New York Jets coach Robert Saleh says Sunday's 4th-down call mix-up 'starts with me'

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Robert Saleh took the blame Monday for a botched fourth-down play that may have cost his team a huge upset against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"There was a miscommunication and when there's a miscommunication, it always starts with me first," Saleh said. "This isn't anything to blame anyone on. What hurts the most is ... that one sequence -- it is what it is -- took away from all the unbelievable things that happened.

"There were so many great things that were happening in that game. For it to be overshadowed by something -- like I said, always starts with me -- that's what made me sick."

The controversial play was a fourth-and-2 from the Bucs' 7-yard line with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter. After deciding against a field goal that would've given them a seven-point lead, the Jets ran a quarterback sneak, and Zach Wilson was stuffed for no gain. The Bucs responded with a 93-yard drive to pull out a 28-24 win on a Tom Brady touchdown pass with 15 seconds left.

After the game, Saleh said the play call was supposed to be an end-around to wide receiver Braxton Berrios, but that it wasn't communicated properly to Wilson. He said the rookie quarterback was given the option to keep the ball if the Bucs' defensive line didn't have a man in the A gap. They didn't, and he ran the sneak. Replays showed that Berrios would've had an easy first down.

Saleh seemed upset at offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, but he softened that position a day later. "Obviously, I'm always going to look at the whole thing like it's my fault," Saleh said. "Should I have been more decisive on wanting to go for it on fourth down so Mike had more time to talk? Everything always starts with me."

Saleh said LaFleur, a first-time coordinator, called "an awesome game." LaFleur wasn't made available to the media on Sunday or Monday.

Still, it was a curious decision to even consider a quarterback sneak -- a rare call in that situation. It was only the fourth time in the last five seasons that a quarterback under center ran a sneak on fourth-and-2, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only one of the four was successful, a Carson Palmer keeper for the Arizona Cardinals in 2017.

The fourth-down failure ruined what would've been a signature win for the Jets (4-12), who received a strong performance by Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick. He passed for 224 yards and a touchdown in his fourth straight game without an interception.

Saleh defended Wilson's decision-making on the fourth-down play, saying he carried out his assignment. A more experienced quarterback might have changed the play, knowing it would've been difficult to gain two yards against the Bucs' defensive front. Wilson might be able to do that in the future, Saleh said, but not now.

"I think he executed the playbook exactly the way it was designed," he said. "In future years, he's just going to look to the sideline and flip the bird to Mike and say like, 'Hey, we're doing this, buddy' -- and he's going to make it work. Right now, I don't think he's anywhere close to being able to even make a decision from a selfish standpoint because his neck is barely above water."