When an NFL defense can hold the opposition to 10 points, the team can normally come away with a victory. Unfortunately for the Jets, 10 points were one too many as they dropped their season opener to the Baltimore Ravens, 10-9, on Monday night.
While the defense was suffocating at times, mental and physical lapses created some golden opportunities for the Ravens. In all, the Jets were penalized 14 times for 125 yards, with the majority (7-75) coming from the defense.
"That's not who we are or how we play," head coach Rex Ryan said. "We pride ourselves on being on the least penalized teams in the league. Today was a joke. They just threw it up there — shoot, I don't blame them. Hope for a completion or a penalty. We have to do a better job than that, and I believe we will."
The defense forced two fumbles but was also responsible for six penalties that resulted in first downs for the Ravens. The 125 penalty yards are the most for the Jets since 1988 at Indianapolis when they gave up 127 penalty yards.
The Ravens passing attack did the most damage, considering the Jets held the Ravens to 49 yards rushing on 35 attempts. That's a staggering figure considering they lost defensive tackle Kris Jenkins early in the game to a knee injury. Still, linemen Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito stepped in and forced the Ravens to air it out to move the ball. Unfortunately, that's when the flags started hitting the ground.
"We have to be better and more disciplined on the back end," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "We have to do the things we are supposed to do. Once we go in and watch film, you can correct yourself. Once you correct yourself, you can't go out and make the same mistakes. If you do, you're not learning from the coaches. We have to go in tomorrow, watch the film and get better."
Cromartie made a wonderful interception of Joe Flacco, when Baltimore was driving, which he returned 66 yards after tiptoeing down the sideline. However, "Cro," seen talking with corner Darrelle Revis after the game, also committed four penalties — a 28-yard pass interference, two holds and an offsides — that helped the Ravens to 43 yards and three first downs.
"We have to be physical, but we have to play smart," Ryan said. "We pride ourselves on playing great, physical defense, but you can't have those penalties. You have to be smarter than that."
By game's end the defense was stretched to its limits, staying on the field for 75 plays and more than 38 minutes of possession time. The weary D allowed the Ravens to go 11-for-19 on third down, which is one of the backbreaking figures that will be addressed this week leading up to Sunday's home game against New England.
One player who is learning on the fly is rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson, who had two impressive defensed passes during the game but also had a pass interference on T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the end zone and a holding penalty on third-and-28.
"We're an aggressive defense," Revis said. "That's how we play and we're not going to stop playing like that over some penalties. I think we just need to focus more on technique in practice so we can't get those holding penalties."
For the Ravens it must have seemed like a nightmare on their offense's first possession, as Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis and linebacker Bryan Thomas converged on Flacco in the backfield for a strip sack that put the Jets in great field position. Bart Scott, Thomas, Ellis, Pouha, DeVito and others stepped up after Jenkins went down to stop Ray Rice and the running game.
"It's tough. I'm always proud to be a part of this defense," DeVito said. "Obviously we have to watch film and see what we can do better, but those penalties are things you can't have against a good team. I think Rex said it best: You can't do those things against a team like that."