Marcus Maye (300277)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

With 13 straight losses and the 14th anticipated, the New York Jets shockingly changed that notion by not only winning their first game of the season, but by defeating one of the NFL’s premiere teams, the Los Angeles Rams.

The Jets’ 23-20 road upset on Sunday over the Rams was an embarrassing and damaging loss for a team that entered the game leading the NFC West division. The 9-5 Rams are now one game behind the 10-4 Seattle Seahawks. The defeat also lowered their seeding in the NFC playoff race from No. 3 to No. 5 and delayed them clinching a postseason spot one more week.

On the other hand, the 1-13 Jets’ victory significantly reduced their chances of getting the first overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, angering much of their fan base that is clamoring for the No. 1 slot. The Jets are tied with the 1-13 Jacksonville Jaguars for the league’s worst record but Jacksonville holds the tie-breaker based on strength of schedule.

If the Jets and Jaguars end the season with identical records, because the Jaguars have had a weaker schedule, they would have the top draft spot. Currently, the Jets, with two more games remaining, have played the second most difficult schedule in the league, as their opponents’ combined winning percentage is .602. The Jaguars’ opponents’ winning percentage is .546.

The 3-10-1 Cincinnati Bengals’ stunning win against the 11-3 Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night guaranteed the Jets will draft no lower than No. 2. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is the consensus choice to be drafted first. If the Jets or Jaguars at No. 2 determine Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, generally considered the second best college prospect at the position, isn’t their guy, they could trade the pick for players that fill other needs, as well as acquire additional draft picks.

Much of the Jets’ decision centers around Sam Darnold. He was drafted by the Jets in 2018 at No. 3 to be their long-term franchise quarterback, but injuries, a bout with mononucleosis and coaching instability, first under former head coach Todd Bowles and now under existing head coach Adam Gase, has resulted in an uncertain future for Darnold with the organization.

In 10 games this season, the 23-year-old from USC has thrown for 1,767 yards, with just six touchdowns and nine interceptions. “We’re focused on one single job every week, and that’s winning a game,” Darnold said after the Jets’ win on Sunday.

The victory over the Rams was uplifting and in stark contrast to the Jets’ crushing 31-28 loss to the La Vegas Raiders two weeks prior. “It hurts to lose,” said Jets center Connor McGovern. “I don’t think anyone on the Jets puts their bodies through this to lose.

“This game is too hard to do for a piece of paper and some money in the bank. You’ve got to love it to be great at this game, and you’re not gonna love it if you’re trying to lose.”

Gase, in his second year as the Jets’ head coach, has consistently praised his players this season despite the team’s many pitfalls. “They’ve done such a great job of how they’ve worked,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot of adversity. It’s been too long for us to even remember what a win feels like.”

The Jets held L.A. to three points at the half and led 23-10 going into the fourth quarter. They stopped the Rams on a 4th down and 4 play with the ball on the Jets’ 37-yard line with four minutes remaining. They subsequently ran out the clock, converting a game-clinching 3rd down and 6 on a 6-yard pass from Darnold to running back Frank Gore to the Rams’ 42-yard line with 2:17 left.

“It’s the greatest feeling in sports to be able to ice the game out,” said Darnold. “It was an amazing feeling.” The Jets will host the 10-4 Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium this Sunday.