By BARRY WILNER
For those teams pleading “Cut us a break” in this weird and unprecedentedly unpredictable year, that was a fair ask. Until now.
At this point of the NFL season, as we head into the final quarter of the schedule, the mea culpas have run their course. There’s simply too much bad, worse and truly ugly football to excuse any longer.
Certainly the winless, hapless and possibly hopeless Jets punctuated that on Sunday with their latest debacle. The Jaguars perhaps made what’s left of their believers hold the faith into overtime before folding. The Chargers didn’t even get out of the first period in their worst performance since, well, maybe when they called Balboa Stadium home.
Philly has flopped (phlopped?) so badly there are calls for coach Doug Pederson’s job; hey, Eagles fans, the guy won the Super Bowl three seasons backs. But yes, that offense is unsightly.
Even some of the mediocrities, and there are many in 2020, can be downright hideous. See Chicago’s six-game slide that, by all indications, could reach 10. It’s loss Sunday was to the Lions, who spoiled many a Thanksgiving meal in Detroit by their performance on the holiday.
Two more tailenders, Dallas and Washington, still haven’t played their Week 13 games. The unattractiveness just might be enhanced by the end of the Cowboys’ visit to Baltimore on Tuesday night.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn summed up the ugliness after a 45-0 no-show against New England.
“That was one of the worst football games I’ve ever been a part of in my 30 years in the National Football League as a player and a coach. That was unacceptable and embarrassing,” Lynn said.
Sort of what America has seen from far too many teams, all of which deserved a pass because of the way the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted, well, everything. At this point, 12 games in, however, soccer’s process of relegation for the worst offenders — exemplified by action Sunday — seems like a wise approach.
Start with the Jaguars, who deserve credit for extending to the limit many opponents, all of whom are better than they are. Yet every week — including the overtime defeat at Minnesota in which they blew a lead, made an impressive comeback, then committed the game-losing mistakes in OT — things go wrong. Jacksonville is 1-11, all of the losses coming since an opening victory.
“There’s a point where there’s no moral victories,” veteran linebacker Joe Schobert said. “In football, you either win or you lost. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we lost by two. We lost by three.’ I think it just speaks to how hard everybody plays on this team and how hard everybody plays for each other, just with all the stuff we’ve been going through, and getting in these close games. But to be a good football team, you have to win those close games.”
Or play close ones at least. The Chargers would seem to have enough talent (Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler when healthy, rookie QB Justin Herbert and quite a few others) not to be 3-9. On Sunday, they made the so-so Patriots look like the prime Tom Brady version in a 45-0 fiasco.
Instead, the Chargers appear to be regressing. Lynn kept repeating “unacceptable.” We concur.
Then there is incredible ineptitude, spelled J-E-T-S. On the brink of what pretty much everyone in the Big Apple believed was unreachable — a win — they reached truly ugly instead. Ultimate ugly.
After stopping Las Vegas deep in Jets territory, they needed a first down to end their team-record 11-game slide. Playing not to lose — hey, guys, it almost never works — they got ultra-conservative and had to punt after the Raiders’ used their timeouts.
But the Jets still were in position to do the unimaginable and pull off the victory. So defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a known risk taker, blitzed against quarterback Derek Carr, leaving Lamar Jackson — no, not the one who won the 2019 league MVP award as a quarterback, but a rookie cornerback — in single coverage on speedy rookie Henry Ruggs III.
And 46 yards later, Ruggs was in the end zone. With 5 seconds remaining.
“We just played the call that the coaches called,” Jets safety Marcus Maye said of Williams’ call. “We’ve got to execute, but you’ve got to help us out at the same time and be in a better call at that spot.”
It doesn’t get much uglier than that. Then again, the Jaguars, Chargers and Jets, not to mention the other league weaklings, have four more weeks to drop the standards even lower.