For the Jets, slow and steady isn't winning them the race.
New York fell behind early on Sunday for the fifth time in as many weeks. The offense was lethargic, the defense couldn't find a way to stop Matt Ryan and before head coach Robert Saleh turned around, Gang Green was losing to the Falcons, 17-0.
Jets fans are accustomed to sluggish starts in 2021. Through five weeks, New York has been outscored 75 to 13 in the first half.
That in mind, it's no coincidence that this team is off to a 1-4 start after their 27-20 loss in London. Promising second half performances—as we saw once again on Sunday—are simply not enough to dig New York out of a hole each week.
"I’m going to work my tail off over this bye week and see if there’s something that we can come up with," said Saleh, asked about his team's slow starts. "Study the tape, look at all the decisions and execution and figure out what the answer is over this next week and come up with something because it’s got to be better."
That's right. Saleh isn't quite sure why his team continues to struggle early on. His quarterback wasn't able to pinpoint the culprit for these brutal first-half showings either.
"I don’t know what it is," Zach Wilson said. "We have got to figure that out over this bye week, how to fix that. I’ve got to play better at the start as well."
When the Jets jogged back to the locker room at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London after 30 minutes of play, they had gained only 80 yards. As the first quarter came to a close, New York was out-gained 134 to 16.
They didn't have a first down in the first quarter, going three-and-out in each of their first two drives. Wilson then threw an interception–his ninth of the season—two plays into the Jets' third drive on offense.
Wilson called that stretch "crushing," forced to sit on the sidelines while the Falcons continued to convert, move the football and jump to a commanding lead. Even after making the necessary halftime adjustments to execute three scoring drives, putting 17 points on the board, it was simply too little too late.
The Jets have outscored their opponents 54 to 46 in the second half this season, including Sunday along with the previous week's overtime session.
"In the second half, every single game, we have looked really good and we know what we’re capable of and we were able to show it there at the end," Wilson added. "I just think we have to get a good rhythm going, some flow. Starting three-and-out isn’t the way to do it, sitting on the sideline."
Sure, you can point a finger at the Jets' defense for failing to stop Ryan and the Falcons in the fourth quarter when New York had a chance to set up a game-tying drive. For an offense that was missing Calvin Ridley, Atlanta had their way with the Jets early and often, marching down the field consistently and keeping New York's defense on the field.
But we're talking about a Falcons defense that entered play allowing 32 points per game on average, the worst mark in all of football. If the Jets showed up just a little bit earlier, this ballgame would've been completely different, especially when New York began to produce after halftime.
Rookie guard Alijah Vera-Tucker spun the situation in a positive way after the loss. The Jets are entering their bye week at a perfect time, afforded an opportunity to dive into the film of their first five weeks and truly diagnose what it is that's causing them to scuffle during the first two quarters of each game.
It's frustrating, but the Jets have proof that they can play better than their record suggests. Save for New York's shutout loss in Denver and a poor performance against the Patriots, Gang Green's second half performances show that they'll be in a position to win almost every week so long as they roar out of the gates.
"We just have to come into meetings next week and the week after that and figure out a way to get it done and keep the momentum," Vera-Tucker said. "We can’t be hurting ourselves and we have to put the defense in better situations, as well."
It starts with a long hard look in the mirror during this bye week. As captain Corey Davis said, these struggles are rooted in self-inflicted wounds. Give credit to the Falcons for executing, but drops, penalties, bad throws, playcalling, blown coverages and more are limiting New York from reaching their full potential.
Play better in the first half and who knows how many wins this team will rattle off over the final 12 weeks of the season.
"We’ve just got to settle in, honestly, especially in that first half and relax," Davis explained. "When we come out in the second half, it’s obviously a whole different ballgame and it’s a different energy. So if we can have that in the first half, we have a better chance."