Who would have thought that after three weeks of the season the team in undisputed possession of first place in the AFC East would be the undefeated ... Buffalo Bills?
That is exactly the case tonight as the Jets lost their first game of the season, falling from ahead to suffer a 34-24 defeat at noisy Oakland in the Raiders' home opener, roughly three hours after the Bills came back from a 21-0 deficit to rough up the Patriots, 34-31, and also improve to 3-0 and drop the Pats to 2-1.
The Jets lost today despite amassing 439 yards of offense, including a career-high 369-yard day from Mark Sanchez and 154 yards (116 receiving and 38 rushing) from LaDainian Tomlinson. But it was an uncharacteristic Sunday for a defense that allowed 234 yards on the ground as Darren McFadden had a fabulous day at the Black Hole, racing for 171 yards and two TDs.
"You have to give the Raiders a ton of credit — they played a great game today. On both sides of the ball, I thought they played really well," said head coach Rex Ryan. "Obviously McFadden had a huge game. They made plays, we didn't. It starts with me. You have to dig down deep, you have to look at yourself."
The turning point in the game that was played evenly through most of three quarters was some Silver & Black trickery. McFadden, who scored on short and long TD runs in the first half, got the halfback option call late in the third, saw no one open — primarily his intended receiver, QB Jason Campbell, on a passback — so he tucked the ball and ran 27 yards to the Jets 23.
On the next play, Denarius Moore took a reverse toward the same side as McFadden's conquest, outran a Jamaal Westerman tackle try, ran inside of Bart Scott, leaped as he was hit by Darrelle Revis inside the 5 and extended the ball over the goal line just before he landed for the 23-yard score and a 24-17 Oakland lead with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
Then on the *next *play, Antonio Cromartie tried to field Sebastian Janikowski's kickoff at the goal line. But it was a hard, low line drive and Cro kicked it as he tried to catch and run. Then he fumbled with the Raiders recovering. In short order, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Michael Bush ran up through the middle of the Jets' defense for the 1-yard touchdown that made it 31-17, Raiders, with 14:58 to play.
"We didn't play to our identity. They outplayed us," said CB Darrelle Revis. "The plays they made, you don't usually see that from us."
Sanchez rallied the Jets for a 93-yard drive that culiminated with a 16-yard TD pass to Plaxico Burress in single coverage with 5:33 to play, slicing the Raiders' lead to 31-24. But the Silver & Black appeared to ice it with Janikowski's 49-yard field goal with 2:32 to play, giving the hosts a 10-point lead with the Jets having no timeouts left.
The franchise signalcaller battled to the end and at first appeared to score in the final minute to draw the Jets closer at 34-30, but his 2-yard keeper on fourth down was taken off the board when it was ruled by replay officials that his knee was down before the ball crossed the goal line.
"I think we all had our hand in this," Sanchez, who played for the first time as a pro without Nick Mangold as his center, said of the outcome. "I don't think there is one side of the ball to blame."
It's a shame the Jets' game finished the way it did because the day started out very promising, thanks to the hot first-half receiving combination: Sanchez to Tomlinson.
It's not that Tomlinson wasn't up to it — "third-down back" is one of his roles this year, after all. But the ageless future Hall of Fame RB came up with a couple of outstanding LT highlight-reel-type plays: a 74-yard catch-and-run to set up Sanchez's first-quarter keeper, and an 18-yard grab for the TD to put the Jets on top, 14-7, in the second.
That score gave Tomlinson one more distinction. He became the third player in NFL history to reach 160 touchdowns, joining Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice in that exclusive club.
The Jets certainly missed Mangold, who stayed home with his high ankle sprain and had streaks of 82 consecutive starts and 89 starts including playoffs snapped by his injury. With free agent rookie Colin Baxter making his first pro start, the Jets' line didn't appear to miss Mangold in the first half, but Sanchez was sacked four times in about 16 minutes of second-half clock time as the Raiders grabbed the game's momentum in front of their raucous fans.
Back-and-Forth First Half
Ryan and the Jets returned to their pre-Jacksonville ways as they won the opening coin toss and chose to defer their decision on receiving until the second half. That gave the Raiders the ball and they treated their loud, not-quite-a-sellout home-opening crowd to an opening-drive treat, moving out of the no-huddle to Darren McFadden's 2-yard touchdown run on five plays covering 76 yards. Twenty-five of those yards came on Cromartie's interference call against Moore, the rookie WR.
Sanchez came out firing with completions to Burress and Dustin Keller on the Jets' first two drives, but the series stalled at the Raiders 40. T.J. Conley's nifty drop punt was fair-caught by Moore at the Oakland 8. With strong minus plays on the first two downs, the defense pitched its first of three consecutive three-and-outs. But then Raiders punter Shane Lechler won the next field position battle, as Jeremy Kerley retreated to field the 57-yard punt and gained only 3 on the return to the Jets 29.
But then the Jets showed they would be in this one for a while. On second-and-14, Sanchez took a one-step drop and threw a dart to Tomlinson, who broke two tackles and was off and running toward the Raiders goal line before being pushed out of bounds by Tyvon Branch at the 1. The 74-yard reception was LT's longest in seven seasons, equaling a career long that he set in 2004. It also was the longest by a Jets RB since Leon Johnson went 82 yards for a TD against the Colts in 1998.
Most important, the play set up Sanchez's bootleg right and drive across the goal line to tie the score at 7 on the seventh rushing game of his young career.
The sevens seemed to be unlucky when Kerley reeled off the first big punt return of his career, a 54-yarder — and Sanchez promptly threw his fourth pick of the season to Branch in the end zone.
But yet another three plays and punt by the visitors' rejuvenated defense got the Jets moving again to the Sanchez-to-Tomlinson TD pass, beating single coverage from LB Quentin Groves. Then came an exchange of field goal attempts, which went better for the Jets than the Raiders.
The Jets opened the lead up to 10 points, shortly after Janikowski, who beat the Jets with a 57-yard field goal in '08, missed from 56 yards out. With Shonn Greene running hard, the visitors moved to the Oakland 3 before the Silver & Black stiffened. On came Nick Folk for a 21-yard field goal that made him 6-for-6 this season and made the Jets 17-7 leaders with 5:03 left in the half.
That set up the Raiders' quick strike offense, not through the air but with McFadden's feet. He knifed through the Jets D, slipped a tackle and outran Cromartie to the end zone for a 70-yard score that cut the lead to 17-14.
"Against a kid like that, you have to set the edges," Ryan said. "He outran us and made some great plays."
And despite a 53-yard net punt by Conley, Oakland moved back into "the Seabass zone." This time Janikowski, again kicking off the skin baseball infield from almost the same spot as his miss, drove through a 54-yarder as time expired in the first half to tie it at 17.
Cromartie (ribs) was taken to Eden Medical Center for further testing after the game but then returned with the team. TE Jeff Cumberland suffered an ankle injury and will have an MRI Monday. ... Kerley's 54-yard first-quarter punt return was the Jets' longest since Santana Moss' 75-yard TD return in the 2004 playoffs. ... McFadden's 70-yard run was the longest vs. the Jets since the Raiders' Charlie Garner went 80 yards for a TD in the 2001 playoffs also at Oakland.
Jets wore white jerseys/white pants for 20th time in regular season and postseason under Rex Ryan. Their record after the loss: 14-6. ... Jets' game captains were Sanchez, Joe McKnight, Garrett McIntyre, Colin Baxter and Patrick Turner. ... The Jets' six inactives besides Mangold were QB Kevin O'Connell, WR Logan Payne, S Emanuel Cook, RB Bilal Powell, Rob Turner and Kenrick Ellis.