infinite jets

Why Are We Still Watching the Jets?

Photo: Michael Ainsworth/AP

Welcome to “Why Are We Still Watching?”, a Monday-morning postmortem between long-suffering Jets fans (and New York Magazine staff writers) Gabriel Debenedetti and Simon van Zuylen-Wood. There was no week-one edition because Aaron Rodgers, the team’s new quarterback and most compelling reason for hope in decades, tore his Achilles tendon four minutes into his first game as a Jet, ending his season, maybe his career, and certainly the team’s Super Bowl aspirations. Bereft, we found ourselves lacking the cognitive or motor skills necessary to complete a simple dialogue like this one. Six days later, we were ready to process the most traumatic event in the already dismal history of the team. We were also ready for more pain (we are Jets fans, we feed on pain; it makes us feel), which came yesterday afternoon in the form of a dreary 30-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood: We should probably recap the game.

Gabriel Debenedetti: I have the screenshots to prove I predicted it’d be 35-10. Short version: bad backup quarterback remains bad. There were a few hopeful moments, but Zach Wilson — the third-year QB who was once the team’s Next Big Thing before it became painfully clear that he wasn’t ready, but who now accidentally has his old job back — never got into a rhythm and let his baffling indecision overwhelm the few good throws and runs he did make. Though at least this week he didn’t sprint 20 yards backward every three plays.

SVZW: I never felt hope. A “few” is three or more, and Zach made I think two good throws, one of which was negated by a holding penalty. But you’re right: At least he didn’t pull his signature move of running toward his own goal line to avoid defenders, which is what you do when you play Madden for the first time. Hey, it works on rookie mode! Halfway through the fourth quarter, I went to put my kid to bed. When I came back, Wilson had thrown two more interceptions.

GD: I stepped away to cut an apple and missed the first interception, and then missed the second one while feeding my dog.

SVZW: Why do you cut apples? Are they for your dog? In truth, the interceptions were a silver lining. Our editor told us that if the Jets won yesterday’s game, it might not make sense to publish this dialogue. First of all, they were never going to win. Second of all, our editor, who grew up a Patriots fan and wouldn’t understand, has it backwards. The more we win — almost certainly on the strength of defense, and running, and special teams, as in week one, against the Buffalo Bills — the longer it will take management to replace the abysmal Wilson, a.k.a. the team’s greatest impediment to real success. (For anyone who clicked on this article by accident and doesn’t follow football, the rest of the team actually possesses Super Bowl–caliber talent. Except for the offensive line, which is partially responsible for Rodgers getting trampled last week.)

GD: Wait, do we really have to keep talking about Zach Wilson?

SVZW: You’re right. What I’d like to do is properly grieve. I had therapy the day after the Bills game, but it felt ridiculous to bring up Rodgers, so I’ve been in a kind of holding pattern. To be clear, and I know this is pathetic, but I think I experienced the Rodgers trauma on a physical level. I felt literally gutted. Is this what The Body Keeps the Score is about?

GD: Nope. Anyway! You’re allowed to feel real feelings about sports! But here’s the thing about Rodgers: What are we grieving? Because it feels a bit “take my ball and go home” to get mad and self-consciously numb about something as banal as a fairly common injury — there’s a whole Iliad about it! — and a lost season.

SVZW: That’s a great question! For me, it’s not about wins and losses. Actually, I had the crazy thought before the season that I wasn’t sure if I wanted my newborn to “experience” a Jets Super Bowl so soon in life, since our team identity is tied up in tragic losing. No, for me it’s — and this is also going to sound pathetic — about witnessing gorgeous quarterback play on the Jets for the first time in my life.

GD: First, no need to hedge that statement — this whole endeavor is pathetic, on some level. Second, I get it. The Jets’ recent quarterback history has me nostalgic for the Chad Pennington era. Vinny Testaverde is like a titan to me at this point.

SVZW: Again, if you clicked on this article by accident and don’t recognize those names, I think that’s Gabe’s point.

GD: Geno Smith! Brooks Bollinger!

SVZW: You’re just listing bad Jets QBs.

GD: Bad recentish Jets QBs. It’s not just that, though, is it? Rodgers isn’t, like, cool — he’s painfully un-self-aware and plainly thinks he’s awesome, a wily old gunslinger swooping into town for one last shot at glory.

SVZW: I thought he was cool.

GD: But the point is that he was still going to be a larger-than-life, Broadway Joe–style New York sports superstar, and we haven’t had one of those in a really, really long time. He looked like he was ready to embrace the spotlight in a way other recent star athletes in the city (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Aaron Judge …) just never have. And it was going to be a spectacle, even if you couldn’t stand the guy.

SVZW: Other than his anti-vaxx stance, I think in my exuberance I blocked out the various reasons why people can’t stand him. By the way, is there a Woody Johnson joke to make? The Jets are owned by the heir to the J&J fortune — a vaccine magnate!

GD: I told you repeatedly before the season that I was past having real optimism about the Jets — years past it, in fact. They’re famous for being mediocre and not particularly entertaining. But HBO’s hype machine (really the NFL’s) worked on me. I watched Hard Knocks and thought, well, maybe the Jets will be fun and good for once. There’s an ongoing social-media bit about the league where players are asked if the NFL seasons are scripted, and they all joke knowingly about it. Well, bad script this year! Rodgers didn’t even play a quarter of a quarter. Now the Jets can’t even tank the season and try to finish with a terrible record in hopes of winning a franchise-saving draft pick next year, since the rest of the team is good enough to guarantee a halfway decent record.

SVZW: Hard Knocks is why I fell in love with Rodgers. One episode, they dramatically flew the show’s narrator Liev Schreiber to Jets practice via helicopter. Rodgers seemed like the only person there familiar with Liev, and kept hilariously badgering his blockhead teammates to go talk to him. Which marked him — to me at least — as an appreciator of culture, a spiritual New Yorker. Meanwhile, Schreiber, Brooklyn thespian, was totally besotted with Rodgers, whatever weird shit the QB believed in. (I think Rodgers once told Joe Rogan he didn’t think the “brain” was entirely real. Maybe I misunderstood him.) The whole thing was so healing. Anyways, what is the next grief stage? Is it lashing out at stuff? I’ve been upset at the artificial turf at MetLife Stadium, which apparently causes more injuries than real grass.

GD: I’m in acceptance, though the thing that keeps getting me is the realization that this grief — or at least the story line — will be shoved in our faces for the next year. The Jets are scheduled to be on prime time a ton this year because of Rodgers, and his absence is now the most interesting thing about them, so he’ll be the subject of constant commentary. And further, he’s basically guaranteed to be in the headlines every week because he says he’s doing some (clearly insane) novel rehab that the sports and gossip media will cover incessantly, and because he has a recurring spot on an ESPN talk show.

SVZW: I read a piece about how Rodgers was getting hyperbaric chambers delivered to his home in Malibu. Excruciating. They can’t remove us from prime time?

GD: Is he going to get one delivered to Montclair, too, or …?

SVZW: I once listened to a podcast episode about a guy who was captured by Somali pirates. His big piece of advice for anyone who found himself in a similar bind was not to hope to be rescued. It was too painful every time he was not in fact rescued. And this guy eventually got rescued!

GD: Would huge seasons from Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall & Co. count as a rescue? They’re the captains now?

SVZW: Shout-out to those guys. They’re really wonderful players who deserve better than Zach Wilson. I have a leading question to ask you. Do you think the Jets are cursed?

GD: I grew up in central New Jersey, where half my friends were Giants fans and half were Eagles fans. The Jets felt like, just, wrong. It never seemed like the Jets were cursed so much as that something had just gone fundamentally awry at some point years earlier and that they needed a full reset. I’ve been a fan of other bad teams. I’ve watched teams I care about a lot lose in repeated finals. But you know how in some old computers you’d have to straighten out a paper clip and press it into that little hole to do a hard reboot? The Jets always felt like they just needed something like that. Just disappear for a season and come back fresh. Tell me you think there’s a “Heidi game” curse, or something …

SVZW: I’m with you: There’s no curse. New York sports fans have a narcissistic tendency to assume that when their teams are bad, the misery has been somehow ordained, that even their badness is special. Mets fans do this all the time, as if they hadn’t won two World Series and have a basically normal pattern of ups and downs. I know the Jets are mired in the longest active playoff drought in the NFL — 12 years and counting, it’s horrible. But even we have a Super Bowl trophy. How many NFL teams haven’t won a Super Bowl? A dozen? More?

GD: Yeah, 12.

SVZW: Well, in a way it’d be comforting if there was some deeper meaning behind Rodgers’s injury, if the “football gods” were real and they were punishing us for a transgression. I’m sure people were making jokes about Rodgers and alternative medicine, but there’s no actual moral to this story. There is no inherent “Jets-ness” that explains our ruined season. It was just bad luck. Which makes it even harder to process. Am I making sense? Do I need to quit darkness retreats and do primal scream?

GD: I think that’s what we’re doing here.

SVZW: Shall we look to the future? The worse Wilson played yesterday, the more I began to dream he would be terminated, like the maniacal Inspector Dreyfus fantasizing about the demise of his nemesis Clouseau in The Pink Panther. Yet, after the game ESPN ran a headline: “Jets deflect blame from Zach Wilson after 3-interception day.” What? Why? Are we being gaslit? Please blame him!

GD: You may be forgetting that the current alternative on the roster is *checks notes* um … someone named Tim Boyle?

SVZW: Let’s end on a high note. The Patriots are 0-2.

Why Are We Still Watching the Jets?