For a while in this first month and a half of the season, it looked as if a great second half of defense might not be enough to overcome a slow team start and lead the Jets to repeatable victories.
This week, it seems as if the Jets' second half is no longer the exception but the rule. As in how they ruled Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles in the final 30 minutes of one of the most exciting second halves in franchise history.
"This just builds confidence," MLB and captain C.J. Mosley said about the Jets improbable, impossible, inspirational 20-14 win over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles after falling into an early 14-3 hole. "My message for the team was that for the players here in '21 [33-18 home loss to Philly], this game was personal. Also, this is a Super Bowl-contending team, legit, great players and coaches. And we were down a few people.
"But we didn't let that affect us. We played off each other well. When the offense struggled a little bit, the defense came in and gave them the ball back. When the defense struggled, the offense came in and put some points on the board. And we are where we're at."
Where the Jets are at as they head into their bye week is back in the NFL spotlight that they were supposed to bask in all season, except for QB Aaron Rodgers' opening-night Achilles injury. They heard a lot of the clamor from outside sources after that but somehow filtered the bad vibes down to a whisper and spoke about the things they believed they could do — beginning perhaps with three consecutive games against Super Bowl QBs and top-three vote-getters for the 2022 NFL MVP named Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts.
They lost a field goal game to Mahomes' Chiefs, then went to Denver to beat Wilson's Broncos. And Sunday they brought the late pain for Hurts and the Eagles. With another monster second half.
"Outstanding, per the usual," head coach Robert Saleh said of his D after guiding the Jets to their first win in 13 all-time games against their friendly foes from the City of Brotherly Shove. "Through these first six weeks, we've played a gauntlet of quarterbacks. I know we haven't won them all, but we've embarrassed all of them. I'm just really, really proud of the defense and their resolve."
The corner situation was one that ratcheted up the noise Sunday morning and afternoon as Jets fans prepared to cheer their side on against the 5-0 Eagles. With starting CBs Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed both inactive with concussions and Brandin Echols (hamstring) sidelined again, thoughts tended toward how the secondary and defense could possibly cope against the likes of Hurts — Saleh: "He's a handful — A.J. Brown and the NFL's No. 2-ranked offense.
But part of the Jets' secret was their new-found turnover powers. After two picks vs. KC and three fumble recoveries at Denver, they raised the ante again with four TAs and a plus-4 turnover margin against a Philly franchise that they had not only never beaten but never once posted a positive TO margin against in any of those 12 losses.
The takeaway artists were the Williams brothers, Quinnen with his first pro interception and Quincy with a fumble recovery, then the late, energizing INT returns by CB Bryce Hall in his second straight strong start and S Tony Adams to set up what would become the game-winning touchdown with 1:46 to play. All takeaways came within 5 yards of midfield. And the last time the Jets had mounted a plus-4 game came back in 2015.
See postgame photos from Sunday's 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Then there was the first half/second half dichotomy. The TOs had something to do with that. So did that pride and performance that the Jets defenders talked about afterwards.
"Let me just say this defensive mindset on this team, we don't care about outside noise," said LB/edge rusher Jermaine Johnson, one of the D's stars of the game with three pass defenses, two coming on interceptions. "We know we started out slow in previous weeks. It was important for us to stand our ground. I'm just proud of these guys and the way they performed."
The comparison between the defense's first and last 30-minute sessions is crazy to consider: Over the last three games, against the aforementioned three title-game QBs, here's how their halves shook out vs. the Jets:
|Last 3 Games||Yards||Points||3D Convs||Sacks||QB Rating|
"It means a lot just to go against a team like the Eagles, who lost in the Super Bowl last year," Quinnen Williams said. "They've got a great team, a great quarterback, great receivers out there, a great offensive line, a great defense. We know we have a great team, also. We aspire to become champions and be in the playoffs, things like that. Going out and executing on all cylinders is an amazing thing to do."
Especially when the day started so unpromisingly, with Hurts and the Birds mounting a seemingly endless drive (19 plays, 81 yards, 9:47) to Hurts' opening-drive touchdown and a 7-0 lead. But similar to the Broncos, after the Eagles scored on their third drive for that 14-3 edge, they went scoreless, lost all four of their turnovers, punted twice and lost the ball on downs to seal the Jets win when S Jordan Whitehead swatted away Hurts' half-field prayer and the offense knelt twice in the hard-fought, well-earned victory formation.
Adams also missed a game early but has been back in action. He and Michael Carter II were two of the healthy DBs who were asked to double up on positions to help confuse Hurts and the Philly offense, and it seemed to work, especially on Adams' theft and 45-yard return to the Eagles 8 to set up the Jets' only TD of the game.
"My coach, Brick [DC Jeff Ulbrich] told me to show like I'm blitzing because a lot of the game we were blitzing 'em," Adams said. "They told me to show blitz, and then I dropped back in my zone. I knew the ball was there and I just had to catch it."
Adams, like Bryce Hall the week before, got a Saturday night speaking engagement along with Whitehead before his mates at the team meeting. His message was simple, something all his defenders know all about.
"I said we've got to stand on business," Adams said. "We did what we were supposed to do. We played to the standard."