(AP) – After 51 weeks and 13 games without a victory, the New York Jets finally earned the chance to celebrate something.
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They knew their 23-20 victory over the embarrassed Los Angeles Rams on Sunday was never pretty, and everybody realized it also came with a major drawback: New York is no longer in position for the top pick in the NFL draft.
Don’t try telling that to the joyful Jets who surged onto the SoFi Stadium field after the final whistle with the knowledge their names will not be attached to the ignominy of the third 0-16 season in NFL history.
Sam Darnold passed for 207 yards in a steady performance, while Frank Gore rushed for a score that was his 100th career touchdown in the Jets’ first win since the 2019 season finale. Gore also made a decisive third-down reception with 2:12 left for the Jets (1-13), who ended the longest losing streak in franchise history with a strong start and a gritty finish.
The Jets win from the sportsbooks side https://t.co/ISXuAOREbG
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 21, 2020
Coach Adam Gase got his first win of the year only after New York blew most of a 17-point lead in the second half. The Jets’ defense stopped the Rams on downs near midfield with 3:54 to play before Darnold hit Gore with the short pass over the middle that allowed the Jets to run out the clock.
With two games left, New York might have ruined its chances at the No. 1 overall pick because Jacksonville (1-13) is likely to win a tiebreaker based on strength of schedule. But possibly missing the chance to draft Clemson star Trevor Lawrence meant nothing to the players and coaches responsible for this lost season.
“Hey, our job is to go out and try to win every week,” Gase said.
Darnold, the Jets’ embattled third-year quarterback, looked right at home in his first pro game in his native Southern California. The former USC Trojans star went 22 of 31 with a touchdown pass and no interceptions.
New York had a 13-3 lead at halftime after holding the Rams to 97 yards, and the Jets led 20-3 midway through the third quarter. Los Angeles chipped the deficit down to three points with TD catches by Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee, but the Rams (9-5) repeatedly failed on the verge of tying the game or taking the lead.
Sam Ficken kicked three field goals for the Jets, whose 32nd-ranked offense put up only 289 yards against the NFL’s No. 1 defense — but scored enough points to win.
Of the nine teams in NFL history to start 0-13, the Jets were the fourth to win in Week 15.
The Rams could have clinched a playoff berth with a win. Instead, they were left with the most humiliating loss of coach Sean McVay’s largely successful four seasons in charge.
“In all three phases, it wasn’t good enough,” McVay said. “This loss will demoralize us only as much as we allow it to. It’s going to be embarrassing. Sick to your stomach about it, but we do have two games left. … It’s very humbling, but we’re going to move forward, and that’s exactly what we’ll do. That’s all I know how to do.”
Jared Goff passed for 209 yards for Los Angeles, which couldn’t beat the NFL’s worst team after an extra-long week of rest. The Rams had won four of five to surge to the top of the NFC West, but their inconsistent offense was inept, while their elite defense wasn’t sharp, allowing the Jets to convert seven third downs.
“They did a good job defensively to prevent us getting into a rhythm,” Goff said. “In the second half we bounced back, but too little, too late.”
The Rams still can win the division if they can beat the Seahawks in Seattle next week, but their task got exponentially harder.
“We just look at it as a minor setback for a major comeback,” Rams defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “Seattle is our next task, and we’ve just got to focus on that.”
The Jets started out just as impressively as they usually do, marching for a score on their eighth consecutive opening possession. New York went 74 yards capped by an 18-yard catch-and-run by Ty Johnson for his first career receiving TD.
New York tacked on two field goals after a blocked punt and an interception by Bryce Hall.
The Rams’ offense was largely ineffective for the entire first half, managing just 63 yards until shortly before halftime. New York opened the second half with a clock-consuming drive capped by a TD push on fourth down from the 1 by Gore, who scored the 16th TD of his career against the Rams.
Los Angeles’ offense finally awoke with a pair of 75-yard TD drives, and was in position for more. But Cam Akers’ 18-yard rush for a TD with 7:35 to play was wiped out by a holding penalty, and former Rams lineman John Franklin-Myers got a key sack that forced the Rams to kick another field goal with 6:35 left.
Nsimba Webster’s huge punt return put the Rams in Jets territory moments later, but the New York defense held with help from penalties. Safety Marcus Maye made a beautiful deflection of a pass intended for Gerald Everett on fourth down when the Rams elected to go for it instead of trying a 55-yard tying field goal, which seemed within the capabilities of kicker Matt Gay.
Jets: DL Quinnen Williams left in the second half to be evaluated for a head injury. Gase said Williams has a concussion. … WR Jeff Smith injured his shoulder in the second half.
Rams: Akers injured his ankle in the first half, but returned. … Everett was evaluated for a concussion late in the first half, but returned.