It had been way too long – 16 games, to be exact – since the last time the New York Jets’ offense scored a first-quarter touchdown.
Gang Green (actually clad in its throwback navy blue and gold uniforms in tribute to the franchise’s original New York Titans days) not only put the ball in the end zone in the opening period, but the Jets did so on the game’s initial drive on Sunday.
With New York’s defense allowing just 203 total yards while grabbing four interceptions (two by cornerback Antonio Cromartie), the game-starting score was all the Jets (2-0) needed in a convincing 32-3 throttling of the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
When the Jets win the pre-game coin toss, head coach Rex Ryan normally starts with his team’s strength and puts his defense on the field first.
On Sunday however, Ryan changed things up and the Jets’ offense quickly made Ryan look smart, needing just 3:23 to go 64 yards on six plays, taking a 7-0 on a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mark Sanchez (17-24, 182 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack) to wide receiver Santonio Holmes (3 catches, 42 yards, 1 TD), who entered the game as questionable with a slight knee issue
Moments later, a very tough day for Jacksonville starting quarterback Luke McCown (6-19, 59 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT, 1 sack, 1.8 passer rating – a franchise record for the Jets’ defense) was just beginning
Three plays into the Jaguars’ first possession, the first NFL sack for rookie first round pick Muhammad Wilkerson (from Temple) resulted in the Jets’ next score as Wilkerson tackled McCown in the end zone for a safety, giving New York a 9-0 lead 4:27 into the game
Sanchez was then intercepted by New York City native, cornerback William Middleton, but the Jaguars went three-and-out (the first of nine times in 13 possessions that a Jacksonville drive lasted just four plays or less)
The Jets then punted and a 15-yard fair catch interference call gave the Jaguars the ball on their own 44-yard line, a break which Jacksonville used to go 20 yards for a 55-yard field goal by kicker Josh Scobee, to trim the Jaguars’ deficit to 9-3, with 3:02 left in the opening quarter
New York immediately answered, going 39 yards on eight plays, to push its lead to 12-3 on a 38-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk, 1:32 into the second quarter.
Following another Jacksonville punt, Sanchez was picked off again, looking deep up the left side for Holmes, but on the next possession, Cromartie intercepted McCown.
That pick didn’t lead to any further damage for the Jaguars, but another interception (by safety Eric Smith (4 tackles, 1 INT) on the Jaguars’ next drive, resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Folk, putting the Jets up 15-3, with 26 seconds to go in the half
New York put the game out of reach on its second possession of the third quarter, with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to tight end Dustin Keller (6 catches, game-high 101 yards, 1 TD) that gave the Jets a commanding 22-3 lead with 3:50 left in the third quarter
Cromartie intercepted McCown again on the next drive, returning the ball 26 yards to the Jaguars’ 1-yard line, to set up a one-yard touchdown run by running back Shonn Greene (16 carries, team-high 49 yards, 1 TD) that gave New York a 29-3 advantage with 1:30 left in the third period.
McCown was picked off yet again on the very next play, by undrafted linebacker Josh Mauga, who retuned the ball 11 yards to the Jacksonville 18-yard line. That led to a 23-yard field goal by Folk to close the scoring with 14:03 left in the game, capping a run of 17 Jet points in a span of only 4:47.
While the Jets were of course pleased with the easy victory, there remains some concern over a high ankle sprain suffered in the game by center Nick Mangold, who has made the Pro Bowl each of the past three years. X-rays taken after the game were negative but Mangold will undergo an MRI on Monday
The win was New York’s second straight home victory to start the season, a beginning that was desperately important for the Jets who now embark on their only multiple-game road stretch of the season. A brutal AFC swing will take New York through Oakland next week, followed by trips to a pair of fellow Super Bowl contenders in Baltimore and AFC favorite and hated divisional rival New England.