Crumple up any piece of paper that listed the Jets as boasting one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
One game is too quick to pull out the shredder, but all those promising preseason rankings and on-paper forecasts looked awfully premature Sunday when the Jets allowed 11 quarterback hurries and three sacks in a 24-9 season-opening loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The pocket-based Joe Flacco was constantly shuffling his feet on 63 dropbacks, including an intentional grounding as he was thrown to the turf.
“If we don’t take advantage of our opportunities when we get in the red zone,” left guard Laken Tomlinson said, “that’s the kind of game you get.”
Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise considering the quintet that started — George Fant, Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Max Mitchell, left to right — had little work together in those same spots during the preseason. Fant started training camp at left tackle, moved to right tackle when Mekhi Becton suffered a season-ending knee injury and Duane Brown was signed, and then went back to left when Brown went out.
“I thought they fought and played really hard today,” Flacco said. “We had some chunks in the run game. When you drop back as many times as we did today, you are going to have some things here and there that leak through.”
The rookie Mitchell is essentially a third-stringer who would’ve been behind a healthy Becton and/or Brown and didn’t emerge ahead of the since-released Chuma Edoga and Conor McDermott until midway through camp. But the Jets weren’t using a lack of cohesion as an excuse.
“You have to take that with a grain of salt,” Mitchell said. “We expect our guys to know what to do at the highest level — first- or second- or third-team. I don’t think it was too much of a factor. We all have great chemistry in the room. It boils down to executing a little better.”
The Jets averaged 5.7 yards per carry in the first half but abandoned the run as a seven-point halftime deficit grew. Michael Carter and Breece Hall combined for 9 yards on three carries in the second half, with a no-gain from Flacco mixed in, too.
“We just couldn’t get it going in the second half,” head coach Robert Saleh said. “Now you are behind the sticks and you can’t get the run game going. A couple of plays snowballed in the second half where we fell behind and the offense had to play catch up.”
Brown (shoulder) is on injured reserve and out at least four weeks, so help isn’t on the way. And it wasn’t Brown’s replacement (Mitchell) who struggled as much as the yo-yoed Fant, who allowed two sacks and committed a holding penalty on a drive that ended scoreless in the red zone.
“We just have to do a better job of protecting the ball,” Tomlinson said. “It starts up front.”