Jaguars QB Blake Bortles talked about treating today's meeting at MetLife Stadium "like a championship game." The Jets' idea was only to try to go 1-0 this week.
The Jets' approach won out. The game started out pretty with two offensive TDs in the first quarter and strong defense against the run and in pass pressure. Then it turned gritty as the Jaguars hung around.
But in the end the Jets, banged up further with a few more injuries, were still sitting with the 28-23 victory that ended their first two-game losing streak under head coach Todd Bowles and lifted them to 5-3. The Jaguars fought hard but were not champions today, dropping to 2-6.
"We won. That was the biggest thing," Bowles said after the game. "It was a good win against a gritty team, and we've got to move on." The next opportunity will come quickly, as the Jets now head into Thursday night's colorful showdown with head coach Rex Ryan's Buffalo Bills at MetLife.
Here are 10 observations on today's Salute to Service triumph:
1. Cro Turns on the Jets
Antonio Cromartie has returned kickoffs over the years, and today it was time for him to do it again. He sped with the kickoff after the Jags' first-drive field goal from left around to the right sideline for 54 yards to set up the Jets' first scoring drive. It was the Green & White's longest return this season and Cro's longest since his rookie year of 2006 as a Charger.
2. A Clockwork Red Zone
Ryan Fitzpatrick needed a target today, with Brandon Marshall hobbling on ankle/toe injuries, and he found one in Eric Decker. A 25-yard Fitz-Deck connection set them up for their sixth red zone TD pass of the year, a 7-yarder off a Fitz roll right and a Decker route adjustment, that put the Jets on top, 7-3.
3. Lorenzo Erupts
Rookie LB Lorenzo Mauldin provided some proof of his growth process by being in on three Bortles sacks, all on third down. The first two were split sacks, with the first forcing the Jaguars to settle for a Jason Myers field goal and the second pushing the Jags out of FG range early in the second. And his third — also his first full sack as a pro — came early in the third frame and forced another punt.
"I told myself before today that I was long overdue," Mauldin said after being a pivotal part of the defense's six-sack attack. "It was time to show the coaches and Jets Nation what I've got."
4. Running Bottled Up
Neither side ran the ball well in the first half. For the Jets' awakened run defense, No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed/game, it was back to business as T.J. Yeldon was held to 9 yards on eight carries, although Yeldon got loose in the second half for a 45-yard run.
The Jaguars, No. 1 in yards allowed/carry, also lived up to that status by holding Chris Ivory to 14 yards on 12 carries at the half and 26 on 23 for the game. At least Ivory got free for a 9-yard end run that set up his sixth TD of the season on third-and-goal from the 1 to make it 14-3 — the Jets' largest first-quarter lead in 12 games all-time vs. Jacksonville.
5. Kicking Issues
We might have thought we put them behind us after Ryan Quigley's shin injury at New England. But Nick Folk came up with a quad injury in warmups that prevented him from kicking, so he and Quigley switched places. Folk held and Quigley did all the placekicking and punting. The kicking wasn't bad (4-for-4 PATs, five kickoffs all into the end zone) but Quigley opened the game with a 30-yard punt. Then late in the second quarter...
6. Bad First-Half Ending
Quigley's last punt of the half began an unfortunate series of events for the Jets as his 31-yarder was downed at midfield with 26 seconds to play. Bortles hit Allen Hurns with two passes, 20 yards on the left sideline, then 30 yards on a look-left-then-throw-right as Hurns streaked past Cromartie for the score that made it 14-10, Jets, at halftime.
7. Cumberland Spark
The Jets offense was spinning its wheels and in need of a late-third-quarter jumpstart, and got one when Fitzpatrick found TE Jeff Cumberland for a 44-yard completion to the Jags 17. That powered the hosts to Ivory's reach-over 1-yard touchdown, his second three-foot TD of the game as the Jets opened their lead back to eight at 21-13.
"We scored off that play, so it was definitely a spark," Cumberland said of his longest reception since Atlanta in 2013. "Anytime you get a big play, 44 yards, it's a huge spark in the game. But it was a real team effort today."
8. Big Takes Down the Stretch
It looked perilous for the Green & White as the Jaguars drove from their 10 to the Jets 10 with six minutes to play. But a holding pushed JAX back and then Calvin Pace turned in a huge defensive play, strip-sacking Bortles from behind, then recovering the loose ball at the Jets 34.
"That was a momentum changer," CB Darrelle Revis said. "That was pretty big on Calvin's part."
Next up after a 3-and-out, the Jets needed some help — and Jags punt returner Nick Marshall obliged by muffing Quigley's punt, with Kellen Davis, who had a touchdown catch last week, falling on the loose ball at the JAX 25. That set up Marshall time...
9. Brandon's Big Finish
On third down after the muffed punt, Marshall, quiet most of the day, got past CB Davon House, cradled Fitzpatrick's 20-yard pass just above the plastic grass tops in the end zone, and got the TD (upheld on review) for a 28-16 lead with 2:41 to play. Then after the Jaguars scored quickly to cut it to 28-22, Marshall swallowed up the pop-up onside kick. And for an encore, he recovered Ivory's third-down fumble that rescued the Jets from have to defend a 50-yard drive to a winning TD by the visitors.
Photos from Sunday's Game Against Jacksonville
10. Marcus Magic
CB Marcus Williams, playing all over the secondary as Cromartie (thigh) and S Dion Bailey were nicked during the game, had a strong effort that included a half-sack, a first-quarter INT to set up the Jets' second TD, and a third-down PD. Then he applied the coup de grâce that secured the win with the interception of Bortles throwing out of his end zone with less than a minute left.
"It was a play we needed," said Williams. "We needed to stop them as soon as possible. All those plays were favorite plays for me, but we all made a lot of plays, and we left a lot of plays out there on the field as well."
Now it's hurry-up time to get the corrections in and the aches and pains out for the Bills, who rose to 4-4 with their 33-17 home win over Miami today.