The New York Jets had a lot of bright moments Sunday, but the crosstown Giants were better under the sun. When the clouds disappeared at the Meadowlands in the second half, Big Blue found its way to complete a 35-24 comeback victory. Despite scoring on offense, defense and special teams, the Green & White fell to 1-4 on the season.
Kerry Rhodes struck early, Brad Smith reached the end zone for the first time and Leon Washington entered the record book. They all scored, but despite the game effort, the Giants made more plays with the game on the line.
The Giants never had a lead until Plaxico Burress scored on a 53-yard jaunt up the left sideline midway through the final quarter. He took a short pass from Eli Manning, laid a stiffarm on CB Andre Dyson and took it to the house, giving the hosts a 28-24 advantage.
"I came out to try to make a tackle. I figured I had a good angle — I had the sideline for help. He made a good play," Dyson said. "He used his arms to shove me off and tight-roped the sideline and stayed in and they scored. It was the big play in the game and if I could take it back, I would. But you can't, so you kind of learn from it and move on."
Chad Pennington and the Jets never had an answer. Pennington's third interception was returned by rookie corner Aaron Ross for a touchdown. Pennington, who has thrown five interceptions the past two games, was firing in Jerricho Cotchery's direction on each takeaway. Ross' first pick led to the game-winning 98-yard drive, which culminated in the Burress touchdown.
"We can't be a fourth-quarter team, we can't be a first-quarter team and we can't be a first-half team or a second-half team," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "We've got to string it together."
The Jets were the city's better team in the first half and the Giants' fans let their team know of their disapproval. New York's AFC representative distanced itself with a lightning 10 points to close the second quarter.
A 16-yard scoring pass from Pennington to Brad Smith not only gave Smith his first professional touchdown but it also gave the Jets a 14-7 advantage. That culminated a nine-play, 93-yard drive that took only 1:46 and included an instant highlight from Laveranues Coles. He got to the ball at the top of its flight and left veteran CB Sam Madison only to watch helplessly at the Herculean efforts, gaining 21 yards on an all-important third down.
In a somewhat puzzling move, the Giants came out throwing with 28 seconds on the second-quarter clock. Manning, who posted a 0.0 passer rating in the first half in going 3-for-10, locked in on Amani Toomer. Jonathan Vilma saw it coming and collected the visitors' second takeaway. Seconds later, Mike Nugent booted a 47-yard field goal.
Things got tight in the third. Brandon Jacobs, appearing in his first action since Week 1, attempted to redeem himself for an earlier turnover. His 19-yard gallop made it a field goal game, but Washington decided to stretch it back to 10 with a 98-yard kickoff return. It was Washington's second kickoff return for a touchdown, tying the franchise mark for most in a season with 11 games still remaining.
"Coach Westhoff did a good job of drawing it up for us," Washington said. "That's a part of the game we have been able to execute so far this season. With a return like that, you try to hopefully get the momentum and put it back on your side. We got it and lost it."
To their credit, the Giants didn't go away. Manning started to heat up and ended the third quarter on a high note, connecting with TE Jeremy Shockey for a 13-yard touchdown.
Rhodes, who has earned the nickname Hollywood from his teammates, gave an Oscar-like performance to set the tone early. The third-year safety ripped the ball out of Jacobs' hands, recovered the fumble and ran 11 yards untouched into the end zone.
"It was a big play at the time," Rhodes said. "We work on it every day in practice. The opportunity was there and I was able to capitalize. It got us off to a good start."
Then the Jets put together a good-looking drive, which would eventually stall at the Giants' 24. Nugent came on for a 42-yard field goal attempt but the ball sailed left. With a little wind under their sails, Big Blue recovered to tie it. Derrick Ward, a seventh-round pick of the Green & White in 2004, hammered his way home from 8 yards out and there were 7s aside in the second stanza.
The city foes received quality defensive play before intermission. Madison, a former Dolphin and no stranger to the Jets, deftly jumped in front of Cotchery and picked off Pennington. That prevented an opportunity for points but the Jets returned the favor, moving the Giants out of field goal range when OLB Victor Hobson forced Manning into an intentional grounding penalty.
"The first interception, we did a good job of bouncing back from that one, but the next two just ruin the whole day when you saw a lot of improvement across the board," Pennington said. "I saw improvement in me as a quarterback with being able to make some throws down the field and stepping up with confidence and making some good throws. Then two plays just ruined that whole thing. That is probably the most disappointing thing."
After Pennington's third and final turnover, both LB Eric Barton and DT Dewayne Robertson gave him encouraging slaps. The Jets came oh-so-close but a 10-point second-half lead got away and so did bragging rights.
"We have dug a hole for ourselves," said Laveranues Coles, an offensive captain who was brilliant once again with eight catches for 89 yards. "The main thing is just guys sticking together, supporting each other and trying to find ways to boost the morale around."
The Giants racked up 12 sacks last week against the Eagles but they were held to just one Sunday. The Jets' O-line, matched up with one of the better pass-rush fronts in football, performed admirably in defeat.
"I think we protected Chad really good today," said RT Anthony Clement, who found himself opposite DE Michael Strahan. "That's what I saw. Hopefully, that's what it is on tape when I see it tomorrow."
Rush DiscrepancyLed by Brandon Jacobs' 100 yards, the Giants amassed 188 yards on the ground. The Jets only had 55 on the day. Thomas Jones was the club's leading rusher, carrying 13 times for 36 yards.
After a 49-yard Ben Graham punt, Brad Smith tripped up R.W. McQuarters for a 5-yard gain. It was another solid play from the versatile role player who lined up all over the field and got his first professional TD. Smith hauled in three receptions for 44 yards.
Eric Smith made his first professional start and made an immediate impact. Smith, in the lineup for Erik Coleman (concussion), broke well on a Manning pass intended for Jeremy Shockey. According to pressbox statistics, Smith had seven tackles (two solo).
Dialing Washington Direct
The Jets fooled the Giants and most of their fans with a Brian Schottenheimer special. Pennington walked down the right side of the line and appeared to be barking instructions. That's when C Nick Mangold snapped the ball back to Washington. The quick back sprinted left for a 10-yard gain, converting a third-and-4 play.