FLORHAM PARK, N.Y. -- On Mark Ingram's 50-yard touchdown run to seal the New York Jets' 31-19 loss to the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday, rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye sprinted after Ingram until he scored.
Adams dived at Ingram's legs at the 5-yard line, taking Maye out of the play in the process, and Ingram stumbled into the end zone.
In the NFL, you don't get accolades for trying. There are no participation trophies. But at least the young Jets are staying hungry and showing effort in the face of adversity.
The Jets need to trim some fat in the offseason, notably malcontent defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who didn't make the trip to New Orleans after he was reportedly late to a team meeting for the second time in two weeks. And they will either need to draft or sign a talented quarterback, because Bryce Petty clearly isn't the answer.
But those are concerns for another day. Coming off their worst performance of the season, the Jets were 16-point underdogs to a likely playoff-bound Saints team that has lost in the Superdome only once this season, and that was to the Patriots in Week 2. The Jets went in with their backup quarterback, and actually put up a fight.
For that reason, head coach Todd Bowles deserves to be back next season.
The numbers are grim, but when the players talk about their 54-year-old leader, you can see the respect he has in the locker room.
"I think he's the best head coach there is," Adams said after yesterday's game. "There shouldn't be a discussion of who's going to be the head coach. It should be Todd Bowles."
Adams is right. Well, at least about the last part.
Bowles isn't the best head coach there is. You can quibble with his game management skills at times, and his team sometimes lacks discipline with too many penalties and blown leads.
But from a preparedness standpoint, and game planning, Bowles is strong. He's 20-26 in three seasons with the Jets, but they have overachieved based on their talent level, especially this year.
On Sunday, the Jets' starting offense had one player ranked in the top 30 at his respective position, according to Pro Football Focus, and that was Robby Anderson, the 27th-best wide receiver. Defensively, they had two in the top 30, Demario Davis, the 14th-ranked linebacker, and Leonard Williams, the 20th-ranked defensive lineman.
The offense amassed nearly 300 total yards despite being hamstrung by Petty, and the defense forced three turnovers. Not terrible.
Despite their seventh loss in nine games, the Jets (5-9) certainly believe they are a team on the come.
"The future for this team? I mean, dominance," said linebacker Darron Lee. "If you can't see that now, you better heed warning. I feel like this whole season will be a warning shot, just of what's coming. Because once everybody all figures it out, it's over."
It was a weird thing to say after your team just lost by double-digits, and it's unlikely to placate a fan base that hasn't seen a Jets playoff game since Jan. 23, 2011.
The team has lost 21 of its last 31 games and will have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the Rich Kotite era in 1995-96.
But even Bowles himself expressed optimism in a rare moment when he obliged a conversation about the future.
"Obviously, this is going to turn," he said. "I believe that we have a good core group."
Die-hard fans may agree with him, but cynics would say the team is starting to make excuses.
"They said we were going to win zero games this year," said cornerback Buster Skrine. "We've been playing against the best teams. For me? I think (Bowles) is going to be back here."
The Jets have proved capable, at least at home, where they're 4-3 with wins over two division leaders, the Jaguars and Chiefs, and narrow losses to two others in the Patriots and Panthers.
Their home finale is a winnable game against the Chargers (7-7), but Los Angeles still has a chance to win the AFC West, so they clearly have a lot more to play for than the Jets.
The game will go a long way in determining Bowles' future with the team.
--The Jets waived veteran wide receiver Jeremy Kerley on Monday.
Kerley was eligible to return from a four-game suspension for Sunday's game, but the Jets declined to activate him. He was on a one-week roster exemption, which expired Monday afternoon.
The 29-year-old, who last week blamed ghosts for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, had 22 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown in eight games this season.
Kerley signed with the Jets five days before the regular season after spending the 2016 season with the 49ers. Kerley played five seasons for the Jets from 2011-15 after they drafted him in the fifth round out of TCU.
He has 14 career touchdowns, 13 receiving and one on a punt return.
Rookie Chad Hansen, a fourth-round pick out of Cal, has been getting the bulk of the playing time as the Jets' No. 3 receiver. He only has five catches for 46 yards in Kerley's absence, but two were key third-down conversions in the win over the Chiefs, and yesterday he had a 24-yard catch on third-and-7 on the Jets' fourth-quarter scoring drive that got them within five.
--Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who was suspended for yesterday's game for reportedly being late to a team meeting for the second time in two weeks, was at the Jets' team facility on Monday, according to head coach Todd Bowles.
Whether that means he will play this week against the Chargers is unknown.
"I didn't say (he'd play), I said he was in the building," Bowles said. "We're still working through things."
--Despite being officially eliminated from the playoffs, head coach Todd Bowles said he is not considering playing quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the final two games because he still "needs to get some reps."
Hackenberg was the team's backup on Sunday, only the third time he was active for a game since the Jets took him in the second round of last year's draft.
When asked Monday if he thought it was odd for a player drafted that high to still not have made his NFL debut, Bowles said: "You may consider it odd. I don't. We have a backup quarterback, and he is waiting to get his chance. That's really all there is for me."
NOTES: DE Leonard Williams suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and is in the concussion protocol, head coach Todd Bowles said Monday. Bowles added that Williams is "doing fine so far, so we'll see how the week goes." ... CB Juston Burris missed the Jets' win over the Chiefs two weeks ago because of a concussion and was eased back into the lineup last week in Denver. Sunday, he actually started the game, as the Jets went with five defensive backs. ...
DLs Xavier Cooper and Mike Pennel got the most snaps replacing the suspended Muhammad Wilkerson. Cooper had four tackles and a half-sack, while Pennel had one tackle.
REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS
--PASSING OFFENSE: D - You really couldn't expect much from backup quarterback Bryce Petty, but the Jets only gained 24 yards on the three drives following Saints turnovers and scored just three points on those possessions. Petty completed passes to seven different receivers on the day, but most were of the dink and dunk variety. He also completed one to himself late in the game, but it didn't count because he apparently wasn't aware that you can't throw two forward passes on the same play. He also targeted Robby Anderson 12 times, but they only connected five times for 40 yards, due to two drops and some inaccurate passes. The line needed to cut block Cameron Jordan, who batted down four passes.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B - As has been the case most of the season, if you combine the numbers for Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire, you get a solid, if unspectacular, rushing effort. On Sunday, they combined for 92 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (3.8 per attempt). The game plan was to stick with the running game in an attempt to keep the Saints' offense off the field, and it worked on scoring drives of 12 and nine plays, but it wasn't consistent enough in the red zone, where the Jets only converted two of their four trips into touchdowns.
--PASS DEFENSE: C - The Jets' defense was opportunistic, as it forced three turnovers after not getting any the last three games. Leonard Williams had his first career interception and Jamal Adams and Buster Skrine forced Brandon Coleman fumbles, both with the Saints in the red zone. But Michael Thomas played the role of a possession receiver very well, catching 9-of-11 targets for 93 yards and a touchdown, and, like many other teams this season, the Jets couldn't contain Mark Ingram II or Alvin Kamara out of the backfield, as they combined for 11 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown. Playing without Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets didn't get much pressure on Drew Brees, but that was mostly because he got the ball out quick on short timing patterns. The Jets have allowed 27 passing touchdowns, which is tied for second most in the league with the Browns and Texans.
--RUSH DEFENSE: C - If you take out Ingram's 50-yard touchdown, the Jets would have held the Saints to less than three yards per carry on 27 attempts. But Darron Lee got bulldozed on a lead block by fullback Zach Line and Ingram sprinted passed the secondary as the Jets gave up their 11th rushing touchdown of the season. The Jets did have four tackles for a loss, including one each for Jamal Adams and Buster Skrine.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Chandler Catanzaro made two short field goals and he now hasn't missed since he went 2-for-4 in the pouring rain against the Falcons in Week 8. He is 23-for-27 on the season (85 percent) and he hasn't missed any of his 28 extra points. Lachlan Edwards punted decently (45 yards per boot), but the coverage wasn't great, as Tommylee Lewis had a 17-yard return that led to a touchdown drive. JoJo Natson didn't do much in the return game, with a long of 24 yards on five kickoff returns and no punt return yards.
--COACHING: C - Well, after last week's debacle in Denver, credit the Jets for at least putting up a fight in a very tough place to win. But again, penalties and lack of execution late led to another loss, their seventh in the last nine games. At least they didn't blow a lead ... they never had one.