Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie didn't hide his excitement late last week when asked about going up against one of the NFL's top wide receivers in Houston's Andre Johnson.
At the time, Cromartie said: "This is my third time playing the Texans in my career and I've never faced up against Andre. This is my first time facing him, so I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Houston prevailed, 23-17, Monday night at MetLife Stadium. But Cromartie put together one of his best performances as a Jet, limiting Johnson to one catch for 15 yards on six passes thrown to him on the night and also intercepting a Matt Schaub pass — just the second INT Schaub had thrown all season — to set up the Jets' only offensive touchdown.
Yet after the game, No. 31 for the Green & White wasn't satisfied. He didn't want to talk about what he had just done or what he may have proven. Instead, he spoke from his heart, discussing the importance of togetherness.
"It's a team sport, so overall we just have to play better on both sides," Cromartie said. "I think on the first series, we had a miscue on the back end. We let [Owen] Daniels get down the middle of the field, by himself. We just had a miscommunication with that."
In the two previous meetings between the Jets and Houston, it had been Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis assigned to cover Johnson. He had four catches for 35 yards in the 2009 opener and four catches for 32 yards the next season at MetLife.
However, with Revis likely out for the remainder of the season with his knee injury, Cromartie was called on to slow Houston's top receiving threat.
Cromartie also had a role in the Jets offense. The seventh-year pro lined up at wide receiver early in the second quarter, and quarterback Mark Sanchez immediately attempted a long pass his way. "Cro" hauled in Sanchez's deep ball down the right sideline but couldn't get either foot inbounds on the play.
"He looked good," Sanchez said of the Cromartie's play at WR. "I mean, he almost had it. We'll see how his role progresses. That's another guy that just wants to play and wants to help this team as much as he can. Those are the kind of attitudes we have in our locker room and that's when you have something to work with. So that's nice."
Cromartie said he worked on three or four offensive plays last week during practice and said he doesn't know if or how much his role on that side of the ball will expand as the season moves along. However, he did note that playing offense doesn't affect his performance when he transitions back to the defensive side.
"It doesn't take anything out of me," he said. "It's just playing football. Condition-wise, we do a great job conditioning. I'm not worried about me being tired or anything like that. My main focus is to make sure that I'm focused on the plays that I'm in on the defensive side of the ball, and make sure I shut down my receiver."
Cromartie also dropped back for the Texans' final kickoff of the game, the kick after the ball that Joe McKnight returned 100 yards for the touchdown that put the Jets back in the game. Shayne Graham's angled kick came up short, though, and Eric Smith, who was also back, returned the kick 19 yards to the 28 to start the Jets on their final scoring drive of the game, Nick Folk's short field goal early in the fourth quarter.
For Cromartie, Monday's loss to Houston was more upsetting than last week's loss against San Francisco. His reason: "It hurts being how close we were."
Having now lost back-to-back games, the Jets know their number of doubters may have increased. To get back on track, Cromartie said it's essential for the defense to not give up any big plays. A new opportunity will present itself Sunday when rookie QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts pay a visit to MetLife Stadium.
"I definitely think we took a step in the right direction," he said. "I think the biggest thing is just try to build on it. I think we played the way we know we are capable of."