FLORHAM PARK, NJ (AP) — The New York Jets’ season began with an aging Joe Flacco starting at quarterback. It ended the same way.

And that was the problem.

Well, along with all the other switching, struggles, injuries and QB inconsistencies in between.

This left the Jets on the verge of ending the longest active NFL playoff drought to a 7-10 record, more frustration and uncertainty in the offseason. One key area—as with other clubs that failed, such as the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers—was the quarterback.

“It’s a snake’s head,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “And if you don’t get consistent play or consistent movement from the snake’s head, it won’t be good.”

It certainly wasn’t for the Jets, who were downright serpentine – just as some say they have been since Joe Namath brought the franchise his only Super Bowl title after the 1968 season.

New York made five quarterback substitutions: Flacco, Zach Wilson, Mike White, Wilson again, White again, Flacco again.

The Jets, of course, weren’t the only ones with such a revolving door: NFL teams combined to start 68 quarterbacks – the most in the Super Bowl era in a year without a strike. A league-record 13 teams used three or more starting QBs. In contrast, nine of the 14 playoff teams had a preferred starting lineup for each game.

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Like the Jets, Tennessee and Carolina went 7-10.

Last season, the Titans were 12-5 and number one in the AFC with Ryan Tannehill starting every game as a quarterback. This season? He missed five starts overall with a right ankle injury in late October and then again in December, so playing time went to rookie Malik Willis and underused veteran Josh Dobbs to help drop from 7-3 and take first place in the AFC South. to a seven-game skid.

Not by chance.

“This is a league run by quarterbacks and every day people get hired and fired for this position,” said new Titans CEO Ran Carton. “I want to spend more time evaluating this position.”

The Panthers went through three starting quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and PJ Walker — and all three missed time with ankle or foot injuries. That’s not counting rookie Matt Corral, who lost the preseason due to—yes, you guessed it—a foot injury. The Panthers fired coach Matt Rule after a 1-4 start and then made the playoffs under interim coach Steve Wilks. He was tossed aside for the new hire of Frank Reich, who could take QB with the 9th pick in the draft.

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“Quarterback is, I believe, the most important position in all sports,” said Jets general manager Joe Douglas. “But ultimately it’s a team sport and you have to have a great group of people to support them.”

It’s hard to do when the quarterback is the weak link.

Flacco, now 38, started the first three games and Wilson sat with a preseason knee injury. Wilson, number two overall in 2021, had a few good moments marred by many bad ones in the next seven games.

However, the Jets were 6-4 and were hunting for the playoffs with the best defense and AP Rookie of the Year finalists in guard Sauce Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson.

But the season spiraled from there. Zach Wilson was sent to the bench and White made a small spark before being sidelined with broken ribs. After Zach Wilson returned for two games, White took another chance but aggravated his injury.

New York went back to Flacco and the season ended with six straight losses, a franchise-record 12th straight year without a playoff.

“We’ve all had a long wait: 54 years since the last Super Bowl is too long,” owner Woody Johnson said. “Too long. I would like to change that quickly.”

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With the Jets having some of the league’s worst offenses in two seasons and Zach Wilson failing to develop as expected, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was fired. He was replaced by Nathaniel Hackett, who did not last a single season as Denver’s head coach but was tasked with jump-starting New York’s offense after Saleh interviewed more than 15 candidates.

Now the focus is on the quarterback. And Johnson said he was “absolutely” willing to pay big bucks for a franchise-style QB.

“We have a ceiling (salary), so you have an amount that you can spend,” Johnson said. “But yeah, it’s kind of the missing piece.”

Since those glorious days of Broadway Joe.


Contributions were made by AP Pro Football journalists Josh Dubow and Teresa M. Walker, as well as AP Sports columnist Steve Reed.


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL.



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