The Jets' second defense, criticized by head coach Rex Ryan after their performance in the first preseason game against the Giants, proved they have learned their lesson since early August. In Thursday night's final preseason tuneup against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Jets starters rested and the reserves didn't disappoint in their stead.
"Things are really positive," Ryan said. "Our backups did a great job in the game. That's what you look for. We'll watch the tape, we'll evaluate everything, but I was happy with the way some of those guys stepped up."
The Eagles offense struggled all night, particularly after quarterback Michael Vick exited the game. For the contest, the Jets defense held the Eagles to three points, 184 yards (72 yards rushing on 20 attempts, 112 yards on 12-for-32 passing) and 2-for-13 on third-down conversions. A variety of players stood out in the performance.
"I thought [tackle Matt] Kroul played really well," Ryan said. "That's the first guy that jumps out at me. I thought MTV [tackle Martin Tevaseu] played pretty well. [Cornerback] Brian Jackson is another one, absolutely he played really well. [Safety] Emanuel Cook had the pick so he played pretty well also."
Kroul deserves the credit from Ryan after posting a team-high six tackles, two sacks and two tackles for a loss. On his first sack, he forced Vick out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage and then later he shot the gap for a big sack on Mike Kafka. Kroul and the defensive line were in Kafka's face all night and helped cause Cook's interception. Cook came across the middle to grab the errant pass, which set the Jets up at the Eagles' 15 for their first touchdown.
"I was thinking touchdown," said Cook, who had four tackles and another pass defense in the game. "I wanted to run it all the way back. It was a great play, but the pressure really got me that interception, I was just right there to make the play."
While the secondary did its part, it was the line that put its stamp on the game in the closing minutes. DE Vernon Gholston has had a solid preseason and has been applauded by Ryan for his development. On the last play Thursday, Gholston got around the edge and pummeled Kafka for a sack.
"It was cool," said Gholston, who had another QB hit and three tackles. "That's what it's all about when you're in that situation. Two-minute, trying to go out there and end the game, it's huge for our team. Obviously when you can end a game on a play like that, it's big for the defense and the team."
Together, the Jets' defense was enough to create a 15-minute edge in time of possession. When a team can get an entire quarter more of time with the football, it's a good sign that team will win.
Jackson and cornerback Marquice Cole both had solid coverage all night. Jackson, the undrafted free agent from Oklahoma, had three PDs and also forced and recovered a fumble in the second half.
"I feel like everybody went out there and played great," Jackson said. "Since it's the last preseason game, everybody is trying to get a spot on the team, everybody is trying to make the roster. And if you just give everything you have, good things happen to you. It's up to the coaches now."
Cole, a veteran reserve on the Jets who has provided Jackson and the other younger players with guidance, had a pass defense and two tackles, along with blanketing receivers in coverage all night as Kafka completed only nine of 27 for 76 yards. After the game, he summed up the mentality of the entire defense in their hope to atone for their performance against the Giants.
"We knew the starters weren't going to play," Cole said. "Earlier in the preseason the twos went out and laid an egg, basically, so we wanted to come out and make plays and I think we did a good job of that."