NEW YORK – Some call it a dark cloud. Others say it's just plain bad luck.
And there are some New York Jets fans who blame Broadway Joe himself for inadvertently casting a curse on the franchise the moment he guaranteed that Super Bowl victory way back in 1969.
Well, whatever it is, it reared its ugly head again Thursday when defensive lineman Carl Lawson was lost for the season when he ruptured an Achilles tendon during a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers.
Deflated and disappointed, Jets fans took to social media to commiserate and vent. More than one cried out on Twitter:
“Why can't we have nice things?”
It's all understandable, especially with the overwhelmingly positive vibe that filtered through the organization since Robert Saleh was hired as coach in January and quarterback Zach Wilson was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in April.
Lawson was also a major part of that optimism, expected to finally provide the Jets with the game-wrecking, sack-happy pass rusher they have been searching for for two decades.
He had 20 sacks in four seasons in Cincinnati, flashing some legitimate pass-rushing ability. Seeing the potential, the Jets gave Lawson a three-year, $45 million contract in the offseason. And he was an immediate fit in New York's defense, routinely shining as one of the best players on the field during training camp.
“I’m not bashing anything I’ve played before, but it’s kind of like being on chains and then breaking the chains,” Lawson said last week. “That’s how I kind of feel in this system. It’s just being unleashed.”
But just like that, he's done for the year after being carted off the field in Green Bay. As he rode away, the Jets were hoping their season didn't go with him.
“You never want to see anyone go down," wide receiver Corey Davis said, "especially a guy of that caliber.”
Crushing, yes. Catastrophic? Not yet.
The success of the season will still largely come down to the play and development of Wilson — as was the case even before Lawson’s injury.
Plus, the Jets have a deep and talented defensive line, clearly the strength of this year’s young squad. Lawson was fired up about the prospects of teaming up front with the likes of Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, John Franklin-Myers, Folorunso Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd and causing problems for opposing quarterbacks and offenses.
“It kind of reminds me of, like, Marvel’s Avengers team,” Shepherd said Tuesday with a big smile. "Everyone has their own special power they bring to the table.”
But with Lawson out for the year, the Jets lost their Captain America.
“For those who truly know me, know that this is like a flesh wound to me,” Lawson wrote on Instagram late Thursday. “Gods with me, I control what I can control so I'm always back better. Loved ones, friends and fans please keep your chins up so I can raise mines higher.”
Lawson was going to be the catalyst up front, becoming the pass rusher for which teams would need to game plan. That would leave the others to do what they best — collapse the pocket, stuff the run, provide pressure and get into the backfield, and help the secondary in the process.
Well, now what?
That's the question Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas will try to answer over the next three weeks as they prepare for their season opener at Carolina on Sept. 12.
One thing Jets fans can take solace in is that Saleh has been through this type of adversity before — just last season, in fact.
His defense in San Francisco lost several key performers to injuries — including Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Ezekiel Ansah and Richard Sherman — and the 49ers were still among the NFL's best, ranking No. 5 in total yards allowed, No. 4 against the pass and No. 7 against the run.
It won't be easy for Saleh to pull off something like that in New York with Lawson out.
The promising Bryce Huff, an undrafted free agent out of Memphis last year, is the early favorite to step into Lawson's role. He had two sacks as a rookie and has been one of the standouts in camp this summer. Huff had two sacks in the preseason opener against the Giants last Saturday, but he's mostly unproven.
Ronald Blair, who spent his first five seasons in San Francisco, could get a shot — although he missed last year with a knee injury. Vinny Curry, a proven pass rusher with 32 1/2 career sacks, is on the non-football injury list and might not be ready to play until Week 2 of the regular season.
Jabari Zuniga, a third-rounder last year who saw limited action in eight games as a rookie, is dealing with a knee injury. Undrafted rookie Hamilcar Rashed had a nice NFL debut with 1 1/2 sacks against the Giants, but he also is inexperienced.
Turning to a veteran might not be the answer, either, since there are slim pickings on the free agent market, with Olivier Vernon, Everson Griffen and Trent Murphy probably the most attractive.
Any way you slice it, Lawson was the perfect fit.
Now Saleh and the Jets' remaining Avengers must assemble and find a way to rebound from their first big loss of the season. Their despondent fans are counting on them.
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