With their second major upset in a seven-day span, a 23-16 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Jets (2-13) clinched the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Lawrence would have been a no-brainer for the Jets, but this complicates matters for them -- appropriate for a franchise that has suffered for a half-century without a Super Bowl title. There are no gimmes for the Jets.
Now the question is this: Are they better off with Darnold, who has steadied himself the past two games, or the best draft-eligible quarterback not named Lawrence? Justin Fields? Zach Wilson? Another?
It's a tough call for general manager Joe Douglas, who must weigh several factors, including the economic impact of Darnold (one year left on his contract) versus a rookie quarterback.
Once again, Darnold delivered a "game manager" performance, playing turnover-free ball for the second straight game and leading an efficient, if not explosive, offense. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. He did OK, nothing great. He got away with a couple of poorly thrown balls, somehow avoiding an interception. Unlike the Browns' Baker Mayfield (two fumbles), he didn't cough it up.
At the same time, Darnold struggled in the second half, showing why he's not a slam-dunk to return as the quarterback. If he's not back, he at least has improved his trade value with a couple of workmanlike games.
Describe the game in two words: Gase lives. Despite the winning streak, coach Adam Gase still is expected to be fired. The question is, when? Rumors were swirling before the game that he'd be fired after a loss, as the Jets want to begin the process of interviewing candidates via zoom calls -- a new league rule. Now they have to decide whether to make the move during a two-game winning streak or wait until the season is over next Sunday.
Promising trend: This is hard to figure. The Jets, a laughingstock for 13 games, have a two-game winning streak over two quality teams -- the Los Angeles Rams and Browns (10-5). Sometimes the NFL doesn't make sense. New York actually became the first team since the 2017 San Francisco 49ers to hold a 17-point lead against two opponents that were at least five games over .500.
The Jets nearly blew that lead, as the Browns closed it to 20-16. In the third quarter, the Jets had a 97% chance of winning -- and nearly blew it.
Buy stock in defense: Playing with a skeleton lineup, the Jets played another strong game under interim defensive coordinator Frank Bush, who is the anti-Gregg Williams. He doesn't rely on heavy blitzing and exotic schemes; he just preaches sound and simple defense. The Jets recorded four sacks and two takeaways. Naturally, it helped that Mayfield didn't have his top wide receivers, all of whom were on the COVID-19/reserve list. The run defense was excellent, as the Jets -- without injured defensive tackle Quinnen Williams -- held the Browns to 45 rushing yards. Linebackers Tarell Basham and Frankie Luvu each had strip sacks.
Pivotal play: It took 16 weeks, but Gase finally broke out a gadget play on offense -- and (surprise!) it worked. Jamison Crowder tossed a 43-yard touchdown to fellow wide receiver Braxton Berrios, the first pass completion of Crowder's career. Berrios is an underrated slot receiver, but he never gets much playing time because he's stuck behind Crowder and Gase hasn't figured out a way to utilize both in the passing game. Well, he finally did, albeit too late in terms of the season.
Troubling trend: Rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton played perhaps his worst game. He allowed one sack, multiple pressures and committed two false-start penalties. The talented first-round pick had a tough assignment, defensive end Myles Garrett. It was a learning experience for Becton, who discovered this NFL thing isn't so easy.