FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The worst thing that happened to the Jets early in the season was losing franchise quarterback Sam Darnold.
Losing C.J. Mosley, though, was a pretty close second.
The impact of playing without Mosley for the last four-plus games maybe isn't as obvious as the impact of three games without Darnold, especially since the defense has managed to survive -- and sometimes even thrive -- in his absence. But the Jets don't underestimate how much their defensive captain means to them, and how huge it would be if he would somehow be able to get back in time for their Monday night game against the New England Patriots.
"As impactful as getting a starting quarterback back," Jets head coach Adam Gase said Wednesday. "It's that impactful."
Maybe that's a little hyperbolic considering quarterback is the most important position in sports, and the Jets absolutely tanked while Darnold missed three games with mono. The Jets' defense, meanwhile, ranks 19th -- respectable considering the burden placed on them by their anemic offense. And they had a heck of a game on Sunday in their win over the Dallas Cowboys, too.
But with Mosley out since midway through the opener with a groin injury -- an injury the Jets initially didn't think was very serious, according to one team source -- there have been times, especially late in games, when the Jets' defense just doesn't look right. Their linebackers have definitely struggled, though others in pass coverage have been caught too often out of position.
That's where Mosely, their $85 million free-agent signing, would have come in.
"Obviously he's a dynamic playmaker and he gets his hands on the ball," Gase said. "But he cleans up a lot of things. He can mask a lot of errors. He's a very intelligent player. He's seen a lot of football. So he sees things coming that young guys don't."
That's why the Jets surprised so many by paying all that money to the 27-year-old Mosley back in March -- not just because of his play-making ability, but because of his leadership on the field. He is, in many ways, the quarterback on defense. And he was capable of making reads and adjustments that replacements like Neville Hewitt, Albert McClelland and rookie Blake Cashman simply can't.
So yes, the Jets' defense has been OK since he got hurt. But they believe that with their talent, and with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' aggressive scheme, they are capable of much, much more than that. The only chance they had to show it was in the first three quarters of the first game, before Mosley got hurt with about four minutes to go in the third quarter. The Jets were up 16-3 on the Buffalo Bills and had only given up 194 yards in the game.
Over the final quarter, with Mosley in the locker room, the Jets' defense yielded 170 yards on two fourth quarter drives and gave up two touchdowns to the Bills who rallied for a 17-16 win.
So will he be back in time to face a Patriots' offense that could be missing receiver Josh Gordon and, at times this season, has appeared to be carried by their defense? Gase is "hopeful" that Mosley will take part in individual drills at practice on Thursday, which would be the first significant step in his much-needed return.
Showing caution since the Jets never expected Mosley's absence to be this long in the first place, Gase said, "I think we're just taking this minute-to-minute" and tried to tamp down expectations.
But, Gase also said, "At the end of the day, that's one of our captains," and there's no doubt the Jets need him. They are trying to pull off a miracle, climbing out of an 0-4 hole, and the only way they can do that is if they beat the Patriots at home on Monday night. They have a chance because their offense is whole again now that their leader on that side has returned.
Now they just need Mosley back, so their defense can be whole again, too.