Robert Saleh is an NFL coach who does a little standup comedy on the side. When the subject turns to his Jets quarterbacks, Saleh might as well be doing an old-school bit in the Catskills, or football’s version of the classic “Who’s on first?” routine by Abbott and Costello.
That would be Lou Costello, the 1940s funnyman from Paterson, N.J., not Brian Costello, the less amusing Post beat writer from Jefferson, N.J., who asked Saleh if Mike White could wreck his grand plan of returning Zach Wilson to the field. The coach laughed Monday and asked the writer if he was blitzing him with “a backdoor hypothetical.”
Saleh will twist himself into a pretzel avoiding a public acknowledgment of the obvious — that White might just be the best bet for the rest of 2022, and for 2023, and for 2024, and on and on and on. He wouldn’t even confirm that he’s open to the possibility that White just happens to be a better football player than Wilson, no matter what their draft slots and pedigrees suggest.
If nothing else, it made for some good comic relief in the wake of the 27-22 loss to the Vikings. As far as Saleh’s full-time gig goes, nothing that went down Sunday in Minneapolis changed the fact that he is doing a hell of a job with his team in Year 2 of his program.
Let’s face it: The vast majority of past Jets teams would have folded when down 17 points late in the first half, in an absurdly loud building that was home to a 9-2 team. Saleh’s Jets instead showed fierce determination while putting themselves in position to win. How about that Quincy Williams hit on T.J. Hockenson, punctuated by that roundhouse Tiger Woods fist pump?
It was all good stuff, outside of the final score. The Jets fell to 7-5 when 8-4 was within a couple of inches and fingertips of their grasp, and if they ultimately miss the playoffs this one will haunt them for a while.
The atmosphere inside U.S. Bank Stadium, Saleh said, “was as close to playoff football as you can get.” He repeated that if the Jets continue to play with the relentless spirit they showed in the second half, they will be rewarded.
“I’ve just got a lot of faith in just the growth that we’ll take from that game,” he said.
So let’s see that growth Sunday in Buffalo. Let’s see the Jets apply the lessons learned against the Vikings to this next road matchup with the 9-3 Bills, the top seed in the AFC.
The Jets have already beaten Buffalo at home, with Wilson at quarterback. But if they can complete the season sweep of their division rivals in a game shaped by major playoff implications on both sides, the Jets will do far more than neutralize New England’s sweep of them.
They will send notice to the rest of the league that they can be a dangerous opponent in the postseason. They will send notice that they are capable of pretty much anything, including a trip to the AFC Championship game and (dare we say it) beyond.
The flip side, of course, is a second straight defeat would land them in last place in the AFC East if the Patriots beat the Cardinals. But even though Saleh praised Buffalo and called Josh Allen “Superman at quarterback,” the Jets have the talent and the temperament to dodge that unpleasant scenario.
They have a kicker who can nail a 60-yarder, and their defense remains among the sport’s best. On the other side of the ball, rookie Garrett Wilson appears to be an emerging superstar, the kind who can dominate a playoff game.
Of even greater consequence, the Jets have found a quarterback whose fearless approach and ability to rebound from big hits inspire his teammates. Veteran tackle Duane Brown spoke of the huge fourth-down pass to Corey Davis right after White got pancaked by Danielle Hunter. “That kind of play just shows me what he’s made of,” Brown said. “Never wavers. The team recognizes that and everyone responds to it.”
Veteran guard Laken Tomlinson called White’s toughness “incredible, really” and said his impressive command of the huddle “brings confidence to the guys around him.” The day before, Garrett Wilson offered the following: “I know that I’d go to war for that boy. He’s got something special about him.”
Sounds like the kind of quarterback who can lead the Jets to their first road victory over a winning team.
“I feel like we have people’s respect,” Brown said. “I think people understand that we’re legit and we’re a team to be reckoned with. … [A victory] adds to what people already feel about us.”
It would add a ton.
“We’re going to play our style of football,” Tomlinson pledged, “and we’re going to show the world what kind of team we are.”
Yes, the Jets should go ahead and do that. They should go win a game in Buffalo, sweep the Bills, and prove that anything is possible for them in the Super Bowl tournament to come.