Stretch your arms out in front of you right now. Don’t worry, nobody’s looking. (If you’re driving, don’t do this. And stop reading this story.) The distance from your eyeball to your fingertips doesn’t seem very far, does it? But it’s all the distance in the world, all the difference in the world, to the two New Jersey-based, New York-named teams in the NFL.
For much of the season, the Jets and the Giants have been adding verses to the song of futility that the Yankees and Mets spent all summer singing. The Giants didn’t even take a single offensive snap with the lead until Sunday night. The Jets saw their Super Bowl hopes end with the snap of an Achilles. Put both teams together and you might have a wild-card squad. In the NFC.
Still, Sunday evening marked something of an inflection point, a wedge between these two icons of incompetence. The Giants showed signs of real promise but folded in the most crucial moments, while the Jets shrugged off all the expectations of collapse and knocked off the league’s final unbeaten team.
Start with the good news. The Jets enjoyed the bounty of four Philadelphia turnovers in Sunday’s 20-14 victory, none more crucial or backbreaking than the interception Jalen Hurts threw with less than two minutes remaining in the game and the Eagles leading by two:
Jets’ fourth takeaway sets up their go-ahead TD.
First lead of day for NYJ. 2-point conversion good.
Jets 20, Eagles 14 with 1:46 to play.. pic.twitter.com/4HU1pZYMuO
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) October 15, 2023
On the very next play, Breece Hall scooted 8 yards into the end zone. He could have stopped at the goal line. He could have pulled up and bled out the clock. But he chose aggression, and the Jets were the better for it.
With the Jets trailing 14-12 before the touchdown, the conventional wisdom dictated running out the clock and trying for a game-clinching field goal rather than giving the ball back to Philadelphia and Hurts. Conventional wisdom hasn’t been getting laughed at all year, though, so the Jets and Hall opted to play from ahead. A two-point conversion later put the lead at six, where it would remain through the end of the game.
The victory didn’t just snap the Eagles’ win streak this season, it ended a literal lifetime of frustration for the Jets, who had lost every single one of the 12 prior games with Philadelphia.
“They ain’t 12-0 no more!” Jets coach Robert Saleh gloated after the game, and with all the reason in the world. The Jets weren’t very good at all on Sunday, but they found a way to win.
“Through these first six weeks, we’ve played a gauntlet of quarterbacks,” Saleh said. “I know we haven’t gotten all wins, but we’ve embarrassed all of them.”
Compare that to the Giants, who also managed to shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the game … and yet still found a way to lose. Twice, the Giants were at the 1-yard line — once to end the first half, once to end the game — and both times, they came away with exactly nothing.
At the end of the first half, the Giants had a first down on Buffalo’s 1 with 14 seconds and no timeouts. The strategy here is simple: Take a couple shots into the end zone, then kick a field goal. Instead, the Giants plowed Saquon Barkley into the middle and could only watch as the clock ticked away to nothing.
Exactly 30 game minutes later, down 14-9, the Giants were again on the 1-yard line, and again failed to score:
Yes, Buffalo almost certainly committed an uncalled pass interference penalty on that final play, but the Giants were in that position because of pass interference; the refs weren’t going to give them infinite chances to win. (You could make the argument that the Bills should have just kept interfering on every play, daring the refs to continue to make the call, but that’s a different issue.)
You don’t often get the chance to hold the Bills to just 14 points; when you do, you have to take advantage of it, not let it dribble away. In short, no stat more epitomizes the Giants’ institutional and competitive decrepitude than this one:
The Giants are the only NFL team in the Super Bowl era to have more rushing yards, more passing yards, fewer INT thrown, fewer fumbles lost & fewer missed FG than their opponent but still lose.
Teams had been 134-0 in the Super Bowl era when doing all that in a game (reg+post).
— OptaSTATS (@OptaSTATS) October 16, 2023
“You don’t get trophies for trying,” Daboll said after the loss. “We don’t really want to hear about small strides. We want to get the results.”
The Jets played aggressive ball and found a way to win. The Giants botched their way into a loss. It’s a small sample size to make a sweeping judgment, but then the goal line is a small stretch of land, too.
The Jets, somehow, are 3-3, the same record as the Bengals and only a game behind Buffalo. It strains belief to say the Jets are a playoff team, the same way it strains belief that Aaron Rodgers thinks he’s going to return this season. But give the Jets credit: They haven’t tanked on the season after seeing Rodgers go down, and they still have all the other pieces that had people thinking they were a playoff-ready squad for the first three snaps of the season.
Over the rest of the season, the Jets will need to fight their way through the AFC East, with some NFC winnables like Atlanta and Washington salted in. The postseason is a real stretch, but respectability isn’t.
The Giants, on the other hand? Eh. They’re not as bad as the winless Panthers, but that’s about all you can say at this point. They’ve clearly overcommitted to Daniel Jones, and they’re deep in the “everything we do will make things worse before they get better” stage of a franchise overhaul.
For the Giants, there are winnable games against the Commanders and Patriots on the schedule … but the Cowboys and Eagles also lurk out there later in the season.
Who has the edge here? Who’s going to crawl from the swamps of disappointment to the realm of mild competence? Fortunately enough, there’s an easy way to answer that question: The Giants and the Jets play each other in two weeks. The Meadowlands Bowl won’t exactly be sterling football, but it’ll give one team stadium bragging rights for a few months. That, and the crowd shots will be must-watch.