The New York Jets raised their record to 4-3 on the season with a 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Rookie running back Leon Washington rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the intra-conference affair as the Jets used an unrelenting ground attack in capturing their second consecutive game.
"We're 4-3 and we're making progress," said first-year Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "I am really pleased with the way we are working. The consistency at practice and the individual preparation is now carrying over into better execution in the games and now it's carrying over into wins."
Entering week seven, the Jets had been outscored by their opponents 35-3 in the first quarter. The Green & White had obviously grown tired of their nominal offensive output early in games, so they went out Sunday and ravaged the Lions in the opening stanza.
Washington, who topped the century mark for the second time as a professional, opened up the scoring on a five-yard run just 2:45 into the game. Washington's five-yard run was the first touchdown of his career and the Jets' first touchdown in the opening quarter in 21 games. The Lions had a squeamish start defensively, collecting two penalties on the Jets' opening drive. Chad Pennington exposed a vulnerable Detroit secondary, firing a textbook play action toss to Jerricho Cotchery for 28 yards. Then the Green & White went to the ground as Kevan Barlow and Washington shared four carries including a 23-yard long gainer by Washington before the touchdown carry.
"I am always confident in my ability," Washington said. "Coach is always stressing to prepare yourself for the situation. When the situation occurs, you have to be ready for it. I had the opportunity to go out there and do something good for the team, and I thank God for it and I'm thankful for it."
Following a defensive stop, the Jets increased their lead to 14-0 on a 44-yard pass from Pennington to Justin McCareins. Using play action again, Pennington went long for McCareins and the six-year receiver made his first reception in five games. Veteran corner Dré Bly was in coverage on the play, but Bly lost the long ball in the air and Pennington had his ninth touchdown pass in '06.
"I think it was important for us because we were going against a really good offense, an explosive offense that could put points up on the board. We needed to get off to a good start," Pennington said. "I was proud of that."
The Lions reversed their languid play in quarter two, making it a one score game on a 22-yard pass from Kitna to wideout Roy Williams. But the ensuing kickoff was returned 56 yards by Justin Miller. Six plays later, Barlow hammered home a score from three yards out and the Jets had a cushion at 21-7. Pennington fooled everyone yet again on the possession, utilizing play-action to go to Cotchery for 23 yards. With the Lions focused on Laveranues Coles, Cotchery caught six balls in the first half for 78 yards.
"Play action is really nice when you are running the ball really well," Pennington said. "You can suck the linebackers up and really get vertical with the secondary, and our guys did a great job of getting open."
Kitna and Pennington both threw interceptions to close the half. Safety Kerry Rhodes made a spectacular pick, leaping over Hofstra product Devale Ellis for a highlight-reel takeaway. The Jets couldn't capitalize though as Pennington threw a high ball behind Chris Baker. Baker tipped the ball and it went right into the hands of Lions defensive back Terrence Holt.
"I got back was able to go up and get it," Rhodes said of his interception. "It was a good play for us; it was a play we needed at the time."
Down 21-7 at half, the Lions were fortunate to be within 14 points. The Jets won the line of scrimmage in the fist half, running for 128 yards and amassing 267 yards of total offense. Washington was particularly impressive behind a sturdy offensive line, running for 74 yards on 10 attempts.
Jason Hanson moved the Lions closer in the third, connecting from 25 yards out. The Lions marched 83 yards, but the Jets tightened up inside their 10 and forced a field goal after Kitna threw high to Williams on third down. Mike Nugent made it a two-touchdown Jets' advantage, drilling a field goal home from 33 yards out.
The game grew even tighter after running back Kevin Jones scored on a nine-yard reception. Detroit dialed up a perfect shovel pass to make it a 24-17 game. But the Jets never lost their grip on the game, responding with a touchdown drive of their own which culminated on a 16-yard Washington run to the end zone. It was a team score as Tim Dwight and Laveranues Coles applied good blocks and rookie left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson got downfield to lead the perimeter blocking.
"We knew exactly what we needed to do," Pennington said of the response. "Kudos to our offensive line; they did such a great job of establishing the running game early and when we needed it the most right there at the last part of the game, they came through for us. That is big because you have to really run the ball against some tough looks and we were able to do that."
"I thought the offense did a really nice job, after Detroit scored, of coming back and putting together another effective drive and answering with points," Mangini added.
Mike Furrey's 18-yard touchdown reception closed the scoring, but it was too little, too late for the visitors. The Green & White fittingly ran out the clock by running the ball down the Lions' throats. The Jets run game totaled 221 yards.
"It's nice to be 4-3 at this point," said veteran offensive lineman Pete Kendall. "We got a couple of wins at home now and we're starting to play better in front of the home crowd. There is a long way to go, so we have to turn our attention to Cleveland and try to get a win on the road in a tough place to play."
Next up for the Jets is a trip to the shores of Lake Erie and a date with the Browns.
Notes:The Jets matched last season's win total with the victory… Chad Pennington reached 10,000 career yards passing in the second quarter… The Jets converted on eight of 12 third down conversions….Jonathan Vilma, who led the team with 11 tackles, opened the second half for the Jets with his first interception of the season. Fellow linebacker Eric Barton was largely responsible for the club's second takeaway, tipping Kitna's ball after reading the quarterbacks' eyes. The Lions have lost their last 53 games in which they have lost the turnover battle…The Jets did a good job on Roy Williams despite the touchdown, holding him to just two receptions… Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson racked up a first quarter sack of Kitna… Brad Smith ran an end-around in quarter one, taking a handoff from Pennington and gaining six yards… NFL Umpire Bill Schuster received treatment from the Lions' medical staff in the third quarter after getting hit by Leon Washington's helmet. The helmet opened up a gash on Schuster's nose and then he was trampled on by a number of players during the tackle… Andre Dyson was banged-up in the fourth quarter and was forced to leave the field. He was replaced by Justin Miller.