With apologies to noted Jets fan Chris Berman, secondary coach Jerome Henderson could wear the swami's turban this week. With one of his test questions to his DBs during the previous week, he predicted the group's major contribution to Sunday's 26-17 triumph at Buffalo.
All except the touchdown.
"We give out tests each week," head coach Eric Mangini said at today's news conference. "They're not all straight football questions. Some of them let the guys show their personality. One of the questions was 'If we pick a ball off and go 99 yards, who's the most likely to do the following?' "
There were a series of options, one for each of the Jets' DBs. And for the guy everyone picked to not complete the 99-yard return was Abram Elam.
"I fell in that hole," Elam admitted on a conference call with Jets reporters after his coach spoke. "But when I got to the sideline I had to let them know that there was no stopping me once I got the ball in my hands."
Elam didn't go 99 yards. He went 92. And he was almost caught by Bills RB Marshawn Lynch, who was in hot pursuit. But he wasn't. He tumbled into the distant end zone with Lynch, who was slowed perhaps just that pivotal nanosecond by Drew Coleman's hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, I was running as if I was going to make it," he said immediately after the game. "I think the hardest part was just capping it off."
The easiest part for the third-year safety, who got the start because Eric Smith was sidelined from his concussion, was bouncing up with the ball still in his hands, accepting congratulations from Coleman and his teammates, and then heading for the sideline, a man on a mission.
"Justin Miller was my first culprit I had to address, and Coach Henderson as well," he said. "Those were the ones that were cracking smiles during the meeting on Saturday night."
It's been a roller-coaster ride for Elam since he was waived by Dallas at the 2007 final cuts and signed on with the Jets 10 days later. He was inactive for two games in '07, played in the next three, then started eight of the last 10. But even though he started only one game, vs. Cincinnati, before Sunday, he's maintained his team-first approach.
And he supplied a major, perhaps an essential, jolt to the Jets as their defense, offense and teams sought their best complementary game of the year to hold off the Bills. On third-and-goal at the Jets 14, Trent Edwards dropped back and sought out his speedy WR, Roscoe Parrish. But a combination of Parrish slipping and Kris Jenkins about to collapse on his pocket forced Edwards to hurry the throw — right into double coverage.
"Roscoe fell down and Abe was able to jump up and take the ball," Mangini said. "Sometimes the tendency can be to panic when you see all that sideline, but he did a good job of catching the ball first, focusing on that, and then running as fast as he possibly could."
For historical purposes, the 92-yard INT-return score was the longest by a Jet since Marcus Coleman went 98 yards to help beat the Dolphins at Miami in 1999. It was also tied for the fourth-longest in franchise history and tied for the second longest by a safety, behind only Darrol Ray's 98-yarder at Cincinnati in the 1983 Super Bowl Tournament.
For game purposes, it turned at least a 10-6 Bills into a 13-7 Jets edge as the quarter ran out. The game had its ebbs and flows from there, but it's significant that Elam's return gave the Green & White a lead they would never lose.
Mangini has said that the decision to start Smith this season wasn't a function of Elam struggling but of Smith playing well, but that he's comfortable with either man in the lineup. And he's shown, at safety this year as he did at right cornerback in 2006 and '07, that he'll start a different player each week if he and his staff feel that's the best way to help the team win.
Elam is OK with that approach. He was asked how he answered that questionnaire entry. Who did he pick as the teammate who wouldn't finish the 99-yard play?
"I didn't answer that question," he said. "We laughed about it. I couldn't pinpoint one guy because I thought that if any one of us gets our hands on the ball, then we would be able to take it the distance."
Elam showed at Buffalo he's fast enough to get the job done.