EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Seconds away from their first win, the New York Jets took an unnecessary gamble on defense — an all-out blitz that resulted in a touchdown and a 31-28 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Afterward, Jets safety Marcus Maye — a team captain — unleashed a verbal blitz on defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who made the ill-fated call on Henry Ruggs’ 46-yard scoring catch with 5 seconds left.
“I just felt like we could’ve been in a better call in that situation,” Maye said.
Maye doubled down on that opinion. Actually, he went way beyond that. During his four-minute, 30-second interview with reporters, he made eight references to how the defense should’ve been given a “better call” on third-and-10 with 13 seconds left when the play started.
Instead of protecting the end zone and the sidelines with a soft zone, Williams — known for his aggressiveness — called a Cover 0 blitz. That meant no deep help from a safety. He sent eight rushers at quarterback Derek Carr, leaving only three defenders in man-to-man coverage.
The play call was unprecedented in recent NFL history. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, out of the 252 pass plays attempted under similar circumstances in the past 15 seasons, the Jets were the only defense to send more than six rushers.
Two of the three defensive backs left in coverage were rookies — cornerbacks Bryce Hall and Lamar Jackson — which made the call even more curious.
Jackson, undrafted out of Nebraska, bit on a double move and let the speedy Ruggs get past him. He had 2 yards of separation when Carr’s pass arrived, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data — and the Raiders (7-5) had a miracle victory.
“I couldn’t believe they all-out blitzed us,” said Carr, who passed for 381 yards — including 200 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Darren Waller.
It was a devastating loss for the Jets, who dropped to 0-12 and tied the longest losing streak in franchise history. They played their best game of the season , and they thought they had the win after a fourth-down stop deep in their own territory with 1:37 to play.
But the offense went three-and-out, allowing the Raiders to take over at their 39 with 35 seconds left. Three plays later, Carr went deep to Ruggs.
The postgame emotions in the locker room were raw, players said. That Maye questioned his coordinator’s strategy was highly unusual, creating more turmoil for the Jets, who have been immersed in various controversies throughout the season.
“Our guys work way too hard to go through this s—,” said a disgusted Adam Gase, who dropped to 7-21 as the Jets’ coach and likely will be fired at the end of the season.
Williams wasn’t made available after the game.
Asked to explain Williams’ strategy, Gase said the goal was to create pressure on Carr, adding that Williams had “done well with it all game. That’s what happened. We had a couple of free runners, but we didn’t get there.”
Gase didn’t make a convincing defense of Williams, who is given total autonomy to run the defense.
“You’re in this league long enough, you see games like this,” Gase said. “You don’t want to be part of them, I know that.”
The Jets made only two sacks, both with four-man rushes. On the play before the Ruggs touchdown, Williams went the opposite way, dropping eight into coverage and rushing only three. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor was open in the end zone, but Carr overthrew him.
On the blitz, Jackson, starting only his fifth game, was put in “an extremely tough” situation, Maye said.
Jackson didn’t offer any excuses, and he didn’t blame anyone but himself.
“I knew it was one of those things where they were going to take a shot at the end zone,” he said. “Initially, I was getting back, getting back, getting back. It was zero coverage. Protecting the end zone was what’s important.
“The receiver gave me a nice little double move, and I kind of related to it. He’s a fast guy, and he was able to get a step on me. And that was that. … That play is not going to define me or my career.”
But it could define the Jets’ season, the worst in franchise history.
“It’s hard to fathom, losing a game like that,” said quarterback Sam Darnold, who threw two touchdowns and ran for another in his best performance of the season.
“Heartbreaking,” said running back Ty Johnson, who replaced the injured Frank Gore (concussion) and rushed for a career-high 104 yards — the first 100-yard rusher under Gase.
There were a lot of positives for the Jets, who overcame a 24-13 deficit by scoring 15 unanswered points. This was a rare chance to win. Other than a last-second loss to the New England Patriots in Week 9, they have been blown out in most games this season.
“We should’ve won,” Darnold said. “We’ve had a few games this year where we haven’t had a chance. To have a game like this, that we should’ve won at the end, those ones definitely hurt more.”