A little more than four minutes remained in a game the Jets weren’t going to win anyway.
But there was a green-and-white light that flickered in the midst of the loss Sunday to the Chargers: Chris Herndon caught a pass in the red zone, and for a touchdown.
The pass from Joe Flacco was perfectly placed, just over the out-stretched arms of Chargers linebacker Nick Vigil and out of the reach of safety Nasir Adderley. Only Herndon, the Jets’ third-year tight end who’s spent all season desperately searching for his mojo, had a chance to catch the football in the back of the end zone.
The touchdown nudged the Jets to within 34-26 in a game they’d go on to lose 34-28. So, in the boxscore, the play was a mere footnote in a loss that left the Jets 0-10 entering this Sunday’s home game against the 6-4 Dolphins.
But the play of Herndon — who dropped the first Flacco pass that touched his hands, a gimme on a turnaround route early in the second quarter — was a highlight to the day for the Jets.
Expected to be one of the Jets’ top offensive weapons, Herndon has had a stunningly miserable 2020 season. He’s caught just 16 passes for 133 yards and that lone touchdown, dropping several passes and fumbling the ball away twice.
It’s seemed like every mistake Herndon has made has had a white-hot spotlight on it.
The numbers have been damning and the mistakes mounting. Yet Herndon has quietly carried on, never making excuses — publicly or inside the building to a coach or teammate.
Throughout his struggles, Herndon has politely answered questions about all the things he hasn’t been doing, and not once has he dodged a question or gotten agitated.
You root for players like that, so it was nice to see him haul in a 26-yard Flacco pass along the sideline then that 6-yard touchdown.
“It’s been pretty difficult,’’ Herndon said Wednesday of his struggles. “But if I sit around and pout and complain after every game, it’s not going to help anything.’’
That drop of the first Flacco pass sure felt like a here-we-go-again moment. How could it not the way this season has gone for him?
“It was one of those situations where you’ve got to have a next-play mentality and a short memory,’’ Herndon said. “It was early in the game, still in first half, and there were more plays to be made that game. You have to fight that urge to dig yourself a hole and continuously preach to yourself that you’re better and that you can do better.’’
And he did.
Maybe — just maybe — last Sunday’s performance leads to one even better this Sunday against the Dolphins.
“Sometimes you just need some good things to happen,’’ coach Adam Gase said Wednesday. “He made two really good plays. Just keep giving him those opportunities [and] just see if we can keep we keep building on them.’’
The touchdown play — a mismatch in one-on-one coverage with a safety — was everything Gase had envisioned for Herndon, dating back to the summer when he was talking him up.
Things simply have gone weirdly awry for Herndon — until last Sunday.
“The way NFL defenses play these days, if you can single up the tight end it undresses everything a defense is trying to do,’’ Gase said. “If you have an athletic tight end that can get open one-on-one, he’s going to beat a linebacker or safety. It can open so many things for so many different guys when your tight end is really productive.’’
Herndon, speaking on the “Inside the Jets’’ podcast earlier in the week, lamented “a lot of self-inflicted stuff [like] drops, fumbles’’ marring his season, adding that Sunday “it really felt good to see myself have success again, and get encouragement from my teammates.”
Guard Greg Van Roten, asked about encouraging Herndon, said, “I learned this from Greg Olsen [Van Roten’s former Carolina teammate], in this league, you are never too old for an ‘attaboy.’ ’’
Herndon deserved a good “attaboy’’ last week after his nightmarish season.
“The only thing you can do as a teammate is be there for him, to push him and be a friend, keep feeding him the ball and let him know the things he’s doing right and reinforce those things,’’ Flacco said.
“It was good to see him put that behind him and move on,’’ Flacco said.
“It was good to see him be in the right spot at the right time.’’