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Jets hang on to beat Jaguars, deliver blow to NFL draft positioning

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Jets hang on to beat Jaguars, deliver blow to NFL draft positioning

For a meaningless game, Jets-Jaguars was pretty entertaining. 

The game Sunday featured a 102-yard kickoff return, a 52-yard touchdown run by Jets quarterback Zach Wilson and two touchdowns by offensive linemen. 

The Jets prevailed 26-21 in this meeting between NFL cellar-dwellers at MetLife Stadium. The game might only be remembered for its effect on next April’s NFL draft. The Jets are now 4-11, meaning they are highly unlikely to get one of the top two picks. The Jaguars are 2-13 and in position to draft No. 1 overall. 

Both teams had COVID-19 issues. The Jets had 20 players on the list, including defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, who landed on the list Sunday morning. They were missing five starters on defense and had two safeties making their first starts of the season. 

Jets coach Robert Saleh also was missing after testing positive for COVID on Wednesday. Saleh had to watch the game on TV while tight ends coach Ron Middleton served as acting head coach. Middleton showed no fear as he went for it on fourth down five times, including three times in the red zone. 

The matchup between the quarterbacks taken No. 1 and No. 2 overall in this year’s draft was nothing special. The highlight of Wilson’s day was the 52-yard touchdown run. He ran for 91 yards on four carries and threw for just 102 yards on 14 of 22 passing. He also threw for a touchdown to offensive lineman Conor McDermott that gave the Jets a 23-15 lead in the fourth quarter. Wilson did not throw any interceptions but had four passes that the Jaguars nearly picked. 

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson celebrates with wide receiver Braxton Berrios after running the ball for a touchdown.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Lawrence went 26 of 39 for 280 yards and had a fumble. 

The Jaguars went 75 yards in the fourth quarter on eight plays after McDermott’s touchdown to make it interesting. Jaguars running back Dare Ogunbowale scored a 1-yard touchdown after a C.J. Mosley pass interference penalty put Jacksonville on the 1. The touchdown made it 23-21. The Jaguars attempted the two-point conversion to tie, but the Jets had great coverage and Lawrence had to throw it away, keeping the Jets on top. 

Jacksonville mounted one last drive, getting down to the Jets’ 1-yard line with eight seconds left but the Jets turned the Jaguars away at the goal line to secure the win. Lawrence completed six passes on the final drive, but his final pass to Marvin Jones fell incomplete with Javelin Guidry defending. 

The first half featured a number of entertaining plays. 

The Jaguars won the coin toss and elected to receive, possibly hoping to take advantage of the depleted Jets defense. The defense actually stopped the Jaguars on their first three plays, setting up a fourth down. But the Jaguars executed a fake punt and kept the drive going. Pass interference on rookie cornerback Brandin Echols set the Jaguars up inside the 10, but the defense held firm and the Jaguars had to kick a field goal. 

Jaguars receiver Laquon Treadwell fails to haul in a pass under double coverage during the first quarter of a game against the Jets on Dec. 26, 2021 at MetLife Stadium.
Jaguars receiver Laquon Treadwell fails to haul in a pass under double coverage.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Wilson then showed his running ability to give the Jets the lead. On third-and-5 from his own 48, Wilson avoided a sack and took off. He danced along the sidelines, fooling Jaguars defenders into thinking he was running out of bounds and then showed his speed on the way to a 52-yard touchdown. It was the longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback in franchise history, surpassing the 46-yard run by Sam Darnold last year against the Broncos. 

The Jaguars answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Lawrence fumbling on the goal line after getting hit by safety Jason Pinnock. But Jaguars lineman Will Richardson Jr. jumped on the loose ball in the end zone for the touchdown and a 9-6 Jaguars lead. 

Braxton Berrios kept the back-and-forth first half going with a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first of his career and the Jets were back on top 13-9. 

Matthew Wright hit a 45-yard field goal with 8:15 left in the first half to cut the Jets lead to 13-12. 

Jets acting head coach Ron Middleton reacts on the sideline during the first quarter of a game against the Jaguars on Dec. 26, 2021.
Jets acting head coach Ron Middleton reacts on the sideline.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Middleton was aggressive and went for it on fourth down three times on the final drive of the half. The first two times the Jets converted but they failed to score from the Jaguars 2 on fourth down when Denzel Mims could not pull in Wilson’s pass in the back of the end zone. 

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter to make the Jets’ lead 16-15. The Jets could have extended that lead, but a fake field goal did not work and the Jets came away with no points after they recovered a Lawrence fumble deep in Jaguars territory. 

Middleton kept the foot on the gas, though, and in the fourth quarter Wilson hit McDermott for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to give the Jets a 23-15 lead with 9:16 left in the game. 

Rookie running back Michael Carter had a big day, rushing for a career-high 118 yards on 16 carries. 

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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