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The Jets aren’t tanking, and other Week Five thoughts

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Jeremy Kerley #14 of the New York Jets celebrates a play in the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Heading into this season, everyone knew the Jets were tanking. Trying to lose. Hoping to be the worst team in the NFL this year so they could get the first pick in the draft next year. Purposely throwing their season in the toilet.

Oh, sure, the Jets themselves denied it, but everyone knew that’s just what teams always say, because tanking is viewed as something nefarious, essentially ripping off your fans when they buy their season tickets. The Jets would deny it but everyone knew this season was going to be a 1-15 disaster.

And now we can add preseason predictions about the 2017 Jets to the long list of things “everyone knew” that turned out to be wrong.

The Jets are 3-2 after Sunday’s win over the Browns. They’re on a three-game winning streak. Although beating the Browns is no great accomplishment, a week earlier they beat the Jaguars, who are a solid team at 3-2 themselves, and a week before that they beat the Dolphins, who are 2-2. The Jets are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East, with the Patriots and Bills. The Jets are most certainly not tanking.

And the truth is, none of their personnel moves that were decried as tanking have really turned out to look so bad. Yes, the Jets got rid of old veterans, but those veterans have been nothing special on their new teams. Receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker aren’t exactly making a lot of big plays on the Giants and Titans. Linebacker David Harris has barely played for the Patriots. Center Nick Mangold and cornerback Darrelle Revis haven’t played at all or even found a new NFL team. Maybe the Jets got rid of all these guys not because the Jets wanted to lose, but because the Jets wanted to win, and they knew all those old veterans weren’t going to help them win anymore.

So who is helping the Jets win? For starters, receivers Jeremy Kerley and Jermaine Kearse, both of whom caught all four of the passes thrown to them yesterday. The Jets brought Kerley back after he didn’t pan out in San Francisco this offseason, then brought in Kearse in a trade with the Seahawks that sent Sheldon Richardson to Seattle that also got the Jets Seattle’s 2018 second-round draft pick. Some called that trade a tanking move, but Kearse has been a solid addition this season. Adding those two guys wasn’t about tanking, it was about winning.

And if the Jets actually wanted to lose, they wouldn’t have Josh McCown as their starting quarterback, ahead of the much younger Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. The 38-year-old McCown has no role in the Jets’ long-term future, but he’s a better player today than Petty or Hackenberg, and he’s starting because he gives the Jets the best chance to win today. That’s not what a tanking team does.

Will the Jets stay in first place for long? I doubt it. They play the Patriots next week, and the Patriots will probably win, and next Sunday will probably be the last morning the Jets wake up in first place.

But it says something that the Week Six Jets-Patriots game is a legitimately interesting game, one where the Jets have an opportunity to make a huge statement. That’s not the kind of game most people thought the Jets would be playing this season.

I don’t know what the Jets’ final record will be. It will probably be worse than 8-8. Maybe it will be 3-13. The Jets’ roster isn’t all that good. But having a roster that isn’t all that good is not the same thing as tanking. The Jets are trying to win. And succeeding, three weeks in a row.

Here are my other thoughts from Week One:

Adam Vinatieri is ageless. Vinatieri will turn 45 in December, and he’s better now than he was in his 20s and 30s. On Sunday he made all his kicks, including a 52-yard field goal to get the Colts’ scoring started against the 49ers, and a 51-yard field goal to win the game in overtime. That was his 10th career game-winning field goal in overtime, an NFL record. Vinatieri is now 24-for-32 on field goals 50 yards or longer from his age-40 season in 2012 through his age-45 season this year. In his 20s, Vinatieri was 7-for-11 on field goals 50 yards or longer, and in his 30s he was just 5-for-14. Although Vinatieri got a lot of attention for a few clutch kicks with the Patriots in the early and middle parts of his career, he has actually been a better, more consistent kicker later in his career than he was when he was younger. Vinatieri’s longevity is absolutely incredible.

The Lions’ stubbornness about Eric Ebron may have cost them Sunday’s game. It’s been obvious for years that the Lions made a mistake when they used the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft on Ebron. But it’s odd that the Lions simply refuse to admit that mistake. Yesterday, refusing to admit their mistake may have cost them the game against the Panthers. In the first quarter, Ebron dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the end zone and the Lions had to settle for a field goal, costing them four points. As is it turned out, the Lions lost by three points. Later in the game, the Lions phased Ebron out of the offense and went to their much better backup tight end, Darren Fells, and Fells responded with two touchdown catches. Perhaps if the Lions had gone to Fells instead of Ebron from the beginning, Fells would have caught the pass Ebron dropped, and the Lions would have won. After the game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell continued to defend Ebron. It’s bizarre the extent to which Detroit continues to defend a player who simply isn’t doing his job.

EJ Manuel was a bargain. Manuel, a free agent the Raiders got for $800,000, made some solid plays for the Raiders while filling in for the injured Derek Carr yesterday. They didn’t win, but that was more the defense’s fault than Manuel’s. Consider that Manuel and Mike Glennon both became free agents at the same time, and the Bears gave Glennon more than 20 times as much money as it would have cost to sign Manuel. Glennon has now been benched, as the Bears will turn to Mitch Trubisky tonight. Chicago should have signed Manuel.