The score was 17-13 at halftime, and by the Jets' standards, allowing 13 points and 196 yards through 30 minutes isn't acceptable. After an inspiring speech from defensive end Shaun Ellis in the locker room, head coach Rex Ryan's defense stepped out onto the Cleveland Browns Stadium field and only allowed seven points and 107 total yards over the game's final 45 minutes in the Jets' 26-20 overtime win over the Browns on Sunday.
"The coaches went out and I just started talking and the guys listened," Ellis said. "We went out and played well in the second half into overtime. We kept fighting.
"I just said let's go out and play for us. It's on us. It's not about the coaches, it's about us as individuals out there, just playing, not pointing fingers."
The 11th-year man out of Tennessee and longest-tenured Jet isn't typically the most vocal man in the locker room. But linebacker Bryan Thomas, in his ninth season as a Jet, has played with Ellis for his entire career, so when his fellow defensive stalwart spoke up, he took it to heart.
"We all felt pretty much what he was saying," Thomas said. "We came out flat in the first half and you just can't do that. We've got to come out of the gate rolling, start fast, finish fast. We made adjustments at halftime and we played better the rest of the game."
In the first two quarters the Browns ran 27 plays for their 196 yards, which churned out to 7.3 yards per play. In the second half, the Green & White defense was stifling in allowing only 3.3 yards per play. After not punting at all in the first half, the Browns punted five times, four times after three-and-outs.
After giving up 60 rushing yards to Peyton Hillis in the first half, the Jets switched up their game plan and Hillis rushed for 22 yards the rest of the game.
"We had to make some adjustments," linebacker Bart Scott said. "They did a great job in moving the football and scripting plays and getting low crosses, and they did a great job, but we made the adjustments in the second half. I think we showed what type of defense we are in the second half and we need to show that in the first half."
While Scott explained the type of tactical changes that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's crew installed at halftime, safety Jim Leonhard said that at its core, the problems the Jets defense faced in the first half were simple: Smashmouth football won the day.
"For what they were doing in the first half, that's all about pride," Leonhard said. "There was no magical tricks or anything like that. They're coming downhill running the football. There's no secret to that, nothing but pride. You just have to step up and do your job, and we ended up getting it done."
With the exception of a 10-play, 59-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes of regulation, the Browns' offense was neutralized in the second half and overtime. A backbreaking fumble by former Jets WR Chansi Stuckey as Cleveland entered field goal range in the extra period was possibly the most important play of the game. Cornerback Drew Coleman stripped the ball and fellow cornerback Antonio Cromartie recovered it on yet another late-game defensive gem for the Jets.
That turnover, combined with a fumble that Leonhard forced and linebacker David Harris recovered in the first half and sacks from Calvin Pace, Jason Taylor and James Ihedigbo all helped the Jets defensive effort. Pace also led the team with seven tackles.
While the Jets D still has room to improve, it was good to see that the unit rose up when it mattered. Ryan knows that the whole crew needs to put up a cohesive effort, but after this weekend his team will be tied atop the AFC.
"With us, we're far from perfect, there's no question about it," Ryan said. "But we're 7-2. We'll take it."