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In Brawl of Defense vs. Defense in Denver, Jets Come Away with the Knockout

DL Sheldon Rankins on the Mile-High Victory: 'We Knew We Had to Step Up for the Offense'


The Jets' defenders had a lot of things to say after their team's latest noteworthy win, by 16-9 at Denver on Sunday. But a lot of what a lot of players said comes down to one thing:

You hear us talking about complementary football every week. Well, this is what it looks like.

"Each and every game's different," D-lineman Sheldon Rankins said. "Some games require offenses to score points, some games require defenses to come up with stops. As a team, we're just showing that no matter who's out there, no matter the circumstances or situation, we're well equipped to be able to win any game."

"As the game goes on, you've just got to roll with the punches," fellow DL John Franklin-Myers said regarding the injuries that the offense had to absorb to put just a few of those points on the Empower Field scoreboard to win this next road game. "The offense did a good job making plays when they needed to make plays. Defensively, we knew we had to step up for the offense. Not all of 'em are going to be blowouts, not all of 'em are going to be pretty. We have to go out there and execute."

There were a lot of little tells that suggested the Jets offense was going to have its hands full with the Broncos' fiery unit, which entered this game as a top-five NFL team in total yards, passing yards and scoring defense. They gave up the long Breece Hall touchdown run halfway through Quarter No. 1, then shut things down to try to help their struggling offense get back on track.

But as JFM said, this one was not just a battle of defenses helping offenses but one of defenses trying to beat defenses.

"Denver does a great job of mixing things up, they have some great players over there," Franklin-Myers said. "We knew going into the game that they were one of the highest-ranked defenses. So we took care of the challenge — our defense against their defense, see who was going to be the best. I'm thankful we had the chance to come out with the win."

Of course, we've heard how the starting quarterbacks really aren't playing each other because they're not on the field at the same time, and the same thing should go for the D's. But sometimes it's hard not to look at things like a superman or a superfan. The Jets, after all, had been shut out the last two times they visited Denver, the only time one opponent has hung up two home goose eggs over the Green & White in their history. Meanwhile, the Jets defense had last allowed single digits to an opponent late in the 2019 season.

But beginning with the 30 points the Jets allowed in their 31-30 squeaker at Cleveland in Game 2, they have reduced the opponents' point total each week, to 27, 20, 17,10 and finally back to Sunday's nine points allowed to the Broncos.

They did it up front, with only one sack of Broncos backup QB Brett Rypien but six hits, including one each on the sack split by Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff and two more for Quinnen Williams, plus the crucial pressure he applied up the middle that led to Lamarcus Joyner's interception, which then led the second of Greg Zuerlein's all-important three field goals.

And they did it on the back end, with the corner pass defense exploits of rookie Sauce Gardner and veteran D.J. Reed that many fans saw first-hand or read about on and elsewhere. But besides Gardner separating WR K.J. Hamler from the Rypien fourth-down end zone pass, it is also remarkable that Gardner for the first time led the Jets in tackles with a nice round 10. The rookie is one of only two Jets DBs since 2000 to record 10-plus tackles and three-plus PDs in a game, the other being Jamal Adams vs.. New England in 2018.

The way the defense was playing had a little bit to do with how head coach Robert Saleh called the game for the Green & White heading down the stretch. What was a shaky one- or four-point lead through three quarters suddenly turned to a seven-point stone wall.

""I just felt like we were really alive in the fourth quarter," Saleh said. "I think we generated two field goals, I felt really good about our defensive game stops, and I felt like we just keep putting up points and that we'd be able to keep them out of the end zone, so credit it as a team win today and it was a good one, too, because that's a good football team over there. Like I've said before, all week, they're inches away, and they got a hell of a defense over there."

As do the Jets. But no one who spoke to reporters from the visitors' Denver locker was too worried about making sure they were getting team credits for the D's rise up the ranks.

"The one thing about us is we're going to prove it each and every week," Rankins said. "We're not worried about where we stand right now or rankings at the end of the day. Whoever's on the schedule has to see us every week. And when we take the field, we've got to make sure we perform up to our level of expectation and do everything to dominate our opponents."

See the best images from the road victory in Denver.

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