Watching the Jets try to end their winless season was strangely thrilling

December 21, 2020

Joe Scarnici

Winning every single game in an NFL season is incredibly difficult, but it's also pretty tough to lose every game. We've seen it twice in recent history, with the '08 Lions and '17 Browns, but it's only happened five times since 1944. For comparison, four teams have managed a perfect regular season, though of course only one, the '72 Dolphins have finished it off with a postseason title. But it goes to show that over a comparable number of games, it's statistically just as hard to lose them all as it is to run the table. These are, after all, professional athletes and professional coaches, and to warp the old phrase, even a broken team has to be right once per season. Usually.

With the 2020 Jets, though, it seemed like maybe it was never going to happen. At 0-13 heading into Sunday, facing a very good and likely playoff-bound L.A. Rams team on the road and with the 9-4 Browns and 11-2 Steelers to follow, 0-16 seemed like a mathematical likelihood. History be damned; at this point, winning would be the fluke.

Which made Sunday's game so much fun to follow. I started out from afar—there was no way I was going to watch the Jets when the Saints-Chiefs gem was happening in the same universe, and it wasn't on TV in North Carolina anyway. But I still got a little thrill when I saw the 10-0 score, and then 13-3 at the half, and then 23-10 after the third quarter. At that point, I went straight to the NFL Network, and briefly even thought about adding YouTube TV's extra sports package just to see the winning drives. (And I definitely did not seek out any streams. Why would you even ask that?)

Anyway, I started to get invested. Nerves set in when the Rams pulled within six—13 minutes seemed like wayyyy too long for the Jets to hold on—increased when they pulled within three, and hit a fever pitch when they started driving with five minutes left to try to do what every other Jets opponent has done this season. Namely, win.

Then the Jets stopped them on downs! At that point, it became like following a game by telegraph. The NFL Network's updates were delayed, and I was reduced to ESPN play-by-play. But somehow, this was strangely compelling, and when the Jets got it down to the two-minute warning, I started to believe. Then I saw it: Darnold to Gore! First down! All they'd have to do was kneel to end the game! I couldn't even find a highlight, "Darnold" and "Gore" on Twitter, and this is what you get:

Moments later, the internet gave me the good news: the Jets had won!

Now, okay, I'm not saying this captures the same kind of energy as when an undefeated season is on the line. As much as I hate the Patriots, I remember the thrill of their 2007 season as they got closer to 17-0. But still, there's something perversely exciting about trying to get that first win, and knowing it might be your last shot. And what better metaphor do we have for 2016 than a truly miserable team staggering to the finish line and trying, desperately, not to make the playoffs or win a Super Bowl, but simply preserve a tiny thread of dignity, nearly failing, and finally accomplishing the most pyrrhic of all victories??

The Jets are truly America's team.

American soccer match of the week: Liverpool 7, Crystal Palace 0

All I'm saying, as a doltish American man, is that every soccer match should have seven goals. Watch:

This also reminded me why Roberto Firmino's name was on the back of the first and only soccer jersey I've ever bought. Nobody scores beautiful goals more casually, with such shoulder-shrugging brilliance, and somehow it's even better when he's assisting.

I've gotten better at appreciating low-scoring games, very very slowly and over many years, but it's still nice once in a while to see your team just go wild in an offensive explosion and decimate an opponent. That's the kind of "hey, this is almost like football/basketball!" content I crave. And I hope nobody in Europe ever reads this.

The comically bad system of the week: College football's four-team playoff

You know how every single year there are about five or six teams with a legitimate argument that they should be allowed a chance to compete for a national title, and how one of the teams that gets left out of the four-team playoff is inevitably from the Big 12? Yup, that's still happening. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Notre Dame have made the final four, while Texas A&M is the odd man out yet again. Also, you have three teams in Coastal Carolina, San Jose State, and Cincinnati who have not lost a single game and still won't have a chance to win a title.

I used to think that some playoff was better than no playoff, but at this point the idiocy of going halfway to what you need but never taking the next step is almost more infuriating. This is a very simple equation: With four teams, you're going to leave out a team with a great argument. With eight teams, you won't. Period. This year, you could slot the three undefeated teams in with A&M and the four teams selected, and you'd be golden. Most years, you'll have one team at most undefeated outside the big schools, and it will allow you to take that team and three others at your discretion. Because here's the thing: The debate between no. 4 and no. 5 is always, always, always contentious. The debate between no. 8 and no. 9? Who cares? It might be close, but the no. 9 team is never going to have done enough to deserve anything.

There's no reason this can't happen—they hold larger playoffs than this in every other college football division—and I'm almost at the point where I'd rather just see them shelve the whole thing and go back to the bowl system and the mythical national title. Free Eastern Carolina!