How the Jets’ offensive ineptitude stretched their seemingly stout defense to its breaking point

Robert Saleh was right about someone getting “embarrassed” whenever the Jets defense faces a top quarterback.

You just wonder if Saleh realizes that it was him this time.

Or that the defense the head coach is so proud of played a big part in it.

Quinnen Williams erupted at teammates on the sideline, Micheal Clemons and Sauce Gardner committed personal-foul penalties after the whistle, Clemons was involved in a reported postgame fight in the tunnel and Gardner rushed to his phone just minutes after the game to tweet that you “must not know defense” if you think he is responsible for allowing the 81-yard touchdown that turned off the lights in a 32-6 loss to the Bills.

At least the Jets were defensive about something.

It was only five weeks ago that Saleh said “we’ve played a gauntlet of quarterbacks. I know we haven’t gotten all wins, but we’ve embarrassed all of them.” One of the quarterbacks he had in mind at the time was the Bills’ Josh Allen, who threw three interceptions against the Jets in a Week 1 loss.

Well, the rematch went to Allen in a knockout.

Whether he was motivated by Saleh’s words — which the head coach almost immediately walked back and then wisely refused to double-down on this past week — Allen completed 20-of-32 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns with one interception (on a Hail Mary) in a game that essentially crushed the Jets’ playoff hopes.

Weeks of playing with zero margin for error because of an inept offense — which went 39 straight possessions without a touchdown over a four-game stretch — finally caught up to the defense. And when it came undone, it was ugly.

The 32 points was the most allowed by the Jets since Dec. 5, 2021 in a 33-18 loss to the Eagles. The 393 net yards was the second-most allowed by the Jets in their last 25 games.

The Bills scored field goals on each of their first three offensive possessions — three of the nine points were given away by the Jets’ special teams committing a turnover — while the Jets had zero total yards of offense with six minutes to go in the second quarter.

“For some reason, we haven’t started off fast,” cornerback D.J. Reed said in the locker room. “We can’t wait until the end of the game and try to win heroically. We’ve won a few games like that, but that’s not sustainable in my opinion. We’ve got to start off fast, dominate early and carry that on for 60 minutes.”

The weight of carrying the offense became too much to shoulder after another of Zach Wilson’s trademark inexplicable interceptions set up a short-field touchdown and created a 16-0 second-quarter deficit. At that point, anyone who has watched the Jets — and probably some who play for the Jets — knew that the game was over because their last game scoring at least 17 points was on Oct. 15.

It was the start of three touchdowns in a four-possession span that included scores by Ty Johnson — a former Jet who was critical of not getting a fair opportunity in the organization — and the 81-yarder by Khalil Shakir that left Gardner sounding more concerned about his individual reputation as a shutdown cornerback than the team’s downward spiral.

“I feel like there’s no fingers to [point],” Reed said. “We have to all look at each other — including myself — to see what we can do to get better: Offense, defense and special teams.”

For once, that wasn’t just a cliché quote. Fair or unfair, the reality is the Jets really do need to do much better on defense, beginning Friday against MVP candidate Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins.

Or things could get really embarrassing.

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Living in the moment

There are fewer NFL Sundays in a year than there are combo-meal options on some fast-food menus.

Just enjoy the games (maybe while eating a burger, fries and a soda).

That’s the lesson for Giants fans to take away from Sunday.

All the energy directed over the last week to whether the Giants would draft a quarterback to replace the injured Daniel Jones — and, if so, whether it should be USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye — if they finished the season on a 10-game losing streak and secured a top-two pick in the 2024 NFL Draft suddenly feels fruitless.

That’s because the Giants’ 31-19 win over the Commanders completely changed the projected draft order.

So, now a segment of Giants fans will sulk about the cost of winning meaningless games and draw ill-fated comparisons to the Jets’ back-to-back late-season victories in 2020 that changed the course of their future from Trevor Lawrence to Zach Wilson.

But here’s the thing to remember: It’s not even Thanksgiving yet. There are SEVEN weeks remaining in the regular season. The draft order is going to change dozens of times before it is finalized. The Giants might still lose their way into drafting Williams or Maye…or win their way completely out of the top 10.

If the season ended today, the Giants (3-8) would pick No. 5 — behind the Bears (via Panthers), Cardinals, Patriots and Bears again. That leaves you with two choices for how to handle this week:

1. Start breaking down film of projected top-five picks like Georgia tight end Brock Bowers and Penn State offensive tackle Olu Fashanu. Imagine how double-tight end formations with Bowers and Darren Waller could change the playbook for Jones. Determine if adding Fashanu would force Evan Neal to move from right tackle to guard to better protect Jones.

2. Root for the Giants to win on game days and let the dust settle where it may.

Let us recommend Option 2 for maintaining your sanity.

Because as long as the Giants have a healthy Saquon Barkley on offense (140 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against the Commanders) and Bobby Okereke (14 tackles, two forced fumbles), Xavier McKinney (12 tackles, fumble recovery), Kayvon Thibodeaux (two sacks) and Dexter Lawrence ( one sack, two passes defended) on defense, there will be enough pride and talent to beat other weakened teams like the Patriots (2-8), Rams (4-6) and Packers (4-6).

But there won’t always be six takeaways to fuel an upset. There won’t always be undrafted rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito becoming the first Giants quarterback to throw three touchdown passes in a game since Jones did it (also against Washington) on Dec. 22, 2019. There won’t always be a way to overcome a hideous offensive line (nine sacks allowed).

In other words, there are just as many ways to lose to the Patriots, Rams and Packers, too.

In the first two years of the 17-game regular-season schedule, no team has finished 2-15 or worse, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Giants won another game.  A 3-14 or 4-13 record has been a guaranteed path to a top-five pick.

So, relax, the Giants are not finished yet. Not one way (play games) or the other (draft status).

Bitter bidders

The injection of life that the New York sports scene needs right now is an old-fashioned Yankees-Mets bidding war.

The kind where Alex Rodriguez wants to play for his childhood-beloved Mets but winds up switching positions to join the Yankees.

Or the kind where Carlos Beltran tries (and fails) to backdoor his way onto the Yankees at the 11th hour for $20 million less than the Mets are offering.

Or the kind where both the Mets and the Yankees are putting together trade packages for Johan Santana and enforcing acceptance deadlines.

The beneficiary of the pressure created by the most disappointing joint New York baseball season in 30 years should be pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who is expected to be posted to free agency by Japan’s Pacific League as soon as today.

Yamamoto will have 45 days to negotiate with MLB teams — and all the big-market franchises are expected to be in the hunt. If a deal does not get done in that time, he will return to Japan next season.

The Yankees and Mets can’t let that happen. In fact, they can’t let the 25-year-old right-hander with the 97-mile-per-hour fastball land in any other city besides New York.

The Yankees seemingly always are in the mix for Japan’s biggest stars.

They struck gold with Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka. They became a comfortable landing spot for Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki later in their All-Star careers. They flopped with Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa. They couldn’t convince Shohei Ohtani to come to the East Coast.

Because Carlos Rodon was a bust in the first year of his six-year, $162 million contract and Nestor Cortes crashed back to earth in an injury-plagued season after his 2022 breakthrough, the No. 2 spot in their rotation is up for grabs. As much as adding left-handed hitting should be Priority 1, supplementing Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole with another high-end starter should be Priority 1A.

The Mets? They need an ace, after the unexpected trades of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer last season. Pairing Yamamoto with his friend and former international teammate Kodai Senga should make a formidable top of the rotation for years to come.

But, just as importantly, the Mets need to regain their swagger. Signing Yamamoto would send a statement that MLB’s richest owner, Steve Cohen, isn’t going to be outbid by the Yankees when both teams have the same on-field needs.

One year ago, MLB investigated to confirm that there was no cross-town truce reached to ensure that the Mets would not pursue Aaron Judge and drive up the price for the Yankees.

That’s not good for New York baseball.

A bidding war for Yamamoto — the type of which used to be the norm in the Yankees-Mets rivalry — is.

St. (Knicks) coming to Towns…

Monday will be Karl-Anthony Towns’ 11th career game against the Knicks. Will it be his last before joining the team he grew up rooting for?

The Post’s Stefan Bondy listed the Timberwolves’ All-Star big man as the most feasible of three in-season trade targets that sources said the Knicks are monitoring. Since that report last month, the Towns-Knicks speculation has persisted for a litany of logical reasons as the teams head toward an 8 p.m. tip-off in Minnesota.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau’s praise for Towns, 27, seems to be increasing the further removed he gets from coaching the Timberwolves (2016-19). Towns is represented by CAA, the agency for whom Knicks president Leon Rose used to work. The Timberwolves have transitioned into guard Anthony Edwards’ team. And Towns — a Central Jersey native — has never been shy about his love for the tri-state area.

Towns is making $36 million this season — the last before his four-year, $224 million supermax extension kicks in. That contract combined with other big ones on the payroll will put the Timberwolves in jeopardy of paying the NBA’s luxury tax next season, according to ESPN.

The Knicks will have up to four first-round draft picks in 2024 — depending on criteria attached to the three picks that originally belonged to the Wizards, Pistons and Mavericks — to shop around in trade packages. And the Timberwolves, who are off to a surprise 9-3 start, might be more interested than a rebuilding team in taking back enigmatic All-Star forward Julius Randle as a piece to remain competitive in the short-term.

It’s time for the Knicks to think bold, so don’t be surprised if Towns — whose 25.3 career points per game against the Knicks are his fourth-highest total against any opponent — sees Monday’s game as a trade audition and looks to put on a show.

What we’re reading 👀

🏈 As much fun as Tommy DeVito may be having quarterbacking the Giants, Mark Cannizzaro thinks his New Jersey family may be enjoying it more.

🏈 If Aaron Rodgers was still considering trying to save the Jets this season, their latest loss should make it clear, Steve Serby argues, there’s no reason to rush.

🏒 How have the Rangers gotten off to one of their best starts in history? A reconfigured fourth line has a lot to do with it, writes Mollie Walker.

🏀 The secret to Mitchell Robinson’s ability to vacuum up offensive boards for the Knicks? “It’s just effort,” the Knicks center tells Zach Braziller.

🏈 A potentially season-ending knee injury to Florida State QB Jordan Travis may shake-up the College Football Playoff rankings, Zach Braziller thinks.

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