EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Jets keep insisting they're not the same, old Jets, and that they're not going to fall apart like they did last season. Even on Sunday, when they were clearly out-classed on the field, they swore they were ready to be a playoff contender now.
"I think we're there," Jets safety Jamal Adams said. "I think we're close. This team is a great team. We have a 53-man roster full of a lot of talent. There's no waiting for next year, or rebuilding. There's none of that. This team can be special."
It's a nice thought, but it might not be the Jets' reality. And their 37-17 loss to the Vikings made that crystal clear. These Jets are headed in the right direction. They've got some terrific building blocks in place.
But they just don't have the offensive weapons to compete with the better teams in this league.
That remains the most glaring omission from the rebuilding job Jets GM Mike Maccagnan started last offseason, and it's an even bigger problem now. They knew they didn't have a true No. 1 receiver when the season started, and now they're playing without two guys - the injured Quincy Enunwa and the released Terrelle Pryor - who had a shot to stake a claim to that job.
They are so depleted, so undermanned, that at one point in the fourth quarter, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was dropping back and staring at punt returner Andre Roberts, special teamer Charone Peake, and Deontay Burnett, who was on the practice squad 24 hours earlier. That made it pretty easy for the Vikings to clamp down on Robby Anderson, the Jets' deep threat, and Jermaine Kearse, who had no catches and was only targeted twice.
Granted, Darnold was pretty terrible on his own. He earned whatever criticism he gets for his 17-for-42, 206-yard, three-interception performance. But the number of drops he endured, including a deflection of Peake into one of his interceptions, was maddening. So was the fact that Jets receivers had only two catches in the first three quarters.
How is an offense supposed to operate like that?
It can't. Darnold was 2-for-13 for minus-1 yards in the second and third quarters. He completed just 11-of-33 passes over the final three quarters overall.
So what the Jets can do about it? Probably nothing right now. They could try to trade for underperforming Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, but he's due $13.9 million next season, and the Jets could probably do better. Denver's Demaryius Thomas is reportedly available, but he'll be 31 on Christmas Day and is due $14 million next year, too.
Signing Dez Bryant makes even less sense since he's about to turn 30, comes with plenty of baggage, and hasn't played like a No. 1 receiver since 2014.
Even Bowles seemed resigned to the Jets doing nothing at receiver until free agency begins in March.
"We'll see if everyone is healthy," he said when asked if the Jets needed to seek help. "I think we have enough capable bodies right now."
For a team not in win-now mode, maybe they do. But it will be frustrating to watch. And it could be really frustrating for Darnold. Again, he wasn't good, but he had chances to make it more of a game, only to watch passes bounce off the hands of running back Isaiah Crowell, tight end Eric Tomlinson, and Peake in the fourth quarter.
And other than Anderson - who caught three of the 10 passes thrown his direction -- on a couple of deep routes, it wasn't like Darnold had open receivers to throw to all over the field.
Not that Darnold would ever say that. He called the receivers he's stuck with "great players" and said their success "is just a matter of them being in the right spots - which they were." And when they dropped passes in those right spots? Darnold took the fall for that, too.
"Obviously, we'd like to connect on those," Darnold said. "But at the same time I've got to put it in the right spot. There were a lot of times I was off target with a lot of throws. Again, it's just us executing, and the guys being in the right spot and me throwing them the ball on time with accuracy."
That's noble of him, but good teams - contending teams - have playmakers, where a quarterback doesn't necessarily have to be perfect. They have receivers who can adjust to coverage, make plays on the ball, and hold onto balls within reach of their hands.
The Jets don't really have that from their group of receivers right now, nor do they have it from their inexperienced tight ends. Their offense simply doesn't have enough playmakers in their passing game.
And no matter how hard they play on defense or how much Darnold develops, the Jets simply won't be a playoff contender until they do.