Robert Saleh apologizes for Jets' collapse after final loss

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Monday, January 9, 2023

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. --New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, who predicted multiple Super Bowl championships upon his hiring two years ago, sounded like so many of his predecessors Sunday after his latest defeat.

He apologized, lamenting a season that got away.

"You know, I say sorry to everybody," Saleh said, naming chairman Woody Johnson, vice chairman Christopher Johnson and other top executives. He included "all the players, all the coaches, all the fans, because I know it's been a long, long ride of not being in the playoffs and I know it was right in our fingertips and we're not going."

The Jets will carry a six-game losing streak into the offseason, the latest defeat by 11-6 to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. It was an epic collapse by the Jets, who finished 7-10 after being hailed as one of the NFL's surprise teams at 6-3 and 7-4. Officially eliminated last week, the Jets have gone 12 straight years out of the playoffs, the league's longest active drought.

Not only did they lose, but they lost ugly. They scored no touchdowns in their last three games, becoming only the second team in the past decade to go three straight games without a TD.

Woody Johnson couldn't bear to watch the ending from his private box. He spent the last minute of the game in a hallway outside the locker room, where there was no TV. He knew from the roar of the crowd that it wasn't good. Later, approached by reporters, he declined to comment, saying he will address the media later in the week.

Saleh doesn't appear to be in any immediate danger of losing his job, but offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is on the hot seat. Saleh was noncommittal on LaFleur's status, saying he needs to complete his "process" before making any staff decisions.

LaFleur faced "adversity" this season because of injuries to the offensive line and quarterback instability, according to Saleh, who said, "You just can't blame one person."

The late-season offense was historically bad.

The Jets scored six, three and six points in their final three games, becoming only the fourth team since 2000 to be held under seven points in three straight games. Their leader in touchdown passes was Zach Wilson (six), who finished the season as a backup after being benched twice. That is tied for the fewest touchdown passes for a team leader in the past six seasons. (Alex Smith had six for Washington in 2020.)

Saleh vowed to "get the quarterback position right" in 2023, saying the Jets are "committed" to Wilson. But he didn't say whether Wilson will be his starter; he's the only quarterback under contract. Joe Flacco, 37, started the finale, leading the offense to only two field goals. The Jets ended the season without a touchdown on 32 consecutive possessions, the league's longest drought for 2022.

The Jets wasted an outstanding season by the defense, which began the day ranked fifth overall in yards allowed.

"It doesn't seem real," tight end Tyler Conklin said. "How do you have a collapse like that? These are tough questions. I wish I had the answer for them. I don't know why we haven't scored touchdowns. It's frustrating as hell."

Special teams standout Justin Hardee, a team captain, suggested the Jets lost their mental edge down the stretch.

"I feel like we just lost our identity," he said. "We were underdogs when we were winning and we had that underdog mentality. I'm not saying we got ahead of ourselves, but it possibly got to us, having that good record. We've got to learn how to maintain and work harder and how to finish."

Linebacker C.J. Mosley said he will challenge the team to watch the playoffs on TV.

"We feel deserve to be there, so go watch it, let that fuel you an let that piss you off, because that's where we want to be," Mosley said. "We deserve to be there, but we didn't do the right things this season to get that done."

Saleh tried to put a positive spin on the collapse, saying "7-4 wasn't a mirage" and that the Jets have a "championship-caliber defense" and several injured players who will be healthy next season. He predicted the team will be in the playoff chase next year again, and that "it's going to be about finishing."

Cornerback Sauce Gardner, one of the Jets' young stars, took it one step further. "This time next year," he said, "we're going to be in the playoffs for sure."

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