Lacking several key pieces, the flawed New York Jets tried whatever they could to stay with the AFC’s best team, but a couple of interceptions off of tipped passes and the rushing of running back Arian Foster were enough to keep the Houston Texans (5-0) perfect while sending the Jets (2-3) to their second straight loss in a 23-17 win at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Monday night.
Without their best defensive player (cornerback Darrelle Revis) and three main passing targets (wide receivers Santonio Holmes and rookie Stephen Hill, and tight end Dustin Keller), the Jets pulled out all of the stops to stay close with the Texans, who remain the AFC’s only unbeaten team and one of only two (along with 5-0 Atlanta) NFL squads which have yet to lose this season.
New York played a game of musical quarterbacks between starter Mark Sanchez (14-for-31, 230 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, three sacks) and backup Tim Tebow (0-for-1; five carries for 19 yards), converted a pair of risky fourth-down rushes in their own end during the second quarter, failed to recover an onside kick trailing by six points late in the third quarter, and tried a deep pass to starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
But, the Jets’ inability to stop the run or generate enough offense for a second straight week ultimately led to their downfall, as the league’s top-ranked defense held New York to just 286 total yards while Foster rushed for a season-high 15 yards on 29 carries to help the Texans control the football for about 10½ minutes than the Jets.
Foster’s effort pushed him over the 100-yard mark per game with an average of 106.4 yards per contest this season, and puts him on pace to gain a career-high 1,702 yards, which would eclipse the production of his breakout sophomore year, when he had 1,616 yards in 2010.
That should at least temporarily put at ease, the minds of some of Foster’s teammates, who had voiced concerns over Foster possibly messing up their Super Bowl aspirations after the star running back announced he became a vegan in July.
Seeing Foster account for 40 percent of Houston’s offensive yardage against New York should case the rest of the Texans to have confidence in Foster’s ability to be the same back he was as a carnivorous eater, as long as he continues to receive a steady diet of rushes throughout the season.
Initially, the game looked like it was headed the way of the Jets’ last meeting with a Super Bowl contender, when New York was blitzed at home, 34-0, by San Francisco (4-1) last week.
Houston took the opening kickoff and went 85 yards on eight plays, to lead 7-0 on a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Schaub (14-for-28, 209 yards, one touchdown, one interception) to tight end Owen Daniels (four catches, team-high 79 yards), who was left wide open to score just 3:55 into the game.
The teams then traded a trio of three-and-outs (two by the Jets), before Cromartie intercepted Schaub at the Jets’ 43-yard line.
Needing just four plays to tie the score, Sanchez started a short drive with a 27-yard completion to wide receiver Clyde Gates (his only catch) and finished the trip with another pass of the same distance, for a touchdown, to tight end Jeff Cumberland (two catches, 51 yards, one touchdown) with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
Although Tebow took a direct snap and ran for a first down on a fake punt on fourth-and-one from the New York 24-yard line, the Jets ended up punting later on the drive, and Houston quickly went 67 yards to regain the lead for good, with Schaub completing consecutive passes of 18 and seven yards before Foster went on runs of eight, 21 and 13 yards, the last of which was for his only touchdown of the game, 3:49 into the second period.
Each team then punted before Sanchez connected with wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (five catches for a game-high 94 yards) to help lead New York from its own seven-yard line all the way to the Texans’ 12-yard line, but defensive end J.J. Watt, as is his specialty, jumped and tipped a pass by Sanchez that ended up in the hands of cornerback Brice McCain, who raced 86 yards to the other way, to the Jets’ nine-yard line with 14 seconds left in the half.
The Texans settled for a 27-yard field goal by kicker Shayne Graham as time expired, to lead 17-7 at halftime.
After forcing a New York three-and-out to start the second half, Houston embarked on a methodical 15-play, 70-yard drive that consumed more than half (7:42) of the third quarter, to extend its lead to 20-7 on a 42-yard field goal by Graham with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
Running back Joe McKnight returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards, past his teammates, up the left sideline, to get the Jets to within 20-14, but head coach Rex Ryan opted for an ill-advised onside kick that the Texans recovered and Schaub immediately completed a 30-yard pass to fullback James Casey (four catches for 53 yards) to the New York 16-yard line.
The Jets remained in the game by holding Houston to a field goal that upped the Texans’ lead to 23-14 with 13 seconds left in the quarter.
Sanchez then moved New York 69 yards in eight plays, while hitting Cumberland for 24 yards and completing another 36-yard pass to Kerley, but after a 13-yard run by Tebow gave the Jets a first-and-goal at the Houston three-yard-line, New York only managed a field goal to close to within 23-17 with 11:55 left in the game.
Three more punts (two by the Texans) followed before the Jets had one last possession to try to win the game, but a Sanchez pass deflected off of Cumberland’s hands and was picked off by linebacker Kareem Jackson at the New York 46-yard line.
Having already burned two second-half timeouts, the Jets couldn’t prevent Houston from running the clock almost all the way down before punting to New York with just four seconds left.
Trying to stay unbeaten, the Texans will host Green Bay (2-3) on Sunday Night Football next week, while earlier in the day, the Jets will stay home for Indianapolis (2-2), which ironically rallied from a big deficit to beat Green Bay in an emotional tribute to head coach Chuck Pagano, who is hospitalized with leukemia.