EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What in Sam Hill -- or Sam Darnold -- happened to the New York Jets?
For three hours on a summer-like day at MetLife Stadium, the Jets -- outscored by 34 points in two losses -- actually resembled a good professional football team. Their domination of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday was so complete the Dolphins looked like the tanking team, not the Jets, who won a laugher, 20-6.
The Jets almost pitched their first shutout since the final game of the 2009 season, but the Dolphins scored on the final play with a face-saving touchdown.
Sorry, doomsayers, there will be no 0-16 season for the Jets (1-2), who elicited two contrasting emotions. Let's call it a split decision: They thrilled their die-hard fans with a complete performance and upset the "Suck for Sam" crowd by potentially damaging their draft position.
Maybe that explains why the stadium was half-empty by the start of the fourth quarter. Some fans probably found it hard to stomach the win, as crazy as that sounds.
"Getting a big win like this when everybody said we wouldn't win a game, I guess we proved them wrong," cornerback Morris Claiborne said, smiling.
The Jets have been bombarded with "tank" talk since the spring, but they fueled the narrative by dismantling their roster and leaving themselves with a shaky quarterback situation. No matter how this season plays out, the Jets still need to draft a quarterback next year because Josh McCown, who snapped a nine-game personal losing streak as a starter, is 38 years old and not the future. Neither is Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg, based on what we've seen so far.
So, yes, there will be some whiners, but you know what? Good for the Jets. Coach Todd Bowles is trying to rebuild the culture, and the best way to do that is to win games. He's also trying to save his job, and he needs to stack as many wins as possible even though acting owner Christopher Johnson said last week that Bowles won't be judged on the record, only on progress (or lack thereof).
"We block all that stuff out," Bowles said of the dire forecasts. "That has nothing to do with out motivation to win. We're trying to win ballgames because we're trying to get to the Super Bowl, not because we want to prove people wrong."
This was a big step for the Jets, who delivered another "Miracle at the Meadowlands," 17 years after the original. Their defense, which allowed a league-high 66 points in the first two weeks, made Jay Cutler look as if he belonged in the broadcast booth, not on the field. The Jets fixed their problems, and that's a credit to the coaching staff.
This may seem hard to believe, but the defense expressed supreme confidence heading into this game. Privately, some players said they'd be able to rattle Cutler because of his penchant for holding the ball.
Their plan was to stack the box to contain Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, putting the game in Cutler's hands. It worked like a charm. Ajayi rushed for only 16 yards on 11 carries and Cutler (25-for-44, 220 yards) threw off his back foot all day. The Jets improved their tackling, displayed excellent gap discipline and limited Miami to only 81 total yards through three quarters.
That is an insane number.
Afterward, several players declined to call the victory a "relief" because "we expected to win games," McCown said. "We expect to win a lot of games. That's our goal, internally."