When Rex Ryan boasted all summer about how his team would win the Super Bowl this season, the type of performance he saw from his team in the second half of the Jets’ game with the New England Patriots on Sunday was exactly what the New York Jets’ head coach envisioned.
After failing to back up Ryan’s words with a lackluster season opening effort in a loss to Baltimore last week, the Jets (1-1) turned it on after halftime on Sunday, outscoring the New England Patriots (1-1) 18-0 in the second half to rally for a solid 28-14 victory at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Unlike last week, the Jets took the conservative reigns off of quarterback Mark Sanchez, and it paid off, as Sanchez outdueled Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady, going 21 of 30 for 220 yards, and 3 touchdowns for a 124.3 quarterback rating.
Brady meanwhile, was 20 of 36, for 248 yards, and two touchdowns, but he threw two picks and lost a fumble on New England’s final drive.
That was just part of the havoc the Jets’ defense caused the Patriots, as that unit was able to step without star shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis, who left just before halftime after aggravating a hamstring injury he suffered in practice earlier in the week.
Sans Revis, the Jets’ defense took over the game in the second half, during which the Patriots committed all three of their turnovers, while gaining a total of just 14 yards and punting twice on their other two second-half possessions.
The Jets also played a lot more disciplined football than last week, when they lost one turnover and committed 14 penalties for 125 costly yards. Against New England, New York avoided any turnovers and cut the penalties down to just 6 for 58 yards.
It all added up to a much more successful formula, and a much-needed AFC East victory before the Jets travel to AFC East-leading Miami (2-0) next week.
The game didn’t start out that way for the Jets, however.
New England moved the ball well on its first two drives, while New York went three-and-out on its first possession.
The Patriots took the opening kickoff and went 53 yards in 13 plays, but kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 37-yard field goal. On their next drive though, the Patriots went 75 yards on 15 plays in 8:10, with Brady throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Wes Welker, to give New England a 7-0 lead 1:43 into the second quarter.
The Jets then responded the next time they touched the ball, tying the game, 7-7, on a 12-play, 62-yard drive in 6:47, scoring on a 10-yard touchdown pass to the left side of the end zone to wide receiver Braylon Edwards (5 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD).
After the teams then traded punts, Brady needed just four plays and 48 seconds to get the Patriots back in the end zone. Brady threw a couple of incomplete passes, but then connected with rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez (who became the unlikely Patriots’ leader on the day with 101 receiving yards on 6 catches) for 46 yards to the Jets’ 34 yard-line. That set up a 34-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Randy Moss, who burned Revis before making a brilliant one-handed right-handed grab at the back of the end zone, to put New England ahead, 14-7, with 53 seconds left in the first half.
That was just enough time for Sanchez to direct the Jets with four completions in six attempts during a 7-play, 49-yard drive that culminated with a Nick Folk 49-yard field goal which trimmed the Patriots’ lead to 14-10 as the first half expired.
After that, the Jets took control of the game, especially holding the Patriots’ two biggest receiving threats –- Moss, and Welker — in check, with newcomer defensive backs Antonio Cromartie and Brodney Pool each grabbing second-half picks.
Moss’ touchdown (the 150th of his career) before halftime was his last reception and other than that catch, he caught only one other ball for a mere four yards. And, although Welker matched Hernandez’s 6 catches, the usual Jet killer finished with just the same 38 receiving yards that Moss had.
A frustrated Brady, put it very succinctly after the game, saying “We couldn’t do anything there in the second half… we couldn’t run it, we couldn’t throw it, we just sucked.”
In sharp contrast, the Jets, after a three-and-out to begin the second half, scored the game’s final 18 points on three of their next four possessions.
New York drove 80 yards on 10 plays in 4:47 to pull within 14-13 on a 36-yard field goal by Folk with 4:53 left in the third quarter. The key play on that drive was a 39-yard connection from Sanchez to tight end Dustin Keller, who led all receivers in catches (7) and receiving yards (115).
The Jets took the lead for good on their next possession, on a 6-play, 70-yard drive in 3:02 that was highlighted by a rushing game that outgained New England 136-52, led by running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished with a game-high 76 yards on 11 carries.
A good portion (31) of those yards came toward the end of that drive on a nice run up the right side which set up a two-yard touchdown toss from Sanchez to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Sanchez then completed to Edwards on a two-point conversion to put the Jets up 21-14, with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, New York put the game out of reach, capping an 8-play, 63-yard drive which took 4:59, on a 1-yard touchdown throw from Sanchez to Keller, to give the Jets a commanding 28-14 lead with 6:09 left in the game.
With the Patriots trying to rally, linebacker Jason Taylor sacked Brady on a first down from the New York 16 yard-line, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker David Harris (who had 4 tackles) with 4:06 left in the game.
The Jets were able to run out the clock on the ground from there, and take a lot of the pressure off of themselves that that Ryan’s unchecked swagger had placed on his team for months.
After all of the preseason Super Bowl talk, the prospect of playing in a media market like New York at 0-2, heading to first place Miami in Week 3 would have created a difficult situation for the Jets to handle and in which to succeed.
But, setting Sanchez free with Keller, Edwards, and Cotchery, and the contributions from newcomers like Cromartie, Pool, Tomlinson, and Taylor, were enough to at least for one game, have the Jets finally looking like the team Ryan told us his Jets would be this season.