There was one ray of sunshine for the Jets in sunny Jacksonville. Despite a 31-12 loss to the Jaguars last Sunday, the Green & White got back one of their most talented players as safety Marcus Maybe made his 2018 debut.
"It felt really good," Maye said of his return to action. "It was a long process, a long journey. It was frustrating at times because you're on the outside looking in, all offseason just trying to do whatever you can to get it back right. It's a process, but you have to embrace it because if you don't, it can get to you. After all the work in the training room, the pain, the surgery — being back out there Sunday felt like a weight was lifted of my shoulders."
While the defense surrendered 503 yards against the Jags including 388 through the air to Blake Bortles, Maye had a solid afternoon and was in on five tackles.
"He looked good getting his feet wet," said head coach Todd Bowles. "He tackled physical, he was in the right place. He didn't get a whole bunch of action but the plays he had to make, he made."
"It held up pretty well. I flew around and made some tackles," added Maye. "I was in the right positions. The main thing was just getting back out there with my guys and doing what I love to do."
Maye hadn't suited up in a regular season game since the Jets finished their 2017 campaign against the Patriots on New Year's Eve. He injured his ankle in that contest, had offseason surgery and missed all of spring practice. Then after slowly working his way back into the mix in training camp, Maye appeared in the third preseason game against the Giants before dealing with a foot injury that wasn't related to the ankle ailment.
Out of action for the season's first three weeks, the Melbourne, FL native had extra motivation at TIAA Field. He estimates he had a group of supporters that included 40-to-50 family members and friends. Not only were his parents and brother in attendance, but a local community center bussed up north for the two and a half hour ride to see Maye kick off his second season.
"Seeing the smiles on everyone's faces makes you appreciate where you came from and the support system that you have," Maye said. "With your family and the community behind you, it makes you want to keep going and it makes you want to do better. The community motivated me to keep pushing and keep doing what I needed to do to get better on and off the field."
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On the field this week, Maye and the Jets defense will contend with a Broncos offense that is predicated on balance. Quarterback Case Keenum has good weapons at wideout in Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and rookie Courland Sutton, but the Broncos have raised eyebrows with a punishing running game featuring first-year pros Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Denver will bring the NFL's No. 3 ranked rushing offense to MetLife Stadium on Sunday and the Jets will have to swarm to the football.
"There are going to be times when I have to come down and blitz and there are going to be times when I have to play man-to-man and there are going to be times when I play single safety," said Maye of his responsibilities. "Different week means different things, but the way they're running, we're going to need 11 hats on the ball."
With Maye paired with Jamal Adams, the Green & White have one of the most talented young safety duos in the NFL. Maye has liked what he has seen out of Adams early as the latter has already tallied 31 tackles, three pass defenses, two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception.
"There aren't wasted steps," Maye said. "The eye control, the plays that are being made are a lot easier now. Our recognition of formations, quarterbacks and what offenses are trying to do, it continues to get better and better each week. I feel like we're both definitely growing."
Maye and Adams will be happily paired up for a second consecutive Sunday, but they might have to be separated Saturday when Maye's Florida Gators play host to Adams' LSU Tigers.
"We have a friendly bet," said Maye, who tallied five interceptions and 16 pass defenses for the Gators from 2013-16. "I'm going to make him take me to dinner after we win and he's going to have a lot of orange and blue on Monday. We need the boys in Gainesville to get right."
Now that Maye is back in the lineup, the Jets have increased their odds of getting right. Safety Doug Middleton played well in Maye's place, but the latter is just another playmaker on a team that has 10 takeaways. After his return home, Maye knows the Jets have to get right at MetLife Stadium over a three-game stretch that starts Sunday with the Broncos.
"It will be big being at home for three weeks in a row, but we have to get the first one," he said.