Schott: Fitz & Jets Pass First Test In Gut-Check Time

(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

The Jets traditionally always seem to start off well in the first quarter of the season and then, when the calendar hits mid-October, they face the test of whether they are a serious contender.

This season, the first under Head Coach Todd Bowles, has fit this pattern, as they jumped out to a 3-1 start heading into their game on Sunday with the Washington Redskins.

This is the start of a tough five-game stretch in which the Jets hit the road to take on the Patriots and Raiders and return home for Jacksonville on November 8 and Buffalo four days later for a Thursday night game on the 12th.

Fitzpatrick and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey know something about fast starts being tested in the second quarter of a season. Gailey was the head coach and Fitzpatrick the strating quarterback for the 2011 Buffalo Bills, who started off 5-2 and lost eight of their final nine games to finish 6-10.

For the Jets, this was a tough one because they were coming off a bye after their win in London over the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago and because they were playing an NFC East team in Washington, who they have always struggled against.

Bowles said of there being any rust coming off of the bye, “I don’t know if it’s the rust or the mental part of getting back into the grind of it, the understanding that you have to fight for every play. Once you wake up and get hit in the mouth, you’re going to start fighting again. If you don’t get hit in the mouth, you can walk around jabbing people. We got hit in the mouth today.”

The first half on Sunday was a tough one, as Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall each committed fumbles and they fell behind 13-10 at the half.

Bowles said of his message to the team at halftime, “I didn’t think we were playing with enough energy. We were flat. Number one, we turned the ball over. We can’t win making turnovers but we have to make stops when they get them. The message was energy, energy, energy, and see what we’re made of. The veterans were going to lead us and they did.”

In the third quarter, the Jets got a field goal on their opening drive. On the second play of Washington’s ensuing drive, Jets Darrelle Revis got a big interception  running between two Redskins receivers at the Washington 24-yard line and ran it back to their 18.

Revis said of the interception charging up the defense, “I think it was a big momentum change in the game for us. The first half we were a little flat. It was just a change of momentum. We started picking it up after that.”

Bowles said of what he saw on Revis’ interception, “He baited him. I wish he could have caught it with a full head of steam. He dove forward. If he had kept his footing, he might have scored, but he’s a smart player. He takes advantage of every opportunity that comes to him. He doesn’t get many, so when they come, he’s almost like Johnny on the spot.”

Fitzpatrick wasted no time when he got the ball, as he looked for open receivers on their first play, but when he saw Washington left a clear path down the center, he was off to the races and took it in for a touchdown to make it 20-13 Jets at the 10:02 mark of the third.

After the Jets’ defense held Washington to a three-and-out, the Jets got a 35-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Brandon Marshall that made it 27-13. Marshall was heavily defended, and despite that, he caught the low pass at his ankles at around the 18-yard line and ran it in.

Fitzpatrick said of his reaction when Marshall made the 35-yard touchdown, “I’ve thrown so many of those where’s I’m getting hit as I release it and they get picked in my career. I was thinking, “Oh boy, here we go.” How he caught it, I don’t know. How he turned it in to a touchdown, I really don’t know. That’s one of those where you’re very thankful that Brandon is my teammate and very thankful for the opportunity to get to throw to him.”

The Revis interception, Fitzpatrick run, and Marshall catch show this team is for real. The three of them were not here last season, and Revis is making his return, with the benefit of being associated with two of the best teams in Jets’ history, 2009 and 2010.

The Jets went on to win 34-20, and Fitzpatrick said of the difference between the first half and second half, “We just couldn’t get out of our own way in the first half. We had a couple good drives started, completions that ended up being fumbles and the interception in the two-minute drill. We had a lot of confidence coming into this game plan that we had set out. Even at halftime, it was just, ‘Come on, let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot and let’s just execute our plan, we have a great one.’ The defense held tough the first half, got some turnovers in the second half and we were just able to find that momentum a little bit with the field goal and then the touchdown.”

Bowles said of the Jets overcoming three first-half turnovers and generating over 470 yards of total offense, “We shot ourselves in the foot. Brandon (Marshall) was fighting for too many yards. (Eric) Decker got it punched out and a guy made a great play on the other side and got an interception. That accounted for a lot of their points, but we got it going in the second half. We shook it off. It’s not going to be easy in this league. We shook it off and got going. We made some plays in the second half and came out with the win.”

Revis said of the Jets having to come from a deficit against the Redskins, “We weren’t stunned. I just think we, as a team, just need to start faster. We came here at half time and Coach Bowles just said that adversity was striking and we needed to start faster. That’s what we did.”

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