Well, it could have been worse. Colts head coach Frank Reich was never actually the HC of the NYJ. He did interview for the job, in early 2015, and we learned a few months ago that Reich’s old teammate at Maryland, Boomer Esiason, advised him strongly in 2015 to avoid the Florham Park burial ground.
Reich’s interview was apparently quite cordial, even if Todd Bowles got the gig. Reich went on to win a Super Bowl as an assistant in Philadelphia, and now is comfortably ensconced in Indianapolis. There were no hard feelings, nor any lingering residue resentment from his stint with the 1996 Jets, who went 1-15 (he quarterbacked their only win!).
Which is good.
Because if Reich held a grudge — the way a certain someone we all know very well holds a grudge, which is to say as intensely as your old-school Italian grandfather holds a grudge — there’s no telling what Thursday night might’ve looked like. The Colts made the Jets look that helpless, that hapless, that hopeless, across even the most vaguely competitive portions of their 45-30 win at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts scored touchdowns on their four first-half-possessions, stalled at the Jets’ goal line on their first possession of the second half, then immediately course-corrected that after forcing an easy three-and-out. That made it 42-10 midway through the third quarter. There are some NFL coaches — well, one NFL coach, anyway — who would’ve had visions of 63 dancing in their heads at that moment. Maybe 70.
The Jets are lucky Frank Reich, good and decent and humane, was on the other sideline instead of Bill Belichick (even if the Jets’ head coach, Robert Saleh, insisted the Colts “never took their foot off the gas,” which he’ll probably see differently once he takes a second look at the game film).
They are lucky there was no enmity among the Colts’ regulars, either, the way there was on the field of District of Columbia Stadium on the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 27, 1966, when Washington coach Otto Graham wanted to simply run the clock out of a game they were leading the Giants 69-42.
But Sam Huff, ex-Giant who was exiled to D.C. by Allie Sherman, had other ideas. Depending on the story you choose to believe, Huff either convinced Graham or personally pulled kicker Charlie Gogolak onto the field without Graham’s approval to kick a 29-yard field goal to hang 72 on the Giants, a score Huff knew would stand out in the next morning’s newspapers (and has stood the test of time for 55 years whenever you see that page in the Giants’ record books).
So the Jets were spared a score that properly reflected how brutally they played, unlike two weeks ago in Foxborough, when it was clear with every passing minute how much Belichick was reveling in running it up, again.
It was already a depressing enough night for the Jets, of course, because quarterback Mike White hurt his arm on the second series of the game and sat out the rest, Josh Johnson taking the reins the rest of the way (and actually playing very well, one of the few bright spots on a team that was otherwise littered with green-hued grease spots).
“We weren’t up for the task,” Saleh said, and that was one way to put it.
White had enjoyed a dizzying three days since his epic performance Sunday against the Bengals. His jersey wound up in Canton, at the Hall of Fame. Saleh suggested Sunday that White wasn’t necessarily viewed as a temporary place-holder for Zach Wilson anymore, and the coach refused to walk that back at all the rest of the week. His teammates, to a man, seem to revere him.
And there White was, on the sideline, wincing as doctors looked at his arm. There he was, spending time in the blue medical tent on the Jets’ sideline. There he was, back on the sidelines, sometimes wearing a helmet but mostly not, refusing to disappear into the dressing room but clearly not ready to return to the game.
For the 31,338th time since Jan. 12, 1969, Jets fans were heard to mutter, in unison: “Why can’t we have nice things?”
Of course, even a healthy White would’ve been forced to watch — helplessly, haplessly, hopelessly — as the Jets’ defenders each channeled Kevin Bacon in “Animal House” when he’s flattened by the onrushing crowd. It was bad. It was very bad. But because of a relatively compassionate man named Frank Reich, who eased his foot off the accelerator ever so slightly, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
Or, in truth, as bad as it should’ve been.
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