The Jets’ Final Stretch to End Their Playoff Drought Starts This Week. 2011. That was the year when the New York Jets last appeared in an NFL playoff game. At that time, I was 9(!!) years old and just starting to enjoy what the NFL was in full. They were much simpler times if you ask me.

It is now almost 2023, which would be a full twelve years since that last game. A lot changed for the Jets over that time, mainly for the worse. The end of the Rex Ryan era. The Bowles and Maccagnan eras. The Adam Gase era.

The offense with Mike White did power a win in week 12, though. And as noted in the NY Post article the Jets had a stellar holiday, thanks to the Bengals, Steelers, and Packers, all of whom beat teams the Jets needed to lose to turn up the flame on their flickering playoff hopes. 

Throughout these years, there has been countless heartbreak, sadness, and misery for the Jets. The organization, more times than not, was the laughing stock of the league or stuck in rebuilds that never yielded the desired results. It was an endless cycle of hope for the future and disappointment in the reality of the situations that the Jets created for themselves.

It seems, though, that the Jets have turned the corner in many aspects this year. Under the regime led by Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas, the Jets sit at 7-4 with six games left in the regular season. For a team that was 4-13 and picked near the top of the NFL Draft last season, the organization has changed the narrative and expectations surrounding them in a quick fashion.

While an argument could be made that the Jets are “overachieving” this season, the team’s turnaround has not been by accident. The 2021 and 2022 draft classes have already produced immediate contributors on both sides of the ball. The 2021 class has been headlined by Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, and both Micheal Carter and Michael Carter II. In 2022, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, and Breece Hall have provided immediate dividends and helped win games for the Jets. In addition, Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, and Max Mitchell have also delivered good returns so far.

In conjunction with the draft, the Jets’ free agency additions have added talent to their drafted players. Among them, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin have brought stability to the tight end position, while Laken Tomlinson has been an upgrade at the right guard position. In addition, D.J. Reed has been a shutdown corner opposite Sauce Gardner, Carl Lawson has been a solid edge presence, and Corey Davis has been a reliable safety valve and blocker for the offense.

This is not to mention the likes of Quinnen Williams, Bryce Huff, and C.J. Mosley, among others, that have contributed to the team’s turnaround. Through a combination of young and veteran players, the Jets now have both the top-end talent and the depth necessary to compete at a high level in the NFL.

On top of this, Robert Saleh has instilled his identity and culture into the Jets. The Jets’ head coach has pushed all the right buttons on the field and in the locker room, keeping the team motivated and making the right calls to help the Jets win games. They have played physically and fast on defense while establishing a run-first mantra on the offensive side of the ball. The Jets have been mostly disciplined as well, avoiding costly penalties and mistakes in most of their wins and fixing those mistakes when they occur.

The team is well-positioned to end their playoff drought through the combination of Saleh and his staff’s coaching and the Jets’ players’ production. Currently holding the number seven seed in the AFC, the Jets are behind the Cincinnati Bengals and ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. These four teams are essentially fighting for two spots, meaning that each game remaining holds huge significance.

The Jets, entering the stretch run, face a pair of challenging road matchups from two of the better teams in the NFL. The first of these matchups is against the Minnesota Vikings, who are 9-2 and hold the number two seed in the NFC.

The Jets’ Final Stretch to End Their Playoff Drought Starts This Week

Heading into this matchup, Saleh said, “it’s great to be where we are,” but also said, “at the same time we haven’t accomplished anything.” Saleh also spoke about approaching the challenges that await the Jets in their reaming games.

“The biggest thing, we acknowledge, right that’s the big thing, I’ve said it before, you acknowledge the fact that we’ve got a chance to play some cool games. And we acknowledge the opportunity that we have, but the opportunity doesn’t exist if we focus on our moment. Our moment today is to put yesterday to bed, our moment tomorrow is just preparing for Minnesota and players taking care of their bodies, and then Wednesday and Thursday. So, you got to focus on the process, if you’re busy counting wins and looking at things you have zero control over, you’re missing on the opportunity to focus on the things you have control over. So, while we acknowledge our opportunity, hopefully we recognize that that opportunity won’t exist if we’re not taking care of our jobs.”

Quinnen Williams also spoke about the opportunity the Minnesota game presents for the Jets.

“They’re 9-2, and they’re 9-2 for a reason. Good defense, good offensive scheme, and different things like that. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a great opportunity for us to show the world what we feel that we believe is a good defense and a good offense that is going in the right direction towards the playoffs.”

Minnesota does provide the Jets with some unique challenges on both sides of the ball. They arguably have the best wide receiver in all of football in Justin Jefferson and a proficient passing attack led by Kirk Cousins. In addition, the Vikings have Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison to run the ball with, along with two above-average tackles in Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill. On defense, they have a talented pass rush that can get after the quarterback.

Yet, the Jets can exploit some of Minnesota’s deficiencies and have the personnel to neutralize their strengths. Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed make up one of the tougher secondaries Jefferson and the Vikings have faced all season. In addition, Quinnen Williams and the interior defensive line can create disruption against the weak interior of Minnesota’s offensive line. And on offense, the Jets can utilize their skill players, such as Moore and Wilson, to take advantage of a Minnesota secondary that ranks dead last in passing yards allowed on the season.

If the Jets can capitalize on Minnesota’s weaknesses on defense and limit their passing game, they have a very good chance to win this game. A victory would put them at 8-4, giving them leeway in a rematch with the Bills that could have substantial divisional stakes. On the other hand, a loss, while not crushing their playoff chances, would essentially make either the Bills game or the Week 18 game against Miami a must-win.

January 23rd, 2011. That was the last time the Jets appeared in a playoff game, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game and beginning their long absence from the postseason.

As someone wise once said, it is time to “Put Up or Shut Up.” The team has overcome almost every obstacle that has plagued them in years past, and these final six games will answer whether the Jets can overcome the biggest one.

The final stretch for the Jets begins this Sunday. So buckle up, because it will be one crazy ride to the finish of this Jets’ season.