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In His Houston Homecoming, RB Austin Walter a 'Spark Plug' for Jets

Run Game Accounts for 157 Yards in Win Over Texans; Complements QB Zach Wilson in His Return as Starter


Among the happiest of the happy Jets after Sunday afternoon's 21-14 win at Houston, snapping a three-game losing streak, was running back Austin Walter.

He was back home in Houston, where he played in high school for Crosby and in college for Rice. Where family members came to watch and where Walter said he even saw people he knew from college and from high school working at NRG Stadium.

Walter contributed 38 yards and a first-half touchdown to the Jets' 157-yard rushing attack -- the most in a game since gaining 206 yards against the Raiders in Game 12 of the 2020 season and the most on the road since amassing 169 yards at Detroit in the 2018 season opener on "Monday Night Football."

"He's a fireplug, a spark plug whatever you want to call it," head coach Robert Saleh said, referring to Walter. "He has great initial quickness and burst. He's a good back. He proved that when he's able to run the ball he can create big plays."

Walter, went undrafted in 2019, signed with San Francisco, but was waived before the start of the season. He then joined the Giants, but only lasted a month. It was on to the XFL, then back to the 49ers before being claimed on waivers by the Green & White (3-8) last May. He rode a rollercoaster after being waived, put on injured reserve, being released, and then added to the practice squad on Oct. 5. He was finally elevated to the game roster on Saturday, after an ankle injury sustained last week sidelined rookie RB Michael Carter.

"I didn't know I would be up until Saturday," Walter, 5-8, 202, said. "At the same time, the way I train have to be ready for the moment. Guys on the practice squad, going from team to team ... when you get an opportunity you have to do everything to last. Today, when the coach kept calling my number, I knew if I want to stay up there, stay in the big dance, I have to make the most of my opportunity. I hope I did that."

The Jets' offense, and rookie QB Zach Wilson (back after missing four games with a knee injury) had a rocky start to the game. Trailing by 14-3 late in the second quarter, the Jets drove 70 yards in 10 plays with Walter slashing in for a TD with 1:16 left in the half. Veteran QB Josh Johnson, 35, ran for the 2-point conversion and the Jets were within 3 points, 14-11, with 30 minutes to play.

"It was inside zone, I could see the defense slanted in," Walter said. "I knew if I hit off guard's block I'd be right there. I wasn't going to be denied, it was going to be my first touchdown. My mom [Diane Walter] said yesterday that she could feel it. I was going to score today. A mother's intuition. Your mother always knows best."

The Green & White dominated the second half, holding Houston scoreless. The stats tell the story: In the third quarter the Jets had the ball for 10:22 compared to the Texans' 4:38; in the fourth quarter the Jets held it for 10:26 to Houston's 4:34.

"Credit to the offense for fighting back, especially in time of possession," said LB C.J. Mosley.

In addition to Walter's impressive performance, Tevin Coleman chipped in with 67 yards on 18 carries and Ty Johnson had 42 yards on only 6 carries, with a dash of 24 yards -- the longest of the game for the Jets. The running game, which entered ranked 29th in the NFL, set the tone for the second half.

"Being in this system for three years, spending time with coach [Kyle] Shanahan in San Francisco I got a feeling for how the offense us supposed to work," Walter said. "This offense relies heavily on the run game, and the run game opens up everything. If you look at the year they [the Niners] went to the super Bowl, 2019, it was run game, run game, run game. You do that and it allows for defense to play less and it allows for clock management. The run game is the foundation of this West Coast offense."

For Walter, the afternoon had special significance, with it, the homecoming brought a lot of emotions, some bittersweet.

"I was getting ready pregame and saw one of my long-time friends, my grandparents, my mom, my stepdad," he said. "A lot of people."

But his dad, Tony Walter, "had the best seat in the house."

"He died in 2017," Walter said. "If he was here he'd have a smile from ear to ear and would be bragging to his friends. He's the one who allowed me to get to this position, I know he's looking down and saying it all paid off. But it was my mom who let me play football when I was 3. I had to go to her first. Without my mom, I wouldn't be standing up here."

Wilson, who passed for a modest 145 yards, hitting on 14-of-24 passes summed it up.

"It's huge," he said. "You see how it opened up everything else. It was awesome how those guys can come through. It's nice when you can have balanced football and help each other on both sides of the ball."

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