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MMQB: Jets Finally Win; Josh Allen Dominates; Dolphins Knock Out Patriots

It was a wild and memorable weekend in the AFC East, as the Jets won a game many of their own fans wanted to lose, the Bills clinched the division in impressive fashion and the Dolphins officially eliminated their rivals. Plus, the Colts' takeaways, Trubisky's resilience, an Andy Dalton Q&A and a mock draft.

You thought this year couldn’t get any weirder, but there we all were on Sunday night, at about 7 p.m. ET, locked in on a winless team and a result that would reverberate from North Jersey to North Florida to South Carolina, and all points in between.

This is where the Jets and Jaguars are—in a place where losing is winning.

Or at least that’s where you are if you’re a fan of one of those teams, or a casual observer of them, or just a logical person who can weigh the rewards of having the first pick in this particular year’s draft versus that of a single win in a lost season. It certainly is for Jacksonville owner Shad Khan, whose team had already gotten in the win column this year, and who has a job or two to sell prospective candidates on. It’s also where you are if you have a business interest in where either team will be the next 15 years.

But if you’re a player or a coach who’s lived through loss after loss, and have no idea where you’ll be working in 2021 anyway, the situation is a little (or a lot) different. So it was that as the Rams stumbled down the stretch, and the Jets took advantage and scored a dramatic 23–20 win—one that required a fourth-down stop and a third-down conversion—the guys on the field weren’t going to have much empathy for fans who saw their triumph as, well, terrible.

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“Our job is to try and go out and win every week,” was how coach Adam Gase plainly responded to a necessary question from ESPN’s Rich Cimini on fans being conflicted.

“It doesn’t affect us,” quarterback Sam Darnold added. “We’re focused on one job every week, and that’s winning a game.”

Under the avalanche of losses, that focus actually did show up, in spots at least, over the last two months. The Jets probably should’ve beaten the Patriots on the second Monday in November. They nearly did get the Chargers in their first trip to L.A. 13 days after that. Then, there was the Gregg Williams debacle that we don’t need to rehash, but absolutely should’ve been win No. 1.

Good for Gase, Darnold and everyone else who, after all that, finally broke through.

But there’s no denying the potential repercussions of a win that, to most Jets fans, felt like as bad a loss as you could take rooting for a team. That fan base has been here before. In 1997, it had Bill Parcells as coach and the first pick in the draft, with Tennessee junior Peyton Manning poised to go first overall. Then, Manning decided to go back to school and three years later a deal the team had with Bill Belichick to become head coach fell through at Belichick’s insistence.

We’ll never know if that one twist of fate going differently might’ve meant a Belichick/Manning dynasty in New Jersey, rather than the Belichick/Brady reality that tormented the franchise for two decades. But we can say, 24 years later, that some of those bad memories were dredged back up as a day that served as a bright spot for players and coaches doubled as something with potential to loom as a dark day for those who follow the team.

Yup, this was a weird circumstance on a weird Sunday in the weirdest of years.

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With two weeks left in that weird season, here’s a number that we shouldn’t lose sight of: The NFL has played 223 games over 15 weeks, leaving the league just 33 games shy of its goal to play 256 in 17. That’s notable, and that the league has been able to get here without even having to pull the Week 18 lever is pretty impressive. And we’ll have more on that in the coming days and weeks.

For now, here’s what you’ll find in the Week 15 MMQB …

• Josh Allen’s ridiculous rate of growth.

• The Dolphins stamping out the Patriots’ dynasty.

• The Colts’ playmaking defense.

• Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky climb off the mat.

• The Cowboys’ sudden resurgence.

• A mock draft! (Just the top 10 for now.)

But we’re starting with the spot the Jets and their fans are in on this Monday morning.

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You’ll hear a lot of people say this week that those who work for teams would never root for losses, and I think that’s mostly true—and especially true of players and coaches. But there are circumstances out there where, well, different kinds of feelings might come out, and I think this is one of those.

Which is why on Sunday night I asked about a dozen GMs and execs how they’d feel if they were in Jets GM Joe Douglas’s shoes as the clock hit zero at SoFi Stadium. Here’s a sampling of some of their answers …

Relieved that you aren’t going to finish 016 and live in infamy.

I don’t know, it’s hard to say. You play to win in this league. I don’t care what the record is at the time. He has a ton of draft capital to build a team. We don’t know what the future holds. Everyone thinks they do but they don’t.

Yeah, that’s tough. I’d be sick to my stomach.

It’s a gut-punch, for sure. I mean, you don’t go into a season thinking, ‘Maybe we’ll lose enough to get No. 1,’ but as the season goes on you have to at least think 'Well, at least that’s coming for us'.

I would feel so motherf------ deflated. … It has potential to be so, so, so massive. It could potentially change his life which is just WILD to think about

Like s---.

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Another GM texted a similar previous experience he had with a team procuring a top pick, and attached a puking emoji to it. An NFC exec added, “You play to win. I get the Trevor [Lawrence] talk but anytime you go out and compete your mindset should be to win.” Then, I reminded him that I’m not a scout, and it’s obvious to even me what’s coming to April.

To that, he sent laughing emojis and texted, “I know.”

Everyone knows. And that I haven’t even had to type the name of Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence until now to explain why Sunday’s Rams-Jets game could mean so much says it all. This isn’t Baker Mayfield in 2018, Kyler Murray in 2019 or even Joe Burrow last year, when Burrow was a pretty clear-cut No. 1

This is the fourth quarterback prospect in my lifetime—joining John Elway (1983), Peyton Manning (1998) and Andrew Luck (2012)—to enter the NFL with this sort of can’t-miss advance billing, a player who, on his own, could create a decade and a half of stability for a woebegone franchise, like the two jockeying to pick him. The potential fallout? Well, you can put it in bright lights just by looking at the quarterbacks who went next in those respective draft classes (Todd Blackledge, Ryan Leaf and Robert Griffin III, for the record).

Bottom line, Lawrence is close to a sure thing at a position where that rarely exists.

So you can excuse Jets fans if they cursed under their breath as Rams RB Cam Akers’s go-ahead 18-yard touchdown was called back with 7:36 left, ultimately leaving the hosts to kick a field goal instead to trim the deficit to 23–20. You could let them throw something at the TV when L.A. called shot throws to Akers and Gerald Everett on third-and-four and fourth-and-four with four minutes left. You could allow them to get really quiet when Darnold found the ageless Frank Gore over the middle for a game-clinching conversion on third-and-six.

You can because, as those GMs and execs above explained, while what the Jets gained was real, what they lost (should the Jaguars lose two more games, and finish 1–15 with the strength-of-victory tiebreaker secure) figures to be much more real over time. All of which probably left most Jets fans with only one thing to say:

Go Jaguars.

(We’ll get to how massive this is for them in the Takeaways.)

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JOSH ALLEN’S DEVELOPMENT

What did you say about me back then?

The question from Bills QB Josh Allen took me aback a little, but it was a very fair one after the show he put on Saturday night—throwing for 359 yards and two scores on 28-of-40 passing, as Buffalo blasted Denver 48–19 to clinch its first AFC East title in a generation.