The New York Jets got their first win of the season Sunday, outlasting the Miami Dolphins by a 31-28 score at the Meadowlands. Chad Pennington accounted for three touchdowns, Thomas Jones ran for 110 yards and Kerry Rhodes collected the team's first takeaway of the season as the Jets grasped control in the second half.
"I was really happy with the complementary football that we played," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "I think we did good things in all three phases. That is something we have been talking about and something that's been important to us."
Holding a 14-13 lead prior to halftime, the Jets went on a 17-point run. Pennington found Chris Baker for a score seconds before intermission, Mike Nugent added a 21-yard chippy in the third, and then Pennington ran for a TD — his first since 2004 — in the fourth. That last score was set up by Rhodes' critical interception.
"He [QB Trent Green] is not going to make anybody come up too quick when he's running the ball," Rhodes said. "I stayed back and was able to read his eyes on the play. I saw the guy coming from the backside and I made the play."
Unable to get the ground game untracked the first two weeks, the Green & White pounded away with Jones at the heart of the Dolphins defense as the playclock ticked down. His 110 yards came against a defense missing its leader in Zach Thomas, who was ruled out of this division contest due to a concussion.
"That's the best part of being a running back, when you can feel the defense wearing down," Jones said. "The offensive line did a great job for four quarters."
On the other side of the ledger, Ronnie Brown was fabulous for the 'Fins. He amassed 112 yards on the ground, added 99 yards receiving, and had three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter as the visitors desperately fought to the finish. Eric Smith recovered an onside kick with 1:12 to play to preserve the victory for the Jets.
Both teams exchanged blows in the second quarter.
Brown got the Dolphins even at 7, culminating a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard dive. He got Miami downfield with a long reception and the visitors were also assisted by a couple of flags in the defensive backfield inside the red zone. Head coach Cam Cameron used star DE Jason Taylor out wide on one play and QB Trent Green threw to Taylor, drawing a pass interference penalty on S Erik Coleman.
But Leon Washington, subbing for injured Pro Bowler Justin Miller (IR – knee), answered in an explosive manner seconds later. Washington's 98-yard kickoff return up the left sideline got the Meadowlands rolling once again.
"Obviously when you hear the crowd roaring and there is no flag, you can celebrate with your teammates," he said. "We talk about it all the time — plays like that helps the momentum shift in our favor."
"That kind of gave us a spark. Leon is a great athlete," added Jones. "He can do a lot of things with the ball in his hands."
The Dolphins closed the gap again to one point after two Jay Feely field goals. Green often had a lot of time to throw in the first half, completing 11 of 18 passes for 157 yards. The Jets may have bent defensively but they rarely broke until the fourth quarter got a little hairy.
"I think the biggest possession of the game was right before halftime. We had been struggling right before the half, giving up touchdowns," Rhodes said. "We had to get a stop there and make them kick three, which I think was maybe the biggest spot of the game."
Pennington would have the final say before Wayne Chrebet's halftime ceremony. He completed seven of eight passes in hurry-up mode with that only incompletion coming on a clock-stopping spike.
"Everybody enjoys playing for him and they rally around him and that's important," Mangini said of his starting signal caller. "He's extremely efficient and people appreciate how hard he's worked to get back here today."
"He is our leader, he's the captain of the team," Baker said of Penny. "He does a good job of getting us where we need to go and things like that."
The final two receptions were outstanding. Jerricho Cotchery must have been wearing stickum when he made a fantastic one-handed reception, then Baker followed with a circus grab in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard TD.
"The Chris Baker catch was an unbelievable catch and really gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime," Pennington said. "That's a huge play and this guy keeps coming up with big plays week in and week out."
The Jets faithful greeted Pennington's return with a rousing ovation. The quarterback, forced to the sideline in Baltimore with a right ankle injury, thanked the fans with a touchdown pass to wideout Laveranues Coles. That beauty opened the scoring and gave the Green & White a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. It was Coles' third TD catch from Pennington in less than eight full quarters this season.
"I love Jet fans. They're passionate, they're loyal," CP said of the acknowledgement. "I think they really appreciate players who play with heart and who play with physical toughness and give it everything they have. Ever since I've been here, that's always been my goal no matter what the situation — just give it all that I have. That's all I can ask of myself and I think that's what they ask of each individual player. It was nice. I really enjoyed it and I appreciated it."
Miami made it too close for comfort in the end, but this was certainly a good day for the Green & White. The Jets have now have won six of their past seven meetings with the Dolphins, Pennington and Jones were tremendous, and Wayne Chrebet, one of the greatest players in franchise history, was honored at halftime on a picturesque September day at the Meadowlands.
Next week, the Jets hope to sustain their momentum in Buffalo against the winless Bills.
"We're 1-2, so we can't get too excited about things," Baker said. "We have another division game next week, but we have to build off this win "
The Man of the Hour
It was an emotional 12 minutes or so at halftime for Chrebet and 78,000 of his closest friends. GM Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson spoke, but "Mr. Third Down" brought down the house in his familiar third slot. Never comfortable with the spotlight, Chrebet was, as always, emotional and humble. He thanked fans and they thanked him with warm applause. It's always a great moment when No. 80 walks out of that tunnel, and this time was no different.
End of a Drought
Shaun Ellis recorded the Jets' first sack of the season on the Dolphins opening possession. The veteran DE, who used a bull rush to overpower RT L.J. Shelton and get to Green, moved ahead of Verlon Biggs and into sixth place on the club's all-time sack list with 49.5.
David Harris put it up in the second quarter, swallowing Brown for no gain deep inside Jets territory. But Jonathan Vilma wouldn't be outdone, stopping the Dolphins' back for a 1-yard loss a play later. Those tackles forced Miami into a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Dolphins fans probably were wishing for Zach Thomas when Channing Crowder came up high on Pennington in the opening moments. That resulted in a flag and a 15-yard penalty, helping the Jets on their first scoring possession.
Linebacker David Bowens, a former Dolphin, celebrated a nice special teams tackle of Ted Ginn Jr. late in the fourth.