2009 Week 3 - Jets vs Titans Photos
Mike Westhoff's special teams unit was extra special in the Jets' 24-17 victory over the Titans on Sunday.
After Mark Sanchez rushed for an early touchdown in the first drive, on the ensuing kickoff Jason Trusnik made sure the Green & White kept the momentum by stripping the ball from Tennessee KR Ryan Mouton. It was the first forced fumble of Trusnik's NFL career, and then he made his second pro recovery at the Titans 19.
"I just came down, he kind of bounced outside and I just came in, set the edge, made the tackle and tried to create a turnover," said Trusnik. "I got my hands on the ball and it just happened to fall right in my lap."
Five plays later the Jets were in the end zone again with a 2-yard touchdown reception by TE Ben Hartsock from Sanchez, Mark's second of the game.
"We're here as a team," said Trusnik, who added another kick coverage later in the first quarter. "So whether it's special teams, offense or defense, we're here to help each other and put us in the best positions we can."
The Titans were able to regain some of that early lost momentum with a TD and FG before the half, and then a second touchdown in the third quarter for the 17-14 lead. But midway through the period, the Jets' special teams, specifically the punt coverage unit, would help take the momentum and the lead back for good.
Punter Steve Weatherford booted the ball from the Jets 19 toward Mouton, who was all alone near the Tennessee 40. The rookie returner called for a fair catch with Brad Smith coming full speed towards him but he muffed the ball as he tried to catch it over his shoulder at the 35.
Just as Mouton got to the bouncing ball, Smith jumped on him. Finally, Larry Izzo came in and dived on the rock for the recovery at the 25-yard line.
"Brad Smith did a great job of getting the ball out," said Izzo. "It was just sitting on the ground. It felt good to make a play to help the team win."
"At that point you don't know where the ball is going to bounce out and around so you just try to hold him down and hope one of your teammates is able to come," said Smith. "They were flying in there to cover the football."
The offense converted the excellent field position into Sanchez's second touchdown pass of the game four plays later as he hit Jerricho Cotchery for a 6-yard TD, J-Co's first scoring reception of the season.
That TD would ultimately be the winning points, but one ST playmaker was not finished contributing to this victory.
With the Jets up, 24-17, and 7:32 left in the fourth quarter, Jim Leonhard found a couple of openings and set his sights on six. Following his blockers and using his speed, he returned the ball 37 yards past several Titans, bringing on roars from the fans. With one or two left to beat, he ran out of field along the right sideline and was pushed out of bounds by Stephen Tulloch.
"I almost scored. We busted it," said Leonhard, who returned three punts for 51 yards. "I have to get in the end zone one of these times. I have gotten a lot of big returns but I haven't gotten into that end zone yet."
"It was big, though. Later in the game, whenever you can change field position like that it makes it really hard for someone to come back and that's all I was trying to do was make a play."
These were the first special teams fumble recoveries for the Jets since 2004. And it was the first time the Jets specialists came up with two recoveries in the same game since Bernie Parmalee and Chris Hayes each came up with a fumbled punt return by Chris Watson in the 27-14 home win over Buffalo in Week 3 of the 2000 season.
The Jets won't need Westhoff's unit to make as many plays every week as they did today, but it certainly proved to be the difference in this tight AFC battle. On a team that receives much praise for its defensive prowess, the Jets' Week 3 special teams performance made a case for why they need to be talked about among the league's elite.
"This unit is as good as any other unit I've been around," said Izzo, in his 14th NFL season. "Mike Westhoff puts us in a position to make big plays."
"Pretty much every week we feel like we have an edge," said Leonhard. "We have so many athletes on our special teams and guys that are really committed to it. Ahmad Carroll, Wallace Wright, James Ihedigbo, you go all down the line, Larry Izzo. We have guys that perform."