The dumbest N.F.L. play call ever? Some people think it came on Sunday, and it seems to have cost the Jets’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, his job.
The Jets were looking to get the first win of their season against the Las Vegas Raiders at home. They rallied to lead the game, 28-24, with five seconds left and the Raiders in possession of the ball 46 yards away from the end zone.
What happened next was almost universally blasted by fans, commentators and Jets players, and seemed to sum up the team’s horrific 2020 season.
Needing to hold the Raiders off just once or twice more, on third-and-10, the Jets did not drop nickel and dime backs into coverage or merely protect against a deep pass, like the one Derek Carr had attempted on second-and-10 when he barely missed Nelson Agholor in the back of the end zone. Instead, the Jets all-out blitzed, leaving the secondary threadbare and the Raiders’ receivers covered man-to-man. Carr completed a 46-yard touchdown pass to a single-covered Henry Ruggs III, who easily outran his defender, the undrafted rookie Lamar Jackson, and dumped the Jets to an 0-12 record.
The Jets couldn’t have very well put eight players in the secondary, but because they knew that only a touchdown could beat them, they could have gone into a prevent defense, opting to play zone or taken away the sidelines — anything other than a blitz with a rookie cornerback against one of the fastest men in the game, Ruggs.
Depending on how you counted, the Jets sent either seven or eight rushers at Carr. ESPN Stats and Info reported that of 251 pass plays with this criteria — final 15 seconds, a 4- to 8-point lead and 40 or more yards to go — it was the first time a team had ever rushed more than six players.
Perhaps Williams, who is known for his superaggressive play calling, thought the defense could sack Carr before he even got a pass off. It didn’t work out that way.
On Monday, the team said it had “parted ways” with Williams, without specifying a reason.
The commentary after the play call on Sunday was withering and immediate, and the Jets’ players did not hold back their criticisms.
Safety Marcus Maye, a team captain, said, “I just felt like we could have been in a better call at that time, in that point of the game.”
He added: “The call came in. A lot of things running through our minds and everything like that. We just played the call that the coaches called and we just got to execute. But you’ve got to help us out at the same time.”
Coach Adam Gase gave some terse nonanswers after the game that said a lot. Asked if the pressure had been needed, he replied, “We ended up pressuring.” Asked if Williams had explained his thought process, Gase replied, “He explained his thought process.”
Rex Ryan, a former Jets head coach, said on ESPN that it was the “dumbest call I’ve ever seen.” He went on to say: “Been around the thing for 58 years, 30 years as a coach. That’s the dumbest call ever. There’s a time and place for Cover Zero. That sure ain’t it. It’s just stupid.”
On CBS, Boomer Esiason said: “The fact that Gregg Williams would play that coverage in that situation? It’s almost like the Jets drew that up to lose the game.”
There were some conspiracy-minded football watchers out there who insisted, without hard evidence, that the Jets had, in fact, tried to lose, part of an effort to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Williams was unavailable for comment.
When the Jets hired the brash Williams two years ago, the move raised eyebrows, in part because of his past. He was a ringleader in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, designing and administering a system of payouts to players who injured opponents. He was suspended for a year.
With Williams out, it has been speculated that Gase, the head coach, may follow at season’s end.
The Jets’ season concludes with visits to the Seahawks and the Rams, a home game against the Browns and then a visit to the Patriots, and all but New England have serious playoff aspirations. Losing the rest of the way would put the 2020 Jets in the company of the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns as the only 0-16 teams in N.F.L. history.
The defensive coordinator on that Browns team was Gregg Williams. He has lost his chance to be a part of infamy twice.
Ben Shpigel and Benjamin Hoffman contributed reporting.