2009 Week 3 - Jets vs Titans Photos
After one quarter it looked too sweet to be true.
Then for much of the next two quarters it turned from easy to queasy.
But with the help of two kick coverage takeaways, the Jets, wearing their Titans of New York throwback navy jerseys and gold pants, kept their wildly successful start to the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez chapter of Jets football moving along with a 24-17 Meadowlands triumph over the tough, determined but still winless Tennessee Titans.
"We've played three outstanding football teams and we're 3-0 right here," Ryan said after the Jets won their first three games in a season for only the fourth time in franchise history. "Maybe that says something about us."
Sanchez threw two short touchdown passes after keeping for the first TD during the steady, nearly game-long rain, as the Green & White set up a big interconference matchup with the Saints (also 3-0 after rolling at Buffalo, 27-7) in New Orleans next Sunday.
But the rookie QB with veteran moxie knows he and his teammates were able to overcome some youthful mistakes through the play of their specialists.
"Each week it seems like every phase has their moments in the game," he said. "The special teams were huge. Two big-time plays for this team — that was big for us. We're in this thing together."
The two plays in question were fumble recoveries that set up Sanchez's touchdown passes. The first came immediately after Sanchez opened the scoring with his 14-yard TD run — the longest scoring run by a Jets QB since Richard Todd went 16 yards in the 17-14 win over Miami at the Meadowlands 28 years ago, in 1980.
Immediately, Ryan Mouton committed his first giveaway as Jason Trusnik, off to a fiery start on specials, hit the Titans rookie hard, forced the fumble and fell on the ball at the visitors' 19.
In five plays the Jets opened a 14-0 lead when Sanchez play-faked the handoff to Thomas Jones, who looked for all the world as if he had started his TD leap too soon and was stopped cold — except that TE Ben Hartsock had sneaked off the line for the wide-open 2-yard TD strike, Sanchez's third scoring pass of his rookie season and the first of Hartsock's six-year NFL career.
The second came midway through the third frame, when a Steve Weatherford punt, which had a fine 4.8 seconds of hang time, drove Mouton back as he signaled for a fair catch. He muffed the ball trying to bring it in over his shoulder, and as he tried to recover, Brad Smith barreled down and hit him to free the ball up for Larry Izzo to pounce on it at the Titans 23.
Four plays later, Sanchez hit Jerricho Cotchery for the second time on this drive. This time it was a one-step drop and a dart slant that J-Co snapped up without a hitch for a 6-yard score — his first TD of the still-young season.
"When we came on the field," ST sparkplug Wallace Wright said, "Mike [Westhoff] said we might have to win this game."
"I think going into the game we saw the ball security," said Izzo, referring to Mouton's two muffed punts last week in the loss to the Texans. "That was something we talked about, getting the ball out. It was good to see us execute."
"If the offense and defense are equal," said Ryan Fowler, the former Titans LB the previous two seasons and one of today's game captain, "then special teams can give you that edge. We're the X-factor."
In between those two TD drives off turnovers, the Jets struggled on offense against the very strong Tennessee run defense and on defense, minus injured frontline corners in Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland, as QB Kerry Collins, RB Chris Johnson and the other Titans got their feet back under them after falling behind, 14-0.
In the first quarter, the Jets controlled the ball for a numbing 12:01 and gained 128 yards. Over their next 6½ drives, they lost 6 yards total and the lead. In the second quarter, Sanchez was strip-sacked twice, the first being recovered by Jevon Kearse and leading to RB LenDale White breaking three tackles and barging 5 yards for the visitors' first touchdown. Rob Bironas, despite his sore right ankle, added a field goal right before the half to make it 14-10.
"There's only one way to be and that's frank," Sanchez said about Quarter No. 2. "It was a disaster. I can't put the ball on the floor like that. These guys are too fast and too good. That second quarter was a bigtime letdown."
The slump continued into the first drive of the second half, when Collins completed a 60-yard drive by whistling a 9-yard pass to WR Nate Washington over CB Dwight Lowery's left shoulder as he turned to his right to make it 17-14, Tennessee.
"To watch them go ahead of us, I couldn't believe it," Ryan said. "That usually doesn't happen. But our guys responded."
The drive to the Sanchez-to-Cotchery go-ahead score seemed to reenergize the crowd, not as numerous or as voluble as and a little wetter than last week's New England throng. The defense also jumped to life with three consecutive three-and-outs.
And at the start of the fourth quarter, the Jets struck again, this time for Jay Feely's first field goal of the game — and his 19th consecutive FG success as a Jet — to put the hosts up, 24-17, with 11:36 to play.
The play that positioned Feely for that kick was a beautiful Sanchez go-route that Cotchery gathered in down the right sideline over CB Jason McCourty. The play went for 46 yards to the Titans 14. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, grasping at a straw, challenged the call, but soon referee Mike Carey ruled that Cotchery had both feet in bounds and full possession before going out, giving him his eighth catch of the game for 108 yards.
There was no quit in the Titans, but the Jets weren't going anywhere either. A Sanchez interception that occurred when the ball caromed off Chansi Stuckey and into the hands of safety Chris Hope, giving the visitors exactly that. But then LB David Harris took that hope away when he picked off Collins' underthrow down the middle under heavy blitz pressure.
"We were in Cover-3 on that play," Harris said. "In the first quarter [Collins] threw a ball right by my head in almost the same defense. The second time I was reading his eyes and he threw it right to me."
The tension wasn't over as the Titans, with no timeouts left, kept trying to find a way to the tying touch. But after a Chris Johnson 12-yard run, the Jets applied the pressure. Harris got to Collins on a blitz to make it third-and-23 — "It was a miscommunication on the offensive line," Harris said, "but a sack is a sack and I'll take it."
Then more pressure and a long incompletion made it fourth-and-23 at the visitors' 34 with 1:54 left. One more seven-man rush, one more long incompletion and Sanchez kneeled down for the third game of his three-game career, making him the first rookie QB since the 1970 merger between AFL and NFL to start a season 3-0.
"That's pretty special for me," Sanchez said of that distinction, "but as fast as these wins come, we've got to get rid of them because we've got another bigtime game next week in New Orleans."
The true significance of this win also didn't escape DE Shaun Ellis, the only player in the Jets locker room to have been on hand for three of the Jets' four 3-0 starts (he wasn't born in 1966 but played on the 2000 and 2004 teams).
"Anytime you can get a win in this league, you've got to cherish it. It's hard," Ellis said. "For us to start out 3-0 is a good start, but that's not our focus, it's not our main goal. Our main goal is to be playing in the end. We're just taking it one game at a time. That's what we preach: One game at a time."
This one game wasn't easy. But Big Easy, here come the 3-0 Jets.
Rex in Prime Time
Ryan will be interviewed by Bob Costas at halftime of tonight's Indianapolis-Arizona game on NBC-TV.
Bart Scott led the Jets defense with nine tackles and Eric Smith had a strong game of pressure from his safety position in the sub packages, two PDs and two ST tackles. ... Sanchez finished 17-for-30 for 171 yards and an 81.4 rating. ... Leon Washington had 115 combined yards (46 rushing, 6 receiving, 63 on kickoff returns). ... Jim Leonhard had a 37-yard punt return and three for 51 on the day to give him six for a 15.7-yard average this season. ... The Jets, who had 18 penalties their first two games combined, had three for 25 yards today.
With Lowery at CB for Sheppard and Drew Coleman playing for Strickland at nickel, the pass defense harassed Collins into 15-for-37 passing for 170 yards, two sacks, two INTs and a 41.5 rating. ... Both Titans TDs were red zone scores after the Jets had given up no RZ TDs in the first two games. ... Jets' game captains were RB Thomas Jones, Leonhard, QB Erik Ainge (who started four seasons for the University of Tennessee) and Fowler.