EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It took only a few days of misfortune to erase the feel-good vibe from the summer. The New York Jets blew a 16-point lead in their season opener, lost wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to a season-ending neck injury and — this one still is hard to fathom — learned that quarterback Sam Darnold has mononucleosis and will be out indefinitely.
This is what you call a serious dose of early-season adversity.
“That’s a nice way of putting it,” Jets coach Adam Gase said, managing a weak smile.
The Jets need a jolt, a spark, a boost, a kick in the rear — something — for Monday night against the Cleveland Browns, and they have just the player who can provide it. For a change, they have legit star power, a player who can dominate a football game.
Le’Veon Bell, this is your moment.
He’s the most accomplished, highest-paid and best overall player on their offense, a versatile talent who can be Trevor Siemian‘s best friend and an enemy to the Cleveland defense. He loves the lights, evidenced by a career of big-time performances in prime-time games.
The Jets have been prime-busts in recent years — they haven’t won at home on Monday night since 2011 — but they landed three night games because of Darnold and an offseason spending spree that yielded Bell and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley. Suddenly, the TV networks deemed them relevant again, but their season could fade to irrelevancy if they fall to 0-2. Darnold likely will miss a handful of games and their schedule is an absolute killer.
This would be a great time for Bell to do Bell things, taking the Jets to a happy place on Monday night football against the Browns (8:15 ET, ESPN).
Steve Young says the Jets must do what they can to sustain a .500 winning percentage until Sam Darnold returns from mononucleosis.
“[Bell has] been through situations where Ben [Roethlisberger] had gotten hurt in Pittsburgh and he had to carry the load a little more,” Gase said. “He’s been through so many different situations as far as what we’re going through right now. He has a good way about him. He knows how to get ready for the game. He knows how to get his mindset right.”
Especially in prime time.
One of the benefits of playing for the Steelers, a marquee franchise, was that Bell received maximum TV exposure. From 2013 to 2017, he played in 17 prime-time games — 17 out of his 62 games played. The Steelers went 14-3 in those games and Bell averaged 135 total yards from scrimmage per game, 10 yards above his average in day games. He averaged 0.76 touchdowns at night, 0.65 in the day.
Only twice was he held under 100 total yards in a game. The Jets need one of his vintage games.
“Obviously, this one holds a lot of weight to it,” said Bell, recognizing the circumstances.
Bell is coming off an impressive debut. Dude hadn’t played a football game in 20 months, but that didn’t stop him from playing every snap on offense, scoring a touchdown and accumulating 92 total yards. The play that left teammates buzzing was a fourth-and-1 conversion in the fourth quarter. He was stopped about a yard shy of the line of scrimmage, but absolutely plowed forward for the first down. It was a textbook second-effort play that got lost in the postgame analysis because of the team’s epic collapse.
“He’s different,” said McLendon, who saw a lot of those plays in Pittsburgh. “Just look at him. He’s big, agile and smart.”
In March, the Jets signed Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract because they wanted a dynamic player to help Darnold’s development and bring a new dimension to the offense. In case you haven’t noticed, the Jets haven’t been too good on that side of the ball in recent years. Their last skill player to make first-team All-Pro was Curtis Martin in 2004, the season he won the NFL rushing title.
Bell did it twice in five years with the Steelers.
Right now, the Jets don’t need awards; they need a win. With Siemian making his first appearance since December 2017 (see: rusty), they figure to run the offense through Bell. Play him every down again, if necessary. As he said, “Whatever it takes for us to win the game.”
For a change, the Jets have a proven star who relishes the big stage. Let him shine.