Falcons and Jets face different circumstances in the playoff hunt
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Atlanta Falcons have had quarterback issues, a three-game losing streak and a record under .500.
And they’re tied for the NFC South lead.
The New York Jets have had a season filled with similar struggles — and they’re in danger of falling out of the AFC playoff hunt.
It’s all a matter of circumstances for the teams that meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“Consistency, right?” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “That’s the biggest challenge week to week. For us to take the next step, we need to do that with being consistent and playing with the same focus and energy that we had going into last week.”
The Falcons (5-6) showed they could take advantage of a bye week following three straight losses to return for an inspired, high-energy rivalry win over New Orleans at home.
The bigger test might be proving they can win back-to-back games for the first time since their 2-0 start.
“It goes back to consistency,” Smith said. “Shouldn’t take a loss or feel like your back is against the wall to have that level of focus and intensity.”
The Jets (4-7) know the feeling. They have dropped four in a row, with the most recent being a 34-13 loss to Miami on Black Friday.
The skid, which has included a quarterback change from Zach Wilson to Tim Boyle, has New York’s postseason hopes sinking fast. Robert Saleh challenged his coaches and players this week to be better and focus on controlling what they can.
“There’s a lot of frustration all over the place, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Saleh said. “Guys are searching, they’re reaching, and sometimes you’ve just got to go back to understanding who you are and what your style of play is.”
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers’ potential comeback this season from a torn Achilles tendon remains a major storyline for the Jets. The four-time NFL MVP returned to practice this week — the next step in his stunningly rapid rehabilitation.
Rodgers remains intent on playing at the end of the season, as long as the doctors clear him — and the Jets stay in the playoff hunt.
“If that’s a byproduct of us winning football games and I’m happy for him, but I don’t think it adds a level of pressure or stress to us,” Boyle said. “We’re trying to win every football game we play in, so hopefully we can keep him in contention.”
Boyle back under center
While the Jets wait to see if Rodgers will be able to actually come back this season, Boyle will get a second straight start.
The 29-year-old veteran backup was unable to spark New York’s struggling offense, going 27 of 38 for 179 yards and a TD with two interceptions — including a Hail Mary that was returned 99 yards for a score — against Miami in his first start since the 2021 season. He was also sacked seven times.
“They have a really good defense, the Falcons,” Boyle said. “But I think it’s continuing to just build on the run game and just getting the ball out of my hands and getting it into the playmakers’ hands so they can make a move or two.”
More Sauce for Ridder
Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner and Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder were teammates at Cincinnati, and now face each other as opponents in the NFL.
“There was a lot of talking going on, a lot of chirping back and forth,” Ridder said of his college competitions with Gardner in practice. “But, you know, at the end of the day, it was just making each other better. … It was just constant competition.”
Ridder had a quick answer when asked if the college buddies would place a wager on the game.
“No, we don’t bet,” Ridder said. “No, I don’t think any of us will touch that anytime soon.”
Jets running back Breece Hall got off to a terrific start this season in his return from a torn knee ligament that ended his rookie season after seven games.
But while the offense has stagnated lately, so has Hall. He has just 76 yards on 27 carries in his past three games. After running for a career-high 177 yards at Denver, Hall has not run for more than 50 yards in any of the Jets’ six games since.
“Breece is a special talent and we all agree when the ball is in his hands, we’re better, but there’s grimy yards that a back has to understand he has to get,” Saleh said. “When you press, you’re going to try to create an explosive every single play and you’re going to lose that style of play that makes you special.”
Cordarrelle Patterson has joined Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier to give Atlanta three options at running back. Each had at least eight carries last week against New Orleans and each averaged at least 5.4 yards per carry.
Ridder said Patterson’s physical runs at the middle of the New Orleans’ defensive front was a crucial addition to the offense.
“Oh, it’s huge,” Ridder said. “You know, any time you give the guy the ball, you want to see a physical, tough runner. I mean, all three of the guys that we have back there in the backfield, you know, can get that done. So to be able to just kind of rotate them in and let them get in a groove and run how they run, it’s hard to stop.”
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum contributed.