The 43rd Jets-Giants preseason game had to be a good one. Its start was delayed twice (albeit by a hurricane) until it was the last game of the NFL's third preseason week. The prize at the end of the game, for the first time, was a trophy and money — the MetLife Bowl and $50,000 in charity donations).
It wasn't the Monday Night Football game, but it was a Monday night game, and it appeared that the primetime stage was set for a Jets offensive breakout. Former Giant Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason were finally united on the field in a game. Shonn Greene was back from his case of funky foot. The offensive line was whole again with Brandon Moore returning to the quintet.
But that's not the script used tonight. It was a defensive battle through the first three quarters. For the Giants "D," it was a matter of wrapping up the Jets frustratingly tight — for all except the last drive of the first half. For the Jets defenders, it was a case of bending but not breaking, by the "ones" in the first half and then by the "twos" in the third quarter.
The end result was that the Jets prevailed, 14-3, improving their summer record against the Giants to 23-19-1. The rematch will be the more significant Christmas Eve rematch between the Green & White and Big Blue, with that game the Jets' home game at MetLife Stadium.
"All right, the thing looks good. I'm glad we got it," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said as he beamed at the bronze MetLife Bowl featuring the company's iconic Snoopy on the top. "I don't know if any tickets are available to that Dec. 24 game. I think we just sold 'em. It was a typical Jets-Giants slugfest, two good teams going at it. Obviously it's preseason but it was great competition."
The competition began on the game's first possession as the Jets effectively blitzed on their side of the 50. LB Bart Scott, rested after playing only one snap in the first two games, blitzed twice to force Eli Manning incompletions. Then David Harris blitzed on second down from the Jets 27 and Manning fired a pass past Victor Cruz and into Jim Leonhard's breadbasket.
In the second frame, Manning, under a backside blitz, threw up a pass that Harris picked off. Although the defending Jets MVP stepped out of bounds on his return, the Green & White had their best field position of the night to that point and took their first reps in Big Blue territory. Later in the quarter, Manning drove the Giants to the Jets 13 before Scott's run blitz dropped Bradshaw for a 3-yard loss and Eric Smith's PD on TE Travis Beckum forced the hosts to settle for Lloyd's 34-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
"David had a couple of big hits," Ryan said. "That's what he can bring to the table."
That wasn't to say that Ryan was pleased with all the developments for the visiting team playing in their home stadium. On offense, he said, "Obviously we were struggling to say the least at first. It picked up and we finished the deal at the end of the first half. Games are going to happen like that when you go against a good defense."
The best that the first offense propelled the pigskin was a relatively short 35-yard drive. But that came at the end of a 68-yard Antonio Cromartie kickoff return and concluded with the otherwise quiet Mark Sanchez hooking up with Holmes, the one wideout he worked with extensively last season, off play action for the game's first TD.
"It's possible I'll get a little more [returns] with Brad Smith gone," said Cromartie. "The reason I bobbled the ball was that I already saw the hole I was wanting to go through. When I picked up the ball and looked up, the hole got even bigger. I figured it was preseason. Give it a chance and see what happens."
The first offense got one series in the third quarter. Sanchez finished with 8-for-16 passing for 64 yards and with one TD on seven possessions (giving him three TDs and two FGs on 16 preseason drives in all).
"I think they did a good job batting down a ball, I missed Plax on a slant early, and we didn't get off to our fastest start on third down," said Sanchez, who finished 8-for-16 for 64 yards passing. "But I think it's a tribute to their defense playing well. With the game plan you have specific third-down callas that we really liked and felt comfortable with and we repped, so we're kind of shooting from the hip here in the preseason."
The first defense, on the other hand, was one (half) and done. But the second "D" — against the Giants starters — distinguished itself with a pair of red zone stops. The first was a true goal-line stand, as LB Josh Mauga up front and S Brodney Pool from behind stoned ex-Jets draft pick Danny Ware for no gain on fourth-and-a-foot. (Ware was playing because RB Brandon Jacobs and Jets first-round DE Mo Wilkerson were both ejected for exchanging punches.)
The next success for the seconds-in-command came on the next drive, with QB David Carr and Big Blue's second offense in the game. They drove to the Jets 13 before undrafted free agent LB Nick Bellore, unblocked, came barreling up the gut to sack Carr for 11 yards.
"That was kind of a lucky play there. You've got to take those," said Bellore. "But I felt good. I felt like I was overdue for making plays out there."
That play was particularly big because it forced kicker Rhys Lloyd to set up for a 42-yard field goal to cut it to one point. But Jarron Gilbert had other ideas. The third-year DT blocked the try, becoming the first Jet to snuff a field goal since then-rookie John Abraham rejected a much younger Matt Stover at Baltimore in the summer of 2000.
From there the Jets, led by rookie Greg McElroy, began a march at their 32 and ended it nine plays later when rookie RB Bilal Powell, cutting back behind a big sealing block by transformed RG Matt Kroul, scored his first pro touchdown, from a yard out, to make it 14-3 with 12:10 left in the game.
After a McElroy bootleg TD run was nullified by a hold by rookie WR Courtney Smith in the end zone, the Jets settled for Nick Folk's first field goal try of the night, a 33-yarder that split the uprights to give the visitors a 17-3 lead with 4:07 to play.
Burress was not the only Jets gameday captain, but he was the only Jet to represent the team at the opening coin toss. What was he thinking to be so honored by Ryan? "Not to lose the toss," Plax said with a chuckle, "but that didn't happen."
Not much else happened on the statistical front as Burress was targeted with four Sanchez passes and had no receptions. But he remained true to his preweek mentality of not putting any additional pressure on having a good night in front of many of his former teammates and fans.
"We just really wanted to get in and get some quality work on both sides," he said. "It was good to get out there in warmups. Everybody was supporting me, wanting me to do well, wishing me good luck. We did some great things while I was over there.
"I think we understand the business part of it — go out there and get some hard work done. And my goal is obviously to win."
Plax's new team did that, hanging up one win to the Giants' loss. As Rex said, that's just a preliminary to the regular-season Christmas Eve battle between the teams. But there are a lot of games between Thursday's preseason finale vs. the Eagles and that December game, and in this weird off- and preseason, it's hard to know for sure how ready each team will be when the regular-season lights come.
But CB Darrelle Revis was confident. He was asked about the defense but he gave the answer that all the Jets were giving around their home locker room on this visiting-team night.
"I think overall we played OK. We're going to correct some things and be ready to go," Revis said. "Yeah, we'll be ready for Dallas."
Scott led the defense with eight tackles, while Harris had seven and his INT. ... Leonhard got his team-leading second pick of the preseason. ... CB Kyle Wilson got his first full pro sack, of a scrambling Manning, on the final play of the first half.
Another rookie, Jeremy Kerley, saw a bit of action in the Jets' new version of the Wildcat/Seminole called the "Texas" formation. Kerley had an 18-yard pass completion, two carries for 13 yards and a catch for 6 yards. ... The Giants held big advantages in the halftime stats and finished ahead in yards (327-233) and first downs (21-15), but the Jets led in takeaways (2-1), sacks (2-0) and red zone efficiency (two TDs in three drives to the giants' 0-for-3).
Due to Hurricane Irene, the game had been rescheduled twice, from Saturday 7 p.m. ET kickoff to Saturday 2 p.m., then to Monday 7 p.m. ... This marks the second preseason the Jets and Giants have played on Monday night, after playing no Monday night games in the first 52 meetings (regular-season plus preseason) in the rivalry.