Back on Sept. 23, Jets wide receiver Clyde Gates competed against his former team the Miami Dolphins for the first time.
The Jets were winners that day, but Gates finished with no receptions and was only thrown to once, a pass that CB Richard Marshall stepped in front for an interception.
This afternoon at MetLife Stadium, Round 2 against his old squad took place. While the outcome was reversed from the first meeting, Gates put together his best game as a Jet, finishing as the team's top receiver with seven catches for 82 yards and two kickoff returns for 63 yards.
"I felt good, man," Gates said. "I was just going out there playing the game and doing what I was supposed to do when I was asked to. I felt real good about it."
Gates had missed the Jets' previous two games after suffering a left shoulder injury during the 23-17 loss to Houston on Oct. 8. He was thankful to return to the field today and said his preparation never changed throughout the recovery process.
"I prepared as if I was going to play every week, so the only thing I really missed was the game," he said.
Following a strong week of rehab, Gates was ecstatic when he received word from the Jets trainers that he could play.
"I mean, I kept telling them I was ready," Gates said, "but it's their decision, not mine."
Ever since WR Santonio Holmes went down with a season-ending foot injury on Sept. 30, quarterback Mark Sanchez's most efficient receiving target had been Jeremy Kerley. And Kerley was coming off a career performance against New England with seven receptions for 120 yards. But it was clear right away that the Dolphins weren't going to let Kerley have a big day against them. While they were successful in containing Kerley, they struggled to cover Gates.
"I thought he did great, especially against his old team," fellow wide receiver Chaz Schilens said. "He did great and played a great game."
With the Jets trailing, 20-0, at halftime, Gates, filling in for Joe McKnight, who aggravated his ankle injury, provided a spark on the second-half kickoff, returning it 47 yards to give the Green & White excellent field position on their first drive out of the locker room. The impressive return also led to the home team's first points of the game as kicker Nick Folk converted on a 38-yard field goal at the end of the series.
"The guys blocked real well up front, so I just did my part," Gates said of the return. "I hit the hole and the guys held their blocks and I just tried to make a play."
Returning kicks is something No. 19 is familiar with. He spent time doing it during his stint with the Dolphins (34 returns for a 24.8-yard average and a long of 77 yards). And when Round 2 was over, he insisted he wasn't trying to make a statement to Miami's organization for cutting him.
"I was just going out and trying to win the game and playing my role," he said. "I've got a specific role. I have to go out there and play my role. It doesn't mean I have to be extra or superhuman because it's the Dolphins and they had cut me. Nah, I'm just going to go out there and play my game."
As the Jets now enter their bye week, Gates' play was an encouraging sign. He's obviously uncertain if his stellar afternoon will lead to an expanded role in the offense. But from a team perspective, he believes the bye is coming at an ideal time.
"It's always good to get away from football a little bit, you know? Because once you grind for so long, I feel like you learn more and you're more aware once you take a break from something," he said. "You can't just pound it all in, week after week after week. So yeah, it will be good to get away for a little bit."
And when asked what head coach Rex Ryan's message was to the players following the game, Gates described his message as "It is what it is. You win some and you lose some. You keep your head up and your chest out. Don't let it effect you. That's behind us now."
Behind them and hopefully never revisited.