Robert Saleh apologizes for Jets’ collapse, missing playoffs

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jets owner Woody Johnson entered the losing locker room before Sunday’s game against the Dolphins had even concluded.

He stood by the doorway, surely trying to make sense of how his team had missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year, the longest active drought in the NFL. This year felt like the year, when the Jets scored wins in Pittsburgh and Green Bay and Denver, when they beat the Bills at home and when they stomped on the Bears on Thanksgiving weekend to improve to 7-4.

Then, the bottom fell out. The Jets lost six straight games, finishing the season off with a dismal 11-6 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.

Johnson and the Jets are going to be home for the playoffs again. He stood by the doorway and shook the hand of every player and coach as they came off the field for one last time in the 2022 season. The search for answers to what happened and how they improve in 2023 begins now.

Jets coach Robert Saleh during a loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.
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Jets coach Robert Saleh apologized to Johnson in his postgame press conference after the 7-10 finish.

“I say sorry to everybody, Woody, Christopher [Johnson],” Saleh said before naming a few more team executives, “all the players, all the coaches, all the 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. So you know, it’s just, like I said, it stings right now but when all this dust settles and we reflect on the season, we’ll be excited about what we have to offer and kicking off this offseason the right way and getting us back into this position where we’ve got a chance to clinch and get into the playoffs.”

Jets owner Woody Johnson in the field in Miami in Sunday.

The Jets can point to numerous things that went wrong this season. Injuries to star running back Breece Hall and top offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker knocked the Jets off kilter. Poor play from second-year quarterback Zach Wilson crippled them. When Wilson’s replacement, Mike White, suffered broken ribs in Buffalo in December, the team was done.

The Jets ended the season on a six-game losing streak for the first time since 1996. They failed to score a touchdown in the final three games. The Jets’ offensive ineptitude is staggering. They only scored four touchdowns in their final six games. They only scored two touchdowns in the first quarter all season.

“It doesn’t seem real,” tight end Tyler Conklin said. “How do you have a collapse like that? I don’t know.”

The Jets have reasons to be encouraged. Their rookie class looks like it will be a foundation for years. Cornerback Sauce Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson could win Defensive and Offensive Rookie of the Year, respectively. Hall was on his way to putting together a great rookie season before tearing his ACL. The defense was one of the best in the NFL. The Jets won seven games, one more than they won in the last two seasons combined.

“I know what kind of team we have, and I get it, I get outside noise and all that stuff,” Saleh said. “I get the disappointment of a six-game losing streak but honestly the silver lining is that we’ve got an unbelievable core group of guys and I’m really excited for this offseason, really excited to see them take off, and we’re going to get this opportunity again and we’ve got to go finish.”

Justin Bethel #20 of the Miami Dolphins tackles Braxton Berrios #10 of the New York Jets during the fourth quarter on Sunday.
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The key questions now for the Jets are will offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur be back after presiding over this offensive mess and who will their quarterback be? The Jets have said they are committed to Wilson, but they cannot go into the 2023 season with him as their starter. White is a free agent. The Jets surely will consider signing a veteran, perhaps Jimmy Garoppolo or Derek Carr.

After Sunday’s loss, the Jets were already talking about next year and trying to end the playoff drought that is now old enough to hit puberty.

“We want to win, so it’s extremely frustrating,” Gardner said. “Now, it’s to the point where we can’t dwell on the past. We’ve got to just attack this offseason. This time next year, we’re going to be in the playoffs.”

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