Zach Wilson had a window for a win, and after a week of never-ending questions about his status as the starting quarterback, after 10 weeks of adjusting on the fly once Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles, after three years of inconsistent football that made his No. 2 overall pick label seem far from justifiable, a chance was all he could ask for.
He might not get many more of them. Robert Saleh keeps defending him, but at some point, the Jets need a win. Probably six or seven. Still, with the Jets needing a touchdown to win against the Raiders on Sunday, Wilson made throws that flashed potential — or at least the makings of a competent offense. And then Las Vegas linebacker Robert Spillane cut in front of Wilson’s throw at the 14-yard line. That was the chance, that was the drive for Wilson to change his Jets reality, and all that resulted was a reminder of how much of an illusion a last-second win might’ve created.
The Jets were close to fixing everything, and then they weren’t.
Their margin of error has become so small that one defensive touchdown is enough to lose. The five or six seconds that Robert Saleh let tick off before calling his final timeout with 13 seconds remaining didn’t help, either. That’s what happened Sunday in their 16-12 loss to the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, which dropped them under .500 (4-5) again. Wilson was almost serviceable — completing 23-of-39 passes for 263 yards and that back-breaking interception — until he wasn’t. The Jets were on the verge of a spark until a final Hail Mary bounced away and they didn’t ignite one.
Their three-game winning streak sandwiched around the bye has been completely squashed by consecutive losses, the first of which produced plenty of questions about Wilson and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. This one will certainly do the same. They only managed four field goals, which means most of the dismal offensive streaks still apply. They haven’t scored a touchdown since the first quarter of the Giants game. Their last touchdown drive lasting more than one play came Oct. 1.
“What’s frustrating is the different ways that we’re creating to not get in the end zone,” Saleh said postgame. “… We’re generating offense, we’re moving the ball, but again, we’re just not finishing our drives the way we need to.”
Wilson showed glimpses of being a competent starter, which, really, at this point, is all the Jets can ask for until Rodgers returns — which the 39-year-old claims could be by mid-December. Wilson zipped five of his first seven throws into the arms of his targets. The Jets actually scored points on their first drive, and then scored again on their next possession and the third one, too.
Even late in the fourth quarter, driving toward that elusive touchdown, he connected with Allen Lazard on a no-look, sidearm pass for a 17-yard gain. A few plays later, Wilson scrambled and hit a diving Tyler Conklin with around three minutes left. It put the Jets in position for second-and-8 from the Raiders’ 20-yard line with 1:22 left.
And then Wilson threw his interception, something he hadn’t done since Oct. 8.
“To throw an interception to lose a game sucks,” Wilson said after the game. “I hate that. I gotta be better for the guys, for the team, everyone battling. I know how crucial the ball is, especially when you’re not scoring touchdowns. You gotta take care of the football.”
That’s the Jets’ new reality, perhaps even more concerning — and unfixable, without major changes — than their dwindling playoff hopes. They’re in position to win a game until one pass goes awry. They’re in position to win a game until their defense allows one touchdown. The other three NFL teams who allowed 16 or fewer points Sunday emerged with victories.
They had chances to score, to punch the ball in and snap the touchdown drought. Wilson’s intentional grounding on the opening drive backed the Jets away from the red zone. Then, a C.J. Uzomah penalty on the second drive took them from the Raiders’ 30-yard line to the 40. Uzomah had another penalty on their third drive — which turned into a third field goal — that brought back Breece Hall’s 3-yard touchdown run.
For most of Sunday’s game, the Jets offense managed to cobble together drives that demonstrated how close they were. To snapping their touchdown slump. To having a serviceable quarterback. To ensuring they remained above .500 and kept chasing a postseason berth.
Instead, the Jets — and really Wilson — are right back where they started. They’re running out of chances, too.
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Everything keeps getting worse for Giants
When Brian Daboll won the NFL’s Coach of the Year award in February, gripping the league’s prestigious hardware as a first-time coach at the site of last year’s Super Bowl, he didn’t hide his displeasure for where the Giants’ season had ended.
“I’d rather be playing down here,” he told reporters in Phoenix, though in his first campaign, the Giants — with their postseason berth and win — had advanced farther than any of their previous seasons since their last title in 2012.
The Giants assembled what appeared to resemble a foundation. They kept Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley in the offseason, inked Dexter Lawrence to an extension and entered 2023 positioned to make strides.
But after Sunday’s 49-17 loss to the Cowboys, Daboll’s Coach of the Year encore has turned into a question to make sure the Giants don’t fall apart — and that they don’t stray so far that there’s no longer a short-term blueprint back to the postseason.
Against Dallas, the broadcast pointed out three different instances of tension. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and Daboll had a discussion before halftime that carried over as they walked back onto the field following the break. Barkley had an “animated discussion” with Daboll, according to Fox’s Tom Rinaldi. Darius Slatyon and Sterling Shepard appeared to have a heated discussion in the second half, too, and The Athletic reported that Daboll walked down the entire length of the sideline with Slayton during a break.
Forget about the injuries, which got worse Sunday when Cor’Dale Flott, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jalin Hyatt were all ruled out. Forget about the 2-8 record that has a better chance at landing them the No. 1 overall pick than it does getting them back to the postseason.
The Giants have started to fall apart, the cracks caused by frustration becoming more evident by the week — among the latest when Xavier McKinney criticized Giants leadership after the loss to the Raiders and said the leaders weren’t being “heard” by coaches, comments that Martindale said hurt him — and another lopsided setback Sunday didn’t help anything.
So instead, the rest of the Giants season essentially becomes a preview of next season. Unless Giants ownership decides to part ways with Daboll after this debacle, he’ll have a chance to figure out which pieces of this group can maintain competitiveness even amid dire circumstances.
Otherwise, this will only get worse.
Chairman of the boards
It’s exactly the type of player the Knicks have needed.
The type that, when there are slumps and stretches where missed shots get the offense out of rhythm, can collect offensive rebounds and give the Knicks second chances. The type that, like on Sunday in the second quarter against the Hornets, can sneak behind a defensive player when Jalen Brunson drove toward the basket and hit only the backboard on his layup, and dunk the miss for two points.
Mitchell Robinson has been an under-the-radar piece of 5-4 Knicks start that has seen them they overcome a two-game absence from RJ Barrett (knee injury), a horrific shooting slump from Julius Randle and some inconsistent stretches from Brunson.
In the Knicks’ 129-107 victory at the Garden on Sunday, Robinson compiled another 10 points and nine rebounds — including five offensive boards — while scoring eight of his points after grabbing those offensive rebounds.
After Sunday’s game, Robinson led the NBA with 55 offensive rebounds (averaging 6.1 per game) — nine more than the Pistons’ Ausar Thompson in second — and an offensive rebounding percentage of 16.9. At this time last season, his 28 offensive rebounds marked a productive start to a new-look Knicks roster, too, before he sustained a sprained right knee and missed the next eight games.
This year, as long as he stays healthy, Robinson’s offensive rebounding should continue to stabilize the Knicks’ offense until they find a rhythm.
Robinson’s rebounding isn’t a new development, of course. It’s always been his strength, ever since the Knicks selected him in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s the longest-tenured Knick, arriving one year before other foundational pieces in Barrett and Randle, and has ensured his role didn’t become replaceable after the Knicks added center Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency ahead of last season.
Instead, Robinson has made himself an indispensable piece of the rotation. When Barrett curled around a Hornets defender Sunday and attempted a floater in the third quarter, Robinson cut toward the basket, elevated to snag the offensive rebound and dunked the ball in one motion to give the Knicks a 13-point lead.
It’ll be difficult for Robinson to surpass Moses Malone’s offensive rebounding record (587 in 1978-79), but he’s on pace for 501 through nine games entering the Knicks’ five-game road trip that begins Monday in Boston. His 55 offensive rebounds are the eighth-most in NBA history through nine games, according to Knicks Muse.
It’s become more than an anomaly for Robinson. And it’s exactly the complement the Knicks need, especially when Robinson has contributed at a historic clip.
An expensive college football firing — and precedent
This year, it took longer than usual for the first college football coaching domino to fall. But when it did, there were massive — and expensive — ramifications.
Texas A&M fired Jimbo Fisher on Sunday following its 6-4 start and his 45-25 record across six seasons, but the Aggies will essentially pay him $76.8 million to not coach their team. They just crushed Mississippi State, 51-10, on Saturday. They lost to then-No. 10 Ole Miss by a field goal last week.
So even though Fisher’s name has been in firing rumors before, the current context surrounding his exit makes it a bit unexpected. But buyouts for coaches with massive contracts have become an ugly part of these divorces in an industry with constant turnover. Fisher’s, which marked the most expensive buyout in college football history, certainly won’t be the last. It’ll get topped at some point.
That’s the inevitable trajectory of a sport defined by shifting rosters, conference realignments and the constant — and frequent — flow of money.
The Aggies certainly took a risk when they hired Fisher ahead of the 2018 season. He’d just resigned from Florida State — where he had the high of a national title in 2013 and the low of a 5-6 campaign four years later — and bolted for a 10-year deal worth $7.5 million per season. He signed for the third-highest salary in college football.
The Aggies hired Fisher to win football games. He did. But four losses, even in an era of looming College Football Playoff expansion, won’t generate titles. That’s what athletic departments are paying for. And that’s what Fisher didn’t deliver.
So there’s a risk when schools pay coaches massive salaries. When Matt Rhule, the former Panthers coach, was hired by Nebraska, he signed an eight-year, $74 million deal, according to ESPN. Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for LSU and a 10-year, $95 million deal.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to gauge the buyouts at private universities.
Syracuse’s Dino Babers signed a vague “long-term contract extension” after their bowl win in 2018, and as frustration mounts after underwhelming seasons, ESPN reported last year that Syracuse would’ve owed Babers at least $10 million if they fired him in 2022. That’s a fraction of Fisher’s buyout, or the others of top coaches, but it’s an expensive price for other programs and conferences. Not every school athletic department has the luxury of playing in the SEC or the Big Ten.
According to USA TODAY, Georgia’s Kirby Smart has the most-expensive buyout among public programs at $92.625 million. Kelly sits No. 3 at $70,018,333. Rhule ranks No. 6 at $62,062,500. Sixteen of the top 25 on the list coached for a Big Ten or an SEC team.
If Texas A&M makes another splash hiring for Fisher’s replacement, that’ll likely come with another expensive buyout. It’s part of the standard procedure in modern college football.
More possible expensive divorces await.
Would Penn State ever pay a reported $64,666,667 buyout to move on from James Franklin, though that number could change if they part ways in a different season? Would Wisconsin ever pay Luke Fickell’s buyout if the chance they took on filling a Big Ten position with someone who’d been the architect of Cincinnati’s special seasons backfired? How long will Florida be patient with Billy Napier, who has signature wins in each of his two seasons but also has brutal losses and an impatient fanbase?
Fisher’s firing showed that schools — or at least Texas A&M — won’t let buyouts hinder their push for winning titles. The margin for error is small alongside Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and others.
What we’re reading
🏈 There was almost nothing positive for the Giants to take out of their loss to the Cowboys, writes Mark Cannizzaro, raising the question of where the team goes from here?
🏀 St. John’s meets Michigan in its first game of the Rick Pitino era at MSG Monday night, and the school has been working overtime to fill the building, according to Zach Braziller.
🏀 It wasn’t pretty, but the Nets got a big game from Mikal Bridges to come-from behind and beat the Wizards. Dan Martin has the details.
🏒 Henrik Lunqvist returned to the ice this weekend before his induction into the Hall of Fame, and he looked as comfortable there as if he never left, Larry Brooks writes.