‘I don’t think we’re close at all:’ What the Jets are saying about catching the Patriots

"They got a big head start."

New York Jets Sam Darnold
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold models the team's new uniforms on April 4. –AP Photo/Julio Cortez

The New York Jets voluntary minicamp began Tuesday. New head coach Adam Gase used the clean-slate opportunity to set his sights firmly on the AFC East rival looming 200 miles to the north.

Gase knows the New England Patriots well. He spent the past three years with the Miami Dolphins, where he finished runner-up to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick twice en route to a 23-25 overall record.

“I like being in this division,” Gase told reporters Tuesday, per the New York Daily News. “I always have felt like you want to compete against the best… They’ve done this for a long time. And you know where you stand when you play those guys, and you compete against them twice a year, and you have to go head-to-head with them within the division against the same teams they’re playing. You find out where you are really fast.”

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The Jets coach, the franchise’s sixth since Bill Belichick resigned after a single day in charge in 2000, is under no illusions about New York’s standing in the division.

“My point to the whole thing is: We’re behind,” Gase said. “They got a big head start — multiple years, a decade-plus, almost two. So, we have to work. When we’re in the building, we have to do everything we can to keep getting better, because we’re playing catch-up.”

The players are preparing to close that gap after a 4-12 season under Todd Bowles. Sam Darnold, the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, fired a pick six on his first NFL throw last season but finished the year with 2,865 yards and the franchise record for completion percentage by a rookie.

“Tom and Coach Belichick up there, they’ve been doing it for a while,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s no secret that they’ve kind of got it wired down. They’ve been doing it for 19 or so years…. So, it’s always kind of chasing them, especially in this division… That’s the goal, but at the same time, it’s about us. What can we do to get better every single day?”

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Darnold was four years old when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2002. As the Jets attempt to lay down the foundation to emulate that success, left guard Kelechi Osemele noted, “I don’t think we’re close at all (to) what they’re doing up there in New England.”

New York acquired Osemele, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and a 2019 sixth-round pick in March in exchange for a fifth-round pick. He offered that the Jets are laying down the first brick as they build towards a brighter future — in their first new uniforms in two decades.

“But we’re kidding ourselves if we’re saying we’re caught up with New England,” Osemele said. “That’s why we’re getting these extra camp days in and reporting early. So we can lay that foundation down and catch up.”

The Patriots and Jets first meeting this season is set for Sept. 22.