As NFL Network producer Jason Hartelius tweeted Monday night, if you'd just emerged from a coma to see Cam Newton's Patriots facing Joe Flacco's Jets in an empty stadium with everyone on the sidelines wearing masks, fake crowd noise being pumped in and two combined wins between the teams, you'd be asking a lot of questions.
But for one night, Flacco wasn't the 35-year-old backup coming off neck surgery whose best years were clearly behind him. No, Flacco was again flirting with being elite.
The quarterback spent the first half dropping dimes all over the field, including a 50-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman (who ended up fooling promising Patriots corner J.C. Jackson twice for touchdowns) and a beautiful drop in the bucket to Jamison Crowder for one of the most aesthetically pleasing touchdown grabs you'll see this year. Flacco reached halftime with a passing line of 12 for 17 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 147.7. The "hyperdrive" that Jets coach Adam Gase said his team needed to enter had finally arrived.
"There was a lot of good stuff. He made a lot of really nice throws," Gase said of Flacco's performance. "Through the majority of the game, he did exactly what we needed him to do. It was tough when you might have one or two errors and you don't feel good about it. For the most part, I feel like he played pretty well. He had a dropped touchdown pass on that first series and then had some really good throws."
It didn't last, of course, but Flacco still found Perriman for another score before returning to form. The clock struck midnight on Flacco and the Jets at the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, though, when he dropped back, heaved a prayer toward a double-covered Denzel Mims and watched as Jackson got his revenge in the form of an interception.
The Patriots turned that takeaway into the game-tying touchdown and capped a 13-0 final quarter with a Nick Folk field goal to win the game as time expired, 30-27.
"It's one of those obviously in hindsight I don't want to throw that pick," Flacco explained, "but the safety on that side of the field kind of came down and cut the crosser and the corner was outside leverage and it was just one of those looks, with the cover two safety on the back side of the field, I felt like I could throw down the hash and Denzel Mims, could beat the guy to the hash and catch that ball for the post. So, I've been rattling it around in my head and I don't think I would have made a different decision in the moment, but obviously I wish I had that one back."
Most of Flacco's night was downright stunning to those who believed he was essentially washed up. The Jets weren't exactly the ideal situation for a veteran like Flacco to prove he's got some juice left in this league. These aren't your 2008 Arizona Cardinals.
But for Flacco, New York has been the right situation. He's been called upon to take over for Sam Darnold, who has been knocked out of action with multiple ailments this season, and it has given Flacco enough of a runway to get comfortable following neck surgery that ended his Denver run after half of a season.
"The good thing is it was definitely good to get a few games under my belt a few weeks ago and get over that hurdle in my mind," Flacco said. "I think physically I'm feeling better and better and better every day, so I felt really good physically, I felt like we had a good game plan coming into this game, I feel like our guys really executed it well. The offense, I think we felt damn good about how we played all night. That's obviously why we're talking about some of the disappointment is how well we did play and still didn't end up with a win."
It's not necessarily impossible to envision Flacco landing with a veteran-needy team in 2021, as long as he can string together a couple more performances like Monday night. That would depend, of course, on Darnold's availability, and on Flacco's Jets teammates answering the bell like they did in prime time. But considering where Flacco was in the NFL consciousness when he landed with New York, this was quite a pleasant surprise -- even if it didn't get the Jets the win Monday night.