Leon Washington broke out with 129 yards and scored his first two NFL touchdowns
Just days after the New York Jets announced Curtis Martin will not rejoin the team until week 10 at the earliest, rookie Leon Washington exploded for a Martin-like performance against Detroit en route to the Jets fourth victory of the season.
"It's one of those things, having the opportunity to go out there and play, and as a young guy it is very important to take advantage of an opportunity," said Washington. "Our Coach is always stressing, as a young guy or as any guy on the team, to go out there and make plays. Today, we were able to go out there and execute those things."
Washington added yet another dazzling performance to his young resume Sunday against the Lions. The 5'8", 202-pound rookie had a career game that included his first and second professional touchdowns and 129 yards on the ground. Complimenting Washington's flashiness was the backfield battering ram, Kevan Barlow, who bruised Lions' defenders for 49 yards.
"Whenever you run the ball, you're able to control the defense and you can do things in your favor that help you win the game," Washington said. "Today, we came out and obviously ran the ball early and were effective."
Washington found the end zone just 2:45 into the game after the Jets marched downfield 81 yards in seven plays. Five of those plays were run from the robust no-huddle attack in which quarterback Chad Pennington has displayed virtual dominance in as of late.
"When you're working out of a no-huddle, it keeps the defense on their toes and we can always hit them with a different play," Barlow said. "I think it's a big advantage. As a defense, you always have to be on your toes because you never know what's going to happen. We come up with all types of plays."
That opening drive was highlighted by Washington's 23-yard run to the Detroit five-yard line – the longest run of any Jets player this season. Setting the table for the rookie were consecutive rushes of seven and eight yards from Barlow following a clutch 28-yard reception by wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. The second-year wideout from NC State snared in a Pennington pass before taking a barrage of big hits from three Lions defensive backs. Cotchery led Jets' receivers with 79 yards on seven catches including four first down receptions.
"That's why I don't feel like we're a one-man show in our passing game," Pennington said. "People know about Coles, but Cotchery is a great receiver."
While the passing game has already proven its diversity, the ground game now features two completely different, yet very capable backs.
"It is a change up with me and Leon with me pounding it up the middle and then Leon comes in, he's quick and fast," Barlow said. "It's a one-two punch; it's a good mix up. I think it's hard for teams to defend that."
Prior to kickoff, both Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston were among the inactives. However, the Washington-Barlow combination was all the Jets would need, especially with nose tackle Shaun Rogers absent from the Lions defense. With the opportunity in their hands, the combo churned out 178 yards on the Meadowlands turf.
It was Washington who sealed the deal with just under 5:00 minutes to go, as he tiptoed ever so gracefully into the left side of the endzone from 16 yards out. That score proved to be the game-winning touchdown as the Lions marched back downfield to pull within seven.
"I think it was Laveranues Coles who hooked the guy; I had a similar run earlier when I cut it back in and the guy tackled me." Washington said. "But this time Laveranues did a good job hooking that guy outside and I tight-roped the sideline and I got in the endzone."
Coles wasn't the only one blocking for Washington. With steady protection from the offensive line, the tight ends and fullback B.J. Askew, the Jets were able to take advantage of gaping holes all afternoon. Aside from Washington and Barlow, both Cotchery and Laveranues Coles pitched in with rushes of 10 and 15 yards, respectively.
"Hats off to the offensive line today," said Washington. "They did a tremendous job of blocking up front and taking care of those guys throughout the game. Getting in the end zone was also a big plus, but our offensive line did a tremendous job blocking the pass upfront."
Part of that line was Washington's fellow rookie, center Nick Mangold, who assumed starting center duties since day of camp.
"As an offensive lineman, you're glad when your running backs have the opportunity to make big plays," said Mangold. "And today they made the big plays and had a lot of yardage.
Washington's 129 yards was the best total for a Green & White back since he ran for 101 in week five at Jacksonville. The Florida State alum now has 321 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards.
"We have some certain plays where Leon's number is called and it takes me out of the game, but I'm fine with that," said Barlow. "As long as we keep winning these games, that's all that matters.
"It was good to see our running game get going," he added. "We struggled in the beginning of the year, but it was just a matter of time."