Robert Saleh, like all head coaches in all sports, preaches the team over the player and the collective over the individual. So in some ways it wasn't surprising that the Jets' defense had a similar kind of group slow start as the offense did in the Green & White's season opener at Carolina before picking up speed in the second half and nearly helping pull out an unlikely comeback win.
"I feel we did the best we could," LB and defensive captain C.J. Mosley said after the Jets' 19-14 loss to the Panthers. "As far as just the technique standpoint, there were a few things here and there that collectively, the D-line, linebackers and DBs could've done better."
"We just have to go in and make the corrections and start executing our calls," DL and fellow captain Folorunso Fatukasi said. "We've got some things to fix and some things to build on. You take the things you need, you work on them, you utilize them, you execute. Everybody knows the name of the game in this league is details. Execution is the most important thing. That's how we'll take it and go from there."
In their first three defensive series, the Jets forced a pair of punts and then benefited from a fumble off a collision between QB Sam Darnold and the Panthers fullback that Sheldon Rankins pounced on, ending a drive that had moved 76 yards to the Jets 4.
Then came three scoring drives, when the defense lost Robby Anderson for a long TD strike from Darnold, lost Christian McCaffrey, and lost Darnold on his 5-yard TD keeper that gave the Panthers their 16-0 lead at halftime.
"The first half was a little rough, witha lot of leaked yardage," HC Robert Saleh said. "But we had a great red zone stand where we got the takeaway. And in the second half, I thought they came out and stood up to the challenge. The challenge at halftime was just keep getting our offense the ball, keep giving them opportunities and they'll flip it. I thought the guys showed resolve. I thought Brick [DC Jeff Ulbrich] did a great job with his halftime adjustments. And I thought the offense responded and made a game out of it."
The half stats backed up the coach's observations. In the first half the Jets yielded 272 yards at 8.5 yards/play, 12 first downs and the three scoring drives. In the second half the Panthers were held to 109 yards at 3.5 yards/ pay, six first downs, and one field goal drive.
The only Panther they didn't rein in well was Christian McCaffrey, the elusive running back who was shot from a cannon Sunder after missing 13 games last year due to multiple injuries. McCaffrey ran 21 times for 98 yards and had nine receptions for 89 yards. His 187 scrimmage yards were the most by an opposing RB since the Jets yielded 200 yards to Carlos Hyde in 2016. Interestingly, though, the Jets survived that Hyde-ing to beat the 49ers, 23-17, in overtime. And they nearly survived McCaffrey five years later.
"Overall, for a young group, I felt like we did pretty well in the pass and the run game," Mosley said. "Once we put on the tape tomorrow, we're really going to hunker down and see how we can get better, because we have a division game coming next week [vs. New England in the Jets' home opener]. That's definitely going to be big. There's a lot of improvement and a lot of learning we can do from this week in practice and preparation and from the game results."
As for Mosley's personal situation, this game was every bit as significant as it was for Wilson in his first pro game and Saleh and his coaches in their first games running an NFL team. After playing in parts of only two games due to injury in 2019, he opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns. So this game was only his third in the last three seasons.
"I loved every second of it," Mosley said, even seemingly enjoying some fourth-quarter cramping that sent him from the game for some plays. "I was just happy to be out there, happy to have that 'C' on my chest, happy to be out there leading the defense, happy to be running around doing what I love.
"It wasn't the results that we wanted as a unit or as a defense, but it was the first game, we've got a lot to improve and we've got to get ready for next week."
See Best Images from the First Game of the 2021 Season