Thanks, but no tanks.
That was the message from the Jets on Sunday as they pulled off a stunning 23-20 upset over the Rams in Los Angeles for their first win of the season.
The win hurts the Jets chances at landing the No. 1 pick and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. They are now tied at 1-13 with the Jaguars, but the Jaguars own the tiebreaker because they have a weaker strength of schedule. There are still two weeks left, but the surest way to Lawrence for the Jets was to lose every game.
Instead, the Jets players found a way to win their first game, defeating a Rams team, which fell to 9-5, on the road.
The Jets had a 17-point lead in the third quarter and the Rams chipped away at it, but the Jets held on. Jets coach Adam Gase ruined Christmas for Jets fans hoping for Lawrence by finding a way to win.
Quarterback Sam Darnold played an efficient game, completing 22 of 31 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. Rams quarterback Jared Goff went 22 of 34 for 209 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The Jets defense set the tone early. They forced three-and-outs on the Rams’ first two possessions. Quinnen Williams was a force up front and Frankie Luvu was disruptive blitzing. Goff looked out of sync and the Rams running game could not get going.
On their first possession, the Jets converted four third downs, three on passes to Ty Johnson. The last of those conversions was an 18-yard touchdown pass from Darnold to Johnson that gave the Jets a 7-0 lead with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
The Jets got a big special teams play early in the second quarter when J.T. Hassel blocked a Johnny Hekker punt and it was recovered by Lamar Jackson at the Rams’ 27. But the Jets failed to get in the end zone after the big play. Two Frank Gore runs set up a third-and-4. Darnold rolled to his right and made a nice throw toward the front corner of the end zone, but Braxton Berrios could not pull the ball in. That led to the Jets settling for a 39-yard field goal by Sam Ficken and a 10-0 lead.
The Rams next possession was extended by a boneheaded neutral-zone infraction penalty by John Franklin-Myers on fourth-and-1. But Franklin-Myers was bailed out on the next play when rookie Bryce Hall grabbed his first career interception, picking off a Goff pass intended for Robert Woods.
The pick gave the Jets the ball at the Rams’ 22 and another opportunity to reach the end zone. But after getting to the Rams’ 3, they started going backward. Aaron Donald blew Gore up on second-and-goal for a 4-yard loss. Darnold’s third-down pass was incomplete and the Jets again had to kick the field goal. This time, Ficken made it from 25 yards to push the lead to 13-0. That lead was the largest the Jets had all season.
It looked like the Jets might get to halftime with a shutout, which would have been the first time the Rams went scoreless in the first half under coach Sean McVay. But Gase botched the Jets’ final series of the half. The Jets took over at their own 10 with 1:48 left in the half. Johnson ran for 6 yards on first down, but instead of letting the clock run to limit the time the Rams might have before halftime to score, the Jets threw on second down and Leonard Floyd deflected the pass for an incompletion to stop the clock. Johnson came up 1 yard short on third down and the Rams used a timeout to get the ball back.
Goff engineered an eight-play, 34-yard drive to set up a Matt Gay 45-yard field goal as time expired. That sent the Jets to the locker room with a 13-3 lead.
The Jets opened the second half with an impressive drive. They went 72 yards on 11 plays. Gore scored from the 1 when Gase went for it on fourth-and-goal, giving the Jets a stunning 20-3 lead.
The Rams answered, though, on their first second-half possession, finally showing some signs of life. Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee for a 44-yard completion on their first play. That moved the ball to the Jets’ 31. Four plays later, Goff connected with Robert Woods, who beat Bless Austin, for a 15-yard touchdown to cut the Jets’ lead to 20-10 with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
Darnold put together another nice drive when the Jets got the ball back. They went 72 yards on 10 plays, but did not get into the end zone this time. They had a first-and-goal at the 6, but could not get in. Ficken kicked his third field goal of the day, this one from 21 yards to push the lead to 23-10 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
But a Jets defense that was stout in the first half looked overmatched in the second half. Woods took an end around 40 yards to set the Rams up at the Jets’ 21 on the final play of the third quarter. Austin was called for pass interference to move the ball to the Jets’ 6. It was the third penalty called on Austin on Sunday. Goff hit Higbee with a 3-yard pass for a touchdown that made it 23-17 with 13:47 left in the game.
The Jets defense did come up with a stop on the Rams’ next possession. The Rams got down to the Jets’ 24, but Franklin-Myers sacked Goff on second down and the Rams could not convert a third-and-15. Gay kicked a 42-yard field goal to cut the Jets’ lead to 23-20 with 6:35 left.
The Jets offense went into a shell after the touchdown in the third quarter. After a three-and-out, they gave the Rams the ball back with 5:33 left. The Rams got to the Jets’ 37 and had a fourth-and-4. Marcus Maye broke up a pass to Gerald Everett to turn the Rams away and give the ball back to the offense.
The Jets took over with 3:54 left to play. The Jets were able to run down the clock. The biggest play was a third-and-6 pass from Darnold to Gore that got a first down at the two-minute warning.
From there, the Jets could take a knee and close things out.