In utter disbelief, my roommate and I sat on our couch Monday night contemplating whether everything we knew about football was a lie.
We were watching this week’s “Monday Night Football” game between the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets and we could not believe our eyes. Sometime during the third quarter, my roommate turned to me and asked just how bad the Lions were this year.
“Or,” she postulated, eyes widening, “are the Jets actually good?”
The Jets’ dominating 48-17 win against the Lions this week sparked the age-old question: Did the winning team actually win, or did its opponent simply lose?
After all, the Jets have only had one winning season since Mark Sanchez’s infamous butt fumble in 2012 and have posted five wins in each of last two seasons. Despite multiple high first-round draft picks and coaching changes, the organization of the team has been, for lack of a better phrase, laughable.
As a result, many Jets’ fans with whom I have close relationships had all but given up on their team, growing cynical and bitter with each passing pathetic season.
It is in this climate that New York stepped onto the MNF football stage against the respectable Detroit — which has sported winning records in three of its last four seasons — and absolutely demolished them.
Based on both teams’ recent histories, the need to ask whether the Jets’ Week One win indicates a season in which they will rise from the ashes or simply how terrible the Lions will be this year, is understandable.
The answer to this question lies in whether the Jets won based on their own controllable tactics, which they could repeat, or based on the unprompted miscues from the Lions.
Consider the Jets defense, which recorded five interceptions: four off of Stafford, one off of backup quarterback Matt Cassel.
While many critics would attribute these interceptions to fallacies on the part of the respective quarterbacks or new Head Coach Matt Patricia, it seems that the Jets’ defense manufactured many of these plays themselves.
The Jets’ defense claimed a reason they were so successful was because the Lions were tipping their plays.
“We were calling out their plays as he [Stafford] was getting up to the line,” Jets’ linebacker Darron Lee said via ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
Lee then explained that the Jets’ defense could anticipate Stafford’s plays based on “preparation,” saying that the defense deeply studied the Lions’ offensive cues leading up to the game and that this is how they got in Stafford’s head.
This situation is a perfect illustration of if the Jets won or if the Lions simply lost: If the Jets were truly able to decipher the Lions’ tendencies with their pregame studies, then they likely won the game. However, if the Lions obviously tipped their plays, they likely caused themselves to lose the season opener.
Thus, the Jets won the game with a tactic that they could replicate against other teams —preparation — rather than simply reacting to the Lions’ poor concealment of play-calling, which would have been the Lions’ fault for failing to hide.
Of course, if the Jets picked up cues like a Boston sports team (Applegate or Spygate, anyone?) once did, the game does not at all indicate the potential success of either team.
Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold contributed to the win with a rather brilliant performance, except for his first Jets-like pass that resulted in a pick-six. However, according to Lee’s comments, the Jets’ defense really won themselves the game.
Do the Jets winning the game on their own merits guarantee they will finally enjoy a winning season? No. But does Week One win bode well for New York and its fan base on life support? Yes.
Regardless, one thing is for sure: The question of whether the Jets won themselves a game — or lost it — will persist throughout the season given the team’s tumultuous history in recent years.
As a New Orleans Saints’ fan who has suffered through many instances where the team’s lamentable defense has singlehandedly lost games, (i.e. Sunday, when the Saints’ defense made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like the best versions of Tom Brady and Cam Newton combined) some teams exercise incredible agency over their own destinies, whether they win or lose a game.