Updated, 12:01 a.m. ET
Final preseason games are not pretty affairs under most circumstances, and tonight's finale at MetLife Stadium was typical of the genre for at least one of the teams involved.
The Jets were outgained, out-first-downed and out-possessed by their brethren in green, the Philadelphia Eagles. Most important, they were out-touchdowned and outpointed by the Birds, 24-14, bringing their third season under head coach Rex Ryan to conclusion with a 2-2 record, the same as in Ryan's first two summers at the helm.
"Obviously, it was kind of ... abysmal collectively. But I think individually there were some bright spots," Ryan said about the game and the many roster positions that were in play among the Jets' "twos" and "threes" in this game — rookie DE Muhammad Wilkerson was the only projected regular-season starter who started tonight. "I thought it was good for us, though. It challenged us. I did tell Andy Reid, 'If you're going to play that good, you might just want to play your twos against us in the regular season."
The worst break, hopefully not literally, was to rookie starting QB Greg McElroy's right thumb.
"I just hit it on the back of a helmet, just kind of a follow-through," he said of the injury that KO'd him three minutes into the second quarter. "It's not an uncommon injury. Right at this point I'm not really sure exactly what is. I'm anxious to find out what the answers are tomorrow," when he's set to undergo an MRI on his thumb, which he popped back into place and took one more snap before departing.
"It's football. It happens. I'm just hoping for the best, man."
This had the potential to throw the Jets' QB depth chart into chaos, since Mark Brunell sat out all four preseason games, the last three with a pair of injuries. But as Ryan said, "You'll notice Brunell threw the ball in warmups today. ... He told me even yesterday he could play. I said, 'You're not playing in this game.' " But Brunell will be ready to back up Mark Sanchez for the Sept. 11 season opener against the Cowboys.
As for his No. 3 QB if McElroy is out of commission for a while, Drew Willy "stepped up" and did a nice job filling in for McElroy from that point on. His first pass was his first completion and his first TD throw as a pro, a 14-yard laser to rookie WR Scotty McKnight, who made his first catch as a pro. That made it 7-7 before the Eagles took the lead for good.
There wasn't much to crow about. Willy, under the gun from the Birds' pressure all night, finished 9-for-17 for 109 yards but was sacked three times.
And as Ryan said about the Jets' 24 rushing yards on 16 carries, "We ran for a whopping 1.5 a carry — that's awful." Undrafted free agent WR Dan DePalma led the Jets in rushing with one carry (his end-around on the first play of the second half) for 8 yards. The only other time since 2000 that a Jets leading rusher had that few yards was when Justin McCareins was also 1-for-8 at Denver in the '05 regular season.
But there were those individual flashes. TE Jeff Cumberland had three catches to finish the preseason as the Jets' top receiver (11 catches, 156 yards) and yards-from-scrimmage man. Former Bills first-round pick Aaron Maybin (1.5 sacks) got to 2.5 sacks to edge Garrett McIntyre (2.0) for the summer sack lead. LB Matt Berning (two big hits) and LB Eddie Jones had six tackles plus a forced and recovered fumble on kick coverage.
And CB Ellis Lankster, another ex-Bill who played a lot in this game, dazzled the fans left in the stands when he took an interception of Eagles third-string QB Mike Kafka 67 yards for a touchdown to slice the Jets' deficit to 21-14 with 12:43 to play. It was the Jets' first preseason INT-return TD since Rashad Washington went 99 yards with a pick of the Eagles' Mike McMahon exactly six years ago tonight, Sept. 1, 2005, in Philadelphia.
T.J. Conley celebrated his winning of the punting job with a generally impressive night, averaging 48.1 gross and 42.3 net on eight kicks.
But as Ryan said, there was also disappointment as the Eagles rolled up advantages of 378-117 in yards, 25-8 in first downs and 41:13-18:47 in possession time.
In the short term, Ryan and his staff will have to make 25 roster moves to get their 78-man roster to 53 for opening night, Sept. 11, against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. And even after those "final cuts" that will be made Friday or Saturday, general manager Mike Tannenbaum will no doubt look long and hard at other teams' releases before firming up that active roster and his eight-player practice squad.
Gone with the loss is the Jets' almost-decade-long dominance in this preseason rivalry. The teams met tonight for the 11th consecutive summer in their preseason finale, and the Jets came in having won the last 10 meetings. But that meant nothing in tonight's game in which the Eagles' backups were better than the Jets' backups. And now Ryan & Co. will put the final pieces to the preseason puzzle to decide who should stay and who should go before everything takes a turn for the real a week from Sunday night.
But Rex is nothing if not eternally optimistic about his team and particularly about his front-liners, most of whom rested up tonight for the regular-season long haul.
For instance, CB Kyle Wilson got the start and appeared to get beaten soundly on Philadelphia's first score of the night, Vince Young's 16-yard post route to Hall with 4:54 left in the first quarter. "There was a blown coverage on the touchdown," Ryan said. "It was not Kyle's fault. It sure looked like it was, but it wasn't his fault."
And it really shouldn't be overlooked that many of the players who played the second half of Monday night's Giants game played three quarters or more tonight in one of the shortest spans between two games of any kind in franchise history.
How did McIntyre feel after this one? "Tired comes to mind. Exhausted comes to mind," he said. "Tonight was the most reps I've played in a game since probably high school."
So add it all up and this was an ugly-looking affair. But Ryan dared doubters and upcoming opponents to underestimate his full squad.
"I don't think I have any concerns," he said. "We're always 2-2 in the preseason. 'Same old Jets,' I guess."
And to paraphrase something the coach likes to say, we'll find out the truth of the matter beginning in, oh, about 10 days.
McElroy was 3-for-6 passing for 29 yards before leaving the game. He finished the summer games 36-for-59 (61.0 percent) for 335 yards, two TDs and no INTs for an 87.9 passer rating. ... Jeremy Kerley made some first-half plays and finished the preseason by leading the Jets with 292 all-purpose yards plus 18 more yards on his one completion out of the "Texas" formation. ... Cumberland's three first-half catches were matched by Josh Baker's three in the second half, all from the TE position.
The Eagles' Young, who left with a right hamstring injury on the Eagles' last play of the first half, was 15-for-23 for 193 yards, one TD, no INTs in his appearance for the resting Michael Vick. ... LB Brashton Satele posted a game-leading eight tackles, all solo, after Jamaal Westerman led the first-half defense with five solo stops. ... Jets committed nine penalties to the Birds' two.