Opinion: The Jets played to win vs. the Rams, draft pick be damned. And they were right to do so.
The New York Jets avoided embarrassment of historic levels by upsetting the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to earn their first victory of the season.
But by ensuring that they will not go 0-16, the Jets also lost.
Now, the Jacksonville Jaguars take over as the leaders in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. And that development -- missing out on the Clemson quarterback, who is regarded as a generational talent who could have sparked a franchise turnaround -- sparked all kinds of hand-wringing from the Jets fan base, and ridicule from some football analysts.
Many found it inconceivable the Jets would botch this prime opportunity so close to the finish line.
But there’s a very simple reason why the Jets pursued, and secured, their first victory of the season despite the looming reward for finishing dead last.
They don’t care about draft position. Not the players. And not the coaching staff.
They all face uncertain futures, and becoming only the third 0-16 team in NFL history would not have done any of them a bit of good.
No player wants his name attached to an 0-16 record, and no coach wants that on his resume.
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No player considers draft positioning when he steps onto the field. Instead, he is fighting to adhere at the very least to a personal standard of excellence. Others know they are auditioning for their next job opportunities. The same applies for coaches.
They invest too much time and energy into their craft to welcome a winless season.
Take Frank Gore for instance. The 37-year-old five-time Pro Bowler knows that as a 16-year veteran, his days in the NFL are numbered. He doesn’t come to work every day and put his body through a punishing, physical regimen to play for losses and ensure a brighter future for an organization.
“I’m happy,” Gore, who had a rushing touchdown, told reporters. “I had good years, I had bad years, I had tough years, like this has been a tough one. One thing I can say: I never went 0-16. We finally got one. I’m happy. … Even though I know the year ain’t go how I planned ... we’ve been fighting as a team.”
Consider Jets QB Sam Darnold, who made some terrific plays Sunday and recorded a touchdown pass. The third-year pro certainly is not going to pack it in to ensure the franchise can draft his replacement.
Instead, Darnold, who last week said he wants to be a Jet for life, may have taken steps toward ensuring a future in New York remains possible.
Head coach Adam Gase shouldn’t return for another season, but stranger things have happened. He wants to be able to argue his case either to his current or future employers and point to the fact that he kept his players engaged and competing even during a dismal season.
A head coach who purposely tanks for improved positioning in the offseason risks losing credibility in the eyes of his players, and hurting his chances of future employment.
So, securing that No. 1 pick was of no concern to the Jets players and coaches on Sunday. Perhaps they foiled the plans of ownership and management. But any member of the locker room or coaching staff would likely have offered a shrug, and “Not my problem,” response in the face of criticism over a victory.
They’ll leave rebuilding and offseason maneuvering to the guys upstairs. And rightfully so.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.