Less than 24 hours after the Jets' defense had collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Texans, safety Eric Smith found out that he would get the start in Week 12 and be a part of the solution to the Green & White's pass defense.
When the Jets faced the Bengals on Thanksgiving only four days after the Texans victory, Smith made the most of his opportunity, recording a team-high eight tackles in the Jets' 26-10 win.
"Just doing my job," Smith said in his typical, low-key fashion. "I have to be there to make a tackle. I like contact, so I don't mind tackling."
Texans tight end Joel Dreessen had four receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. With Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals' rookie tight end phenom, in town, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made stopping Cincinnati's 6'5", 261-pound weapon a priority. Smith and the linebacking corps held Gresham to two catches for 36 yards.
"He definitely was a point of emphasis," Smith said. "He's a big, athletic guy who can run well and he has good hands. We knew they were going to try to get the ball to him because they know what our guys on the outside can do."
Prior to this week's game, there had been a few verbal barbs thrown the Jets way from Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens. Paired with Chad Ochocinco, the duo had been a threatening combination for opposing defenses.
The Jets countered the self-dubbed "Batman and Robin" with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, whom Owens nicknamed "Ren and Stimpy" earlier this season. When Thanksgiving Day was said and done, Owens, covered by Revis, and Ochocinco, manned up by Cromartie, combined for seven catches, 58 yards and no touchdowns.
"Ren and Stimpy did a pretty good job tonight on Batman and Robin," Cromartie lightheartedly joked after the game. "Those are two heckuva receivers. We just tried to go out and do our jobs and make sure that we do it the best we can and make sure we win our 1-on-1 battles."
Revis and Owens matched up twice last season when T.O. played for the Buffalo Bills, and Revis also lined up against Ochocinco twice last season. Thursday, Owens, after calling Revis an "average" cornerback, was held to three catches for 17 yards in a frustrating offensive performance for the Bengals, who only mustered 135 passing yards. Revis deadpanned when asked about his performance.
"Not bad. Not bad," Revis said while trying to hold back a smile. "Just trying to make ends meet out there for an average corner. They stuck me on the best receiver, Terrell Owens. I was kind of shocked that they put an average corner on one of the best receivers in the league, but I guess I managed to do OK against him."
All of the discussion in the locker room was playful after the game and each cornerback made sure to note the high quality that Owens and Ochocinco bring to the wide receiver position. Both are Pro Bowlers and putting up huge numbers this season. But it was obvious to Revis' and Cromartie's secondary mates that the words from Owens served as extra motivation this week.
"I think it definitely did," Smith said. "I knew this week they were going to be ready to play. It was a big challenge for them because they're two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers and they kind of wanted to show their dominance. I think they did a great job of it."
On top of holding Cincinnati to 10 points, the Jets had three sacks, seven PDs, six QB hits and also intercepted two Palmer passes and sacked him in the end zone for a safety. Cromartie and safety Jim Leonhard snagged the interceptions and DT Trevor Pryce got to Palmer for the two-point cherry on top of the point tally. Thursday's game ended a six-game interception drought for the Jets and overall this was the best football the Green & White's defense has played all season.
"We played a complete game, probably for the first time this year," Leonhard said. "This is how we can play. This is how we should play. This is where we see ourselves as a defense, closing the season out, playing at an extremely high level. That's what it's all about. If we don't miscommunicate and we play with that passion and energy that Rex always talks about, we're going to be tough to beat."