What’s stopping the Jets from becoming the next Bengals?

Everyone has had that area of road construction near their home that seems to take forever. Year after year, there are cones and signs to drive around, leaving you to wonder what the hell they are actually doing and if they will ever finish the project.

Sound familiar, Jets fans?

Sunday’s loss to the Bengals was another reminder that the Jets are still very much in the early to middle stages of a rebuild that feels like that never-ending road construction project. The Jets have been rebuilding since 2012, and the end is not in sight.

There was hope that maybe the Jets could ride some momentum after the miraculous win in Cleveland and find a way to surprise the Bengals and then the Steelers, who look beatable, but the Jets came out and played another uninspired game on Sunday.

The return of Zach Wilson this week will restore some hope, but anyone who thinks Wilson can fix all that ails the Jets is dreaming.

Here is the tougher question for the Jets to answer right now: Why can other teams turn things around so much quicker than they have?

Zach Wilson’s return to the huddle may give the Jets a chance to assess their future, but he isn’t likely to significantly change their present.
Bill Kostroun

Sunday’s opponent was a reminder of how quickly you can go from the bottom to the top. The Bengals had a five-year playoff drought and were one of the worst teams in football in 2019 (remember when the winless Bengals beat the Jets?) before going to the Super Bowl last season. The team the Jets played two weeks ago, the Browns, has gone from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the most talented. It remains to be seen whether they can go on a deep run this year, but the talent is there. The 49ers, a team Robert Saleh knows well, had five straight non-winning seasons before going to the Super Bowl in 2019, and they have one of the best rosters in football.

Then there are the newcomers this year. The Dolphins are undefeated and right now are a top-five team in the NFL. They stunned the Bills (another team that not so long ago was a doormat), and the questions about Tua Tagovailoa have quieted.

The Jaguars were the team drafting No. 1 in 2021 when the Jets were No. 2. Trevor Lawrence, whom the Jags took, looks like the real deal this year, and Doug Pederson has Jacksonville believing. The Jaguars are still far away from being one of the best teams in football, but you can see reasons to believe there.

There are 16 teams that have had top-five picks in the last five drafts (2018-22). The Jets are among them.

I would say five of those franchises have definitely turned the corner: the Browns, Bengals, 49ers, Dolphins and Buccaneers. If you look at it, each team hit on draft picks and made some smart moves in free agency or in trades and then found a quarterback. I would argue the quarterback was the final, or near final, missing piece for many of them instead of being a draft pick around which a team is built.

Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts a pass during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Inglewood, California.
One season after suffering through a 3-14 rookie campaign, Trevor Lawrence has transformed the Jaguars into one of the most surprising teams in the league.
Getty Images

The Buccaneers are obviously in a slightly different category with Tom Brady arriving unexpectedly. There is hardly a blueprint for the greatest quarterback of all time becoming available late in his career. But Jimmy Garoppolo was part of an influx of talent in San Francisco. The team also landed Trent Williams, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner, Nick Bosa and George Kittle to give its roster firepower. Who knows if Deshaun Watson will live up to his billing, but the Browns traded for him and gave him a ridiculous contract after getting frustrated with Baker Mayfield for not winning enough with the talent they have. Joe Burrow is great, but so is Ja’Marr Chase. The Dolphins got aggressive and added Tyreek Hill to join Jaylen Waddle and a talented defense to help Tagovailoa.

The lesson is it is not just the quarterback. You need talent all over the roster.

The Jets don’t know about Wilson yet, and their talent is mostly young and unproven. That is why the Jets again will be asking for patience to let potential stars such as Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, Elijah Moore and Michael Carter develop.

There’s a second set of teams from that group of 16 that it seems might be turning the corner, but about which there are questions. The Jaguars, Cardinals, Broncos, Raiders and Lions fall into his group.

The Cardinals and Raiders went to the playoffs last season, but they are a combined 1-5 this season and are experiencing plenty of problems. The Broncos brought in Russell Wilson and are 2-1, but they have not looked good doing it and there are major questions about coach Nathaniel Hackett.

The Lions have played tough but are 1-2, and still may be a year or two away. Detroit’s two losses are by a combined seven points. Unlike the Jets, they have been in their losses until the end.

One team of the 16 can be thrown out as an outlier with one bad season. The Colts, who had the No. 3 pick in 2018, traded it to … the Jets, who used the pick to select Sam Darnold.

Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, top, leaps over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) while picking up a first down at the 2-yard line in the first quarter of an NFL football game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.
Fueled by the acrobatics and 253 receiving yards of Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Lions have lost their two games by a total of just seven points.
AP

Finally, there are the teams that fall into the same category as the Jets: the Commanders, Giants, Texans and Falcons. All of them feel as if they are early in a rebuild or spinning their tires.

Some may point to coaching as a key piece of the equation, and yes, it can be. Kyle Shanahan clearly changed things in San Francisco. Pederson seems to have had a major effect in Jacksonville.

Still, some of these talented teams have shown it is possible to overcome mediocre coaching. Talented coaches, though, can’t overcome mediocre players — see Belichick, Bill.

So, until Zach Wilson proves himself or the talent base expands, Jets fans will continue to watch other teams fly by them on the contender highway. It always feels as if the Jets are stuck in traffic caused by more construction.

Not close enough

Jets head coach Robert Saleh looks upon at the scoreboard in the second quarter. Jets and Cincinnati Bengals in East Rutherford, NJ.
Of the 15 losses Robert Saleh has overseen in his time with the Jets, 10 of those have come by double digits.
Bill Kostroun

Sunday’s 27-12 loss to the Bengals was the 43rd time the Jets have lost by double digits since 2016. That is staggering — and a huge reason the fan base is so uneasy. I think Jets fans would be OK with losses right now … if the team was at least competitive. But they are tired of watching the Jets just look non-competitive.

Sunday’s game was not a blowout, but did you ever think the Jets could win the game after they went down 14-6? The game felt over in the second quarter … again.

Robert Saleh needs to find a way to get his team to at least stay close in games while it is finding its footing.

Saleh has lost 15 games as the Jets head coach, 10 of them by double digits and four of them by 21 or more points.

No one expects the Jets to win every game. But when a game feels over before halftime, that’s a problem.

Stat’s so

Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets is rushed by LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mark Sanchez holds the distinction of being the sole Jets quarterback to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, which he did in 2010.
Getty Images

The Jets are 1-10 all-time in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. Here is a list of all of their games there:

Nov. 8, 1970: L, 21-17
Winning QB: Terry Hanratty; losing QB: Al Woodall
Oct. 21, 1973: L, 26-14
Winning QB: Terry Bradshaw; losing QB: Bill Demory
Sept. 20, 1981: L, 38-10
Winning QB: Terry Bradshaw; losing QB: Richard Todd
Sept. 13, 1992: L, 27-10
Winning QB: Neil O’Donnell; losing QB: Browning Nagle
Dec. 9, 2001: L, 18-7
Winning QB: Kordell Stewart; losing QB: Vinny Testaverde
Dec. 12, 2004: L, 17-6
Winning QB: Ben Roethlisberger; losing QB: Chad Pennington
Jan. 15, 2005*: L, 20-17
Winning QB: Ben Roethlisberger; losing QB: Chad Pennington
Dec. 19, 2010: W, 22-17
Winning QB: Mark Sanchez; losing QB: Ben Roethlisberger
Jan. 23, 2011*: L, 24-19
Winning QB: Ben Roethlisberger; losing QB: Mark Sanchez
Sept. 16, 2012: L, 27-10
Winning QB: Ben Roethlisberger; losing QB: Mark Sanchez
Oct. 9, 2016: L, 31-13
Winning QB: Ben Roethlisberger; losing QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick

* Playoff game