When a season falls short of expectations, it’s sometimes easy to miss the positives.

It’s not that Sauce Gardner is going unnoticed, but I’m not sure his play is receiving the attention or recognition that it deserves. His pass break-up when matched up with Terry McLaurin last week received national attention.

It was picture perfect, showcasing the skills that make him one of the best cornerbacks in football. Patience, acceleration, length, instincts and leverage. If you’re teaching cornerback play, that’s a rep that will be on your training video.

It was a timely reminder that Sauce is special, something the Jets knew when they took him 4th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. Any fear of Gardner experiencing a sophomore slump following his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award last year have been well and truly put to bed.

Robert Saleh was asked to summarise Sauce’s season this week and he compared him to another corner who used his instincts and length to make good things happen:

“Sauce, I think he’s doing a really nice job. He’ll be the first to say that, when they throw the ball his way, when they do, he’s got to go take it. The challenge for him is going to be to stay locked in and he is. I’ll make sure I say this, because the way he approaches practice, games and all that stuff, meetings, he’s very deliberate. He’s very locked in. He’s very focused and I kind of compare it to ‘Sherm’ (Richard Sherman), when we went to coach Richard Sherman, you can get bored out there, when teams are just deliberately trying to avoid you. So, he’s locked down that left side of the field and he’s earned that right.”

So are teams trying to avoid Sauce? Absolutely. Among cornerbacks who have 500 coverage snaps this year, Gardner has received the fewest targets (48). In 513 coverage snaps, quarterbacks have looked Sauce’s way and tested him 48 times; that means he’s been targeted on just 9.3% of his snaps in coverage.c

He’s also first in terms of yards after the catch allowed (79), longest reception allowed (32), second in terms of receptions allowed (28), second in terms of QB passer rating allowed (70.7) and 3rd in yards per reception (8.7).

Sauce is as lockdown as you get in the NFL and his reputation is growing. The one area for improvement was alluded to by Robert Saleh: interceptions. As good as Sauce has been, he has just 2 interceptions on 1,155 career coverage snaps, or two interceptions on 121 targets. It’s hard to intercept a ball if it’s not thrown anywhere near your area code.

Gardner has had an opportunity here and there, and I’m sure that will be an area of focus this offseason, but make no doubt about it; Sauce has been on another level and opponents’ reluctance to throw at him is one of the biggest indicators of talent.

With two games to go in the season, Sauce has been targeted 25 fewer times compared to his rookie campaign, and I’m not sure Cleveland and New England are going to combine to target him 25 times. Or at least if they do, I imagine good things will happen for the Jets.

While Sauce has been the statement player in the secondary, his running mates deserve just as much credit. DJ Reed gets some recognition, although not as much as he deserves. And Michael Carter II may be one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL. Jets fans both love and recognise him for what he is, an elite level slot corner. Around the league, he’s still largely unknown, but when you look at his numbers, it’s hard to understand why.

MC2 has been targeted (51) more than Sauce Gardner (48), yet he’s allowed a lower completion percentage (56.9% v 58.3%), he’s also allowed fewer yards (223 v 243) and fewer yards per reception (7.7 v 8.7). They’re both deserving of Pro Bowl votes and both give the Jets an incredible foundation to build on for this year and beyond.