Postseason baseball, preseason hoops and early-season hockey are the backdrop for a Monday Night Football game set in Atlanta, Georgia. Under the lights, the heavily-favored Falcons (1-3) welcome the surprisingly 2-2 New York Jets. After “starting” QB Mark Sanchez was injured in the third preseason game against their MetLife roommates, many had the Jets at the very bottom of the league. Rookie signal-caller Geno Smith has had success running the offense and stretching the field, but has been plagued by turnovers. Geno can’t have another two-fumble/two-interception game and expect HC Rex Ryan to have the confidence in him to name him the starter. We’ve heard it from Rex, we’ve heard it from Geno… “we can’t turn the ball over”. Without many giving them a chance against a team with playoff aspirations, the Jets knew they needed every man to step up for them to have a chance. A fearless team in a hostile environment under the brightest of lights… no problem, right?
All the talk about the offense and the turnovers, all the talk about the defense and the penalties, it’s the special teams that makes the first big play for Gang Green. Antonio Allen blocks the punt by Matt Bosher, but it’s picked up behind the line of scrimmage by Shann Schillinger and tossed to Jason Snelling, who is tackled for an 8-yard loss by Guy McIntyre. The Jets offense looked to take advantage of good field position. They manage only a field goal, but newcomers David Nelson and Mike Goodson were able to run a few plays and establish themselves as part of the offense. The drive also featured a couple of wildcat plays, with Bilal Powell taking the direct snaps. Look to see more of this with the Jets having Powell, Goodson and Chris Ivory active. Names you know that were inactive for the game included WR Santonio Holmes and DB Dee Milliner for the Jets, while RB Stephen Jackson was forced to miss another game due to injury for the Falcons. Injuries to the Falcons’ offensive line allowed players like Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and Mo Wilkerson to flourish in the trenches, making a combined four tackles in the backfield.
The first drive was indicative of the entire gameplan for the Jets, which seemed to be to control the clock and the ball with the run, but allow Geno to take his chances where he found them. The Jets threw the ball 20 times and ran the ball 22 times. Rookie Brian Winters made his first start of the year on the offensive line, a line that kept the pocket clean for Geno and allowed the runners to do their part: Bilal Powell 12 for 38 yards, Mike Goodson 3 for 32 yards and Chris Ivory carried the ball 4 times for 27 yards. Geno went 16 of 20 for 199 yards and 3TDs. He played under control, he played with poise, and took what the defense gave him. He added 3 rushes for 21 yards. I was very impressed with a sack he took early, running out of bounds instead of throwing a ball up for grabs. It’s ok to say you want to improve, but it’s even better when you show you have. It’s only been one game, but he cherished the football and gave his team every opportunity to win. His back-shoulder toss to Jeff Cumberland (3 catches for 79 yards & a TD) was a laser, while his picture-perfect pass to Kellen Winslow Jr. for a 1-yard TD showed his touch on the ball. Another good game for the tight ends, and don’t look now… but “blocking TE” Jeff Cumberland is becoming “play-making TE” Jeff Cumberland!
With Matt Ryan having an exemplary game, going 36 of 45 for 319 yards and 2 TDs, with players like Tony Gonzalez (10 for 97yds), Julio Jones (8 for 99yds) and Roddy White (4 for 45yds) on the field, the best players on the field this night were Mo Wilkerson and David Harris. Wilkerson made plays across and behind the line of scrimmage, including a strip-sack of Matt Ryan which led to more points for the offense. Harris seemed to clean up almost every tackle, while dropping back several times to cover the future Hall of Fame tight end for the Falcons. The difference in the game was clear: the Jets were able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and that dominance allowed the Jets to control time of possession, shorten the game for the Falcons, and give themselves an opportunity to win a 30-28 football game.
Even though the Jets can celebrate their first road victory of the season, the team still made critical errors. On another day, with a different outcome, these miscues would be headlines. Rex burns an early timeout on a challenge of a play that looked to be called correctly by the officials in real-time. Darrin Walls drops an interception, and an almost sure pick-six. Rex doesn’t go for two after the team’s final touchdown, which puts the team down a point when the Falcons score their final TD of the game. The defense let a 27-14 lead slip away late. At 28-27, it looked like those errors would send the Jets home with a heartbreaking loss; but for the third time this season, the young QB in green and white lead his team on a game-winning drive. Nick Folk nails a 43-yard field goal as time expired that allowed fans in New York to forget about the 0-5 New York Giants, or the New York Yankees sitting home at the start of their baseball’s postseason for only the second time in the last nineteen years.
The Jets play three out of the next four games at home, starting with the winless Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are coming off a bye after a game in London, while the Jets are coming off a short-week. In other news, QB Mark Sanchez has undergone shoulder surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2013 NFL season. Matt Simms will backup Geno Smith against the Steelers.
-Joseph Haas Editor, HCoftheNYJ.com