we won’t in the coming weeks either.”
Saleh thinks it’s a tougher task these days to coach young players, and for young players to excel. Back in the day, coaches could control the narrative with an iron grip. Today, they can’t. Today, players are hit with omnipresent talk radio, social media, instageniuses dissecting games who don’t really know the game. Saleh battles it, and he battles the euphoria-or-disaster thing Parcells talked about.
“The market is hard and it feels sorry for no one,” he said. “When you lose games, it’s ‘fire everybody.’ When you win games it’s amazing. So just keep our head down. Try to educate our players. Stay off social media the best you can.”
Saleh said: “We’ve got two big signs players see as they walk out of the building every day: ‘Ignore the noise.’ “
“Ignore the noise and what?” I asked.
“That’s it. ‘Ignore the noise.’ We got signs on each side of the door. Ignore the noise.”
Don’t ignore the accomplishment, though. Beating the Bills has to make a long-downtrodden team feel: Why not us?
DON’T TELL US THE ODDS pic.twitter.com/v9rdhxCd7J
— New York Jets (@nyjets) November 6, 2022