MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Robert Saleh’s message was clear: This time next year should be different for the New York Jets.
His banged-up team didn’t put up much offense in an 11-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Jets' sixth straight loss to end a franchise-record 12th straight season without a playoff appearance.
But the defense didn’t allow a touchdown. And Saleh is confident that next season, the Jets will be able to execute the one or two plays needed to be the difference in winning and losing important late-season games.
“We had our opportunities,” said Saleh, who completed his second season with the Jets. “Didn’t work out the way we wanted it to for whatever reasons you want to give, but next year, we’re going to be in this exact opportunity and it’s going to be about finishing.”
New York (7-10) failed to score a touchdown for the third straight game and finished last in the AFC East for the third year in a row and sixth time in seven years.
It was a disappointing collapse for a team that started the season 7-4 with wins over Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Jets then dropped games to Minnesota, Buffalo, Detroit and Jacksonville and were eliminated from the playoffs with a Week 17 loss to Seattle.
“You know, I say sorry to everybody,” Saleh said, naming owner Woody Johnson and others in the organization, along with the players, coaches and 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.
“But at the same time, I know we’ve come a long way over two years and I’m excited about what we’ve got ahead of us.”
A year after ranking among the league's worst defenses, the Jets had a top-five unit with an AP Defensive Rookie of the Year front-runner in cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who led the NFL with 20 passes defensed.
While it was a frustrating ending, Gardner predicted a postseason appearance for the Jets next season.
“Now it’s to the point we can’t dwell on the past,” he said. “We’ve got to just attack this offseason 'cause this time next year we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
New York’s defense recorded one sack, six tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries Sunday.
On offense, the Jets had the ball inside Miami’s 20-yard line twice, but settled for field goals. The offense finished with 187 total yards, going 0 for 2 in the red zone and 7 for 16 on third downs.
With Mike White dealing with rib injuries, Joe Flacco started and had 149 yards on 18-of-33 passing. It was the Jets’ fifth quarterback change this season because of injuries or poor play.
“I went out there today, and I honestly felt as good as I’ve ever felt,” said Flacco, who turns 38 on Jan. 16. “I know there’s probably a lot of people out there that don’t look at it that way.”
Flacco said he felt the Jets have the elite defense they need to make deep playoff runs. They just need to make “a couple little adjustments” on offense.
What those adjustments should be isn't yet clear, with unknowns at the team's most important position. The Jets’ struggling second-year quarterback Zach Wilson was inactive Sunday, punctuating a tough year in which he was benched twice.
As the Jets enter the offseason with the goal of getting healthy, Wilson’s future with the team is murky. Saleh has repeatedly said the Jets have confidence in Wilson, but how far he can realistically take them despite being surrounded with talent remains to be seen.
Wilson has 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 22 starts heading into his third pro season.
“We’ve got a good team,” Saleh said. "We do. We’ve got a good team. (At) 7-4, it wasn’t a mirage. We’ve got a championship-caliber defense. We’ve got a bunch of young guys that are going to be healthy and get back here ... and I know we’ll get the quarterback position right.”
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