The boos rained down on him as Jets linebacker Jason Taylor walked by himself, like a visiting team pitcher coming to the mound from the bullpen. The usual pregame ritual for the New York Jets involves all of their captains walking to midfield to shake hands with the opposition. On Sunday night at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, however, Taylor made the introductions by himself in his return to his former home stadium.
"We had four or five team captains," Taylor said after the Jets' 31-23 victory. "But they wanted me to walk out there by myself and soak in all the boos by myself. I appreciate the gesture by [head coach] Rex [Ryan] and all the other captains. It was a different experience and fun nonetheless."
Taylor played for the division rival Miami Dolphins from 1997-2007 and again last season. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and a three time All-Pro while with the Dolphins, and he is by leaps and bounds the highest active sacks leader in the league. This offseason, however, he was acquired as an unrestricted free agent by the Jets, whose rivalry with the Dolphins has been fierce for decades.
"It was emotional first coming into the stadium," Taylor said. "Doing the whole visitors routine is not familiar to me. But like I said throughout the week, once the game started it was going to be football as usual. Once you get through all the anticipation and emotion at the very beginning, which wasn't that bad, once you get through all that and settle down and play the game, you get comfortable."
It didn't take Taylor long to settle down, considering he sacked Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne for an 8-yard loss on the Dolphins' second drive of the first quarter. That sack gave him 129.5 sacks for his career, which puts him only three sacks behind Leslie O'Neal and Lawrence Taylor, who are tied for eighth place on the NFL career sacks list.
"It was impressive," Ryan said of Taylor's sack move off the right side of the Jets defense. "Usually he gets a strip sack there and everybody around here knows that as well. But what a tremendous player. We wanted him to play about 75 percent of our snaps but obviously with the injury to Calvin Pace we are playing him a lot more than that. The guy is in great shape. The elbow would keep most guys out, but it doesn't affect him. He is just a tough guy, a true professional and a joy to have in our locker room."
Taylor had been nursing an elbow injury that he sustained last week against the New England Patriots, a game in which he did get the late strip sack of Tom Brady. That play essentially sealed the game, but Taylor, who had injured the elbow earlier in the game, reinjured it on the sack.
He was listed him as limited in practice during the week and questionable for Sunday night's game. But he made it clear to Ryan that he would be able to play despite the injury.
Not only did he get that sack which led to a Dolphins punt, but he also made an impression on the Dolphins, letting all his friends and former fans know that he still has plenty in the tank. And he knows he and the Jets made a statement in Miami in putting Jets atop the AFC East standings.
"Ultimately the idea was to make them boo at the end of the game because we won," Taylor said. "This wasn't about one person. I'm not that important. I understand the storyline behind me coming back. But the whole time wasn't about me and my return to Miami. For us in that locker room it's about all 53 guys because you can't do it yourself. Those guys all had my back and we were ready for anything."