NEW YORK (AP)Mike LaFleur has replayed the scenario several times since the New York Jets’ fourth-down failure last Sunday.
It was fourth-and-2 at Tampa Bay’s 7 in the closing moments against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who were trailing and had no timeouts left. A few errors at a crucial moment led to Zach Wilson getting stuffed for no gain.
Brady and the Bucs got the ball back – and rallied for a 28-24 victory.
”First, it’s 100 percent on me,” LaFleur said Thursday while speaking to reporters for the first time since the game. ”Disappointed with myself for two reasons: I pride myself on communication and our unit on execution – you’ve heard me talk about execution a lot – and I failed at both of those.”
LaFleur, Wilson and coach Robert Saleh all explained the play ultimately should’ve been a handoff to Braxton Berrios, who likely would’ve gotten a first down to seal the win.
”Our quarterback did exactly what he was supposed to do in that moment,” LaFleur said. ”I know what our intent was – whether people want to believe that one or not – but that’s what happened, and I failed at both. And, again, I have to live with that. I know I’m going to learn from that, I know I have learned from that.
”You can’t let the same play beat you twice, and in that situation, I’m going to make sure that absolutely does not happen again.”
As much as the focus this season has been on the progress of Wilson as a rookie, this has also been very much a learning experience for a young coaching staff.
Saleh is a first-time head coach, and the 35-year-old LaFleur is running an offense for the first time. LaFleur, the younger brother of Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur, has been tasked with developing what the Jets hope to be a franchise quarterback in Wilson while also feeling his way through the rigors of an NFL season as the guy in charge of the offense.
”For sure, it’s my first time doing it at this level, obviously,” LaFleur said. ”But I just try to live in the moment and all my worries and thoughts are how can we put whatever 11 are out there in the best situation possible every single week? And I’m not really concerned about anything else.”
LaFleur took some early criticism as Wilson struggled in his first few NFL games. The two were still getting a feel for each other, with the rookie trying to get a full grasp of the offense.
It didn’t help, of course, that the offensive line was shaky early and there were key injuries to several playmakers, preventing consistency in the personnel. Wilson went out with a sprained knee ligament in October and was sidelined four games.
That’s when he saw the likes of Mike White, Josh Johnson and Joe Flacco run LaFleur’s offense efficiently. And Wilson has shown he learned while he was sidelined. He has consistently gotten better down the stretch, looking every bit like what was expected of a No. 2 overall pick.
”He’s an awesome dude,” Wilson said of LaFleur. ”I think Coach LaFleur, he understands me very well as far as my skill set and what I bring, and the best way for me to learn and go through things.
”I feel like our relationship is just going to keep getting better. He’s done an amazing job and I feel like he’s probably obviously learned a lot this year, as well. So it’s cool to kind of go through this whole process together.”
LaFleur has shown some flair in his play-calling in recent weeks, too, using misdirection plays, some razzle-dazzle and even a TD throw to an offensive lineman. Those are signs he understands his personnel and feels comfortable enough to take some chances.
”It was going to be a jelling process for our whole staff and then getting that worded correctly to the players on a day-to-day basis,” LaFleur said.
After Sunday, LaFleur will look toward next season and how he and his staff can improve the offense even more. After a season of trial and error with a rookie quarterback, the Jets intend to firmly establish their identity on offense – with LaFleur leading the way.
”He’s still not even scratching the surface of where I think he’s going to go,” Saleh said, ”with regards to really forming, taking what he’s learned his whole life from Kyle (Shanahan), his brother and Sean (McVay) and morphing this into his system.
”And he’s already kind of taken that step, and I think he’s going to continue to grow.”
NOTES: WR Braxton Berrios (quadriceps) didn’t practice for the second straight day. … LB C.J. Mosley got the day off from practice as a rest day. … WR Jamison Crowder (calf), S Ashtyn Davis (back) and DL Sheldon Rankins (knee) were limited. … RB Michael Carter (concussion), OL Chuma Edoga (ankle) and OL Greg Van Roten (non-COVID illness) fully participated.
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