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FLORHAM PARK, NJ – New York Jets coach Robert Saleh took the blame Monday for an erroneous fourth-down game that may have cost his team a huge rebellion against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“There was a bug communication, and when there is a bug communication, it always starts with me first,” Saleh said. “This is not something to blame anyone for. What hurts the most is … the one sequence – that’s what it is – took away from all the incredible things that happened.
“There were so many great things that happened in that game. For being overshadowed by something – as I said, always starts with me – that was what made me sick.”
The controversial game was a fourth-and-2 from the Bucs’ 7-yard line with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter. After deciding against a field goal that would have given them a seven-point lead, the Jets ran a quarterback snug and Zach Wilson was filled with no win. The Bucs responded with a 93-yard drive to pull off a 28-24 victory on a Tom Brady touchdown pass with 15 seconds left.
After the match, Saleh said the play call should be an end to wide receiver Braxton Berrios, but that it was not communicated properly to Wilson. He said the rookie quarterback was given the opportunity to keep the ball if Bucs’ defensive line did not have a man in the A-gap. They did not, and he drove the sneak. Repetitions showed that Berrios would have had an easy first down.
Saleh seemed upset by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, but he softened that attitude a day later. “Of course I will always look at it all as if it is my fault,” Saleh said. “Should I have been more determined to go after it on the fourth down so Mike had more time to talk? It all always starts with me.”
Saleh said LaFleur, a first-time coordinator, called “a great game.” LaFleur was not made available to the media on Sunday or Monday.
Still, it was a strange decision to even consider a quarterback sneak – a rare call in that situation. It was only the fourth time in the last five seasons that a quarterback under center ran a sneak on fourth and second, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only one of the four was successful, a Carson Palmer goalkeeper for the Arizona Cardinals in 2017.
Fourth-down failure ruined what would have been a signature win for the Jets (4-12), who received a strong performance from Wilson, No. 2 overall. He passed 224 yards and a touchdown in his fourth game in a row without an interception.
Saleh defended Wilson’s decision-making in the fourth inning, saying he performed his task. A more experienced quarterback could have changed the game, knowing it would have been difficult to win two yards against the Bucs’ defensive front. Wilson may be able to do that in the future, Saleh said, but not now.
“I think I executed the playbook exactly as it was designed,” he said. “In the years to come, he’s just going to look on the sidelines and turn the bird over to Mike and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this, buddy’ – and he’s going to make it work. Right now, I do not think so, he is close to being able to make a decision at all from a selfish point of view because his throat is barely above water. “