EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets aren't a talented team. Everybody knows that. They aren't a well-schooled team, either. We could fill a CVS receipt if we listed all their mistakes from Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.
At 2-8, the Jets -- losers of three straight -- are headed toward another Gase-ian season, sans Adam Gase. Only one thing can change the narrative before this year is deemed unsalvageable. Two things, actually.
Wide receiver Elijah Moore.
Quarterback Zach Wilson.
The Jets' pitcher-catcher battery of the future has the ability to provide something good amid the badness. Moore did his part against the Dolphins, sending a message to Xavien Howard, Byron Jones and cornerbacks throughout the NFL. The rookie from Ole Miss caught eight passes for 141 yards and a touchdown, the most receiving yards by a Jets' rookie since Rob Moore's 175 yards in 1990.
If Wilson shows improvement upon his return, which could be this week against the Houston Texans (2-8), the Jets could walk out of the season knowing they have two important pieces to succeed in a passing-crazed league.
Moore is a dynamic player, evidenced by 24 receptions, 346 yards and four touchdowns over the last four games. Wilson has crazy arm talent, but he still has so much to learn about the quarterback position. If Wilson can fast-track his progress and catch up to Moore by season's end, the Jets will have their best young quarterback-receiver tandem since Chad Pennington-Laveranues Coles, circa 2002.
"We still think our quarterback is going to be special," coach Robert Saleh said of Wilson, who missed the past four games with a sprained knee. As for Moore, Saleh said, "He’s only going to get better. He’s going to be a special kid."
Moore, drafted 34th overall, has dazzled with quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Mike White and Josh Johnson throwing him the ball. Imagine when he settles down with one quarterback. He was so good on Sunday that Howard stopped him after the game and gave him some props.
"He’s going to be special in this league," Howard said. "He’s a smaller guy. He’s a quick guy. He made some tough catches out there. I respect his game."
Moore had three catches for 32 yards against Howard, one of the best corners in the league. He had three for 82 against Jones, including a 62-yard touchdown that made it 14-14 in the third quarter. It was a savvy play by Moore, who recognized a blitz and shortened his route, the kind of adjustment you'd expect from a five-year vet.
"I felt the pressure the way the first nickel blitzed, so I knew I had to speed my route up," said Moore, who delivered the Jets' best receiving days since Jermaine Kearse (157 yards) in 2017. "The route was probably like 10 yards; I think I went eight. So, I just kind of felt it out and adjusted."
Flacco, who played well enough to quiet the Mike White chorus, did a nice job with his pre-snap read. The Dolphins showed a Cover-0 blitz, but it was a disguise. They switched to a five-man rush just before the snap. Flacco didn't panic and held the ball long enough to give Moore a chance to dust Jones on an in-cut.
Jones is a pretty good corner. Moore made him look silly.
"I think he’s starting to develop into a really good wide receiver," said Flacco, who didn't arrive until a late October trade. "From what I heard early on, he kind of got caught up in doing a lot with his feet and hands. He’s kind of gotten to the point where he’s modified it just enough, and taken out just enough to leave his quickness. I think he’s really good."
Some folks in the organization felt Moore was the best player on the team (yes, the team) during offseason practices. He missed the preseason with a quadriceps injury, which contributed to a slow start. Now he's grooving.
"He’s starting to get into a rhythm," Saleh said.
The Jets could use another half-dozen Elijah Moores. In most games, they're woefully undermanned. That wasn't the case Sunday, but they sabotaged their chances with a blown coverage on a 65-yard touchdown pass, two missed field goals, two wasted timeouts and three costly penalties (culprits: Flacco, defensive end John Franklin-Myers and cornerback Jason Pinnock).
Substitution snafus caused them to burn the timeouts, which Saleh blamed on coaching. He was annoyed after the game. Frankly, he looked as if he had just ripped into his team. He told the players that 90% of games in the NFL are lost, not won.
"Whether you lose by one or 50, it doesn't freaking matter," Saleh told reporters. "This one was lost."
The Jets lost to another bad team. There will be more losses ahead, but this season isn't about their place in the standings. It's about player development. They've got a good one in Moore. Now all they need is Wilson to get back in the lineup and be the player they envisioned in April when they drafted him second overall.