(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Brandon Marshall is one of the flashiest players in the National Football League. His highlight film catches have made him one of the more sought after targets of his respective quarterbacks throughout his decade-long professional career. But in his inaugural contest as a member of the New York Jets, it was a heads-up defensive play that turned out to be the turning point of the 31-10 victory.
Although it was only the second quarter, the Browns led 7-0 and seemed energized by the presence of second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel, who had taken over for an injured Josh McCown and was using his arm and scrambling ability to silence the sold out crowd at MetLife Stadium. His Jet counterpart, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was off to a slow start and a badly thrown pass intended for Marshall was intercepted by safety Tashaun Gipson.
Never giving up on the play, Marshall stripped the ball and returned it all the way to the Cleveland nine-yard line. Two plays later, the game was tied at seven.
“That’s the first thing I think about whenever there’s a turnover,” said Marshall in the joyous post-game home locker room. “You have to turn into a defender and try to get the ball back. That’s why you have to give it your all (on) every single play. We got some momentum and we built on it.”
That wasn’t lost on Todd Bowles, who earned his first career NFL win as head coach. “That was huge,” the Elizabeth, New Jersey native said. “Brandon plays everything. He plays offense. He plays defense. He plays aggressive. To me, that was the play of the game.”
All told, the five-time Pro Bowler finished with six receptions for 62 yards (10.3 average) and a touchdown that gave the Jets an 11-point lead in the third quarter.
The Jets have been lacking a dominant go-to guy at wideout for quite some time and it isn’t a stretch to say that Keyshawn Johnson was the last member of Gang Green that had game-changing ability in that unit.
Viewed as the savior of a moribund franchise when he was tabbed as the first overall selection of the 1996 NFL Draft, Johnson had a rocky – but very productive – four-year stay in New York. And much like the mercurial Marshall, the former USC Trojan star garnered both positive and negative press. But also like Marshall, Johnson could back up all of the bravado.
The 34-24 AFC divisional playoff victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1998 may have been a microcosm of “Key’s” Jet tenure: two touchdowns (one receiving; one rushing), a fumble recovery and even an interception playing defense against a Hail Mary pass. It was that type of talent and energy that made opposing defensive coordinators have to focus on Johnson, which made his production even more impressive and also helped his teammates with single coverage.
This is the type of presence that Marshall brings to the field and although the Jets have had some very good wide receivers since Johnson was traded in 2000 (such as Laveranues Coles, Santana Moss, Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and more recently Eric Decker), none have the tools that Marshall possesses.
Another impressive aspect of this opening week performance by Marshall was being able to shrug off any residual effects from his controversial comments during the week regarding race and the Tom Brady court decision and not allow it to become a distraction.
“I don’t know if it was controversial; it’s more like an opinion,” he said with a smile. “Everyone has critics. I just play football.”
He certainly does…and quite well.