The Jets were looking for a second act for their Sunday night curtain-raising comeback over the Cowboys. And they found it on multiple fronts in Game 2 at MetLife Stadium against Jacksonville.
The Jaguars had been trouble for the Jets in the teams' short history, but today the Jets donned their good-fortune Titans of New York togs and brought the trouble in the first quarter and throughout the second half as they declawed the Jags, 32-3.
The win gave the Jets a 2-0 start to the 2011 season — their second 2-0 start under head coach Rex Ryan and the 10th in their 52-year history. For those of a "Bring It Home" bent, the Jets are 2-0 at their new stadium.
"We talked about getting better at home," Ryan said. "This is our second home win so I feel great about that."
And for those of a sartorially superstitious nature, their record in Titans navy improves to 5-1 overall and 4-1 at home, including the last four in a row.
Today's effort included starring efforts on both sides of the ball. Mark Sanchez got the Jets' 16-game first-quarter TD-less slump over and done with on the first drive of the game — after the Jets won the coin toss and elected to receive — on a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.
"That was huge," said Sanchez, who finished 17-for-24 for 182 yards, of that 65-yard march. "Rex challenged the offense last night in the hotel and he said we're going to take the ball, we're going to receive the ball, which we never do. So he put the challenge on us and we answered the call."
Rookie Muhammad Wilkerson followed the Holmes grab with a sack and a safety to keep the Jets flying out of the gate with a 9-0 lead less than 4½ minutes into the action.
Antonio Cromartie had two interceptions, leading a four-pick effort that chased J-Ville starter Luke McCown from the game after three quarters.
"The defense, we just did a great job of recognizing plays and going out and just playing solid," said Cro. "A lot of stuff we clicked on was play recognition and just going out and attacking."
Attacking TE Dustin Keller was Sanchez's receiver of choice with six receptions for 101 yards and an 11-yard TD in the third quarter. And Nick Folk added three field goals, making him 5-for-5 on the young season.
The Jaguars had won six of nine all-time against the Jets, including the last three in a row, and they game in with an impressive opening-day win at home over Tennessee and Maurice Jones-Drew, a Jet-killer in 2009, hitting on all cylinders. And indeed he had 88 rushing yards and 107 of total offense in this game.
But the Jets defense, with a stop-the-run-first directive from Ryan and coordinator Mike Pettine, kept the electric MJD from doing major damage and had answers for everything else the Jags tried. The visitors from the South, playing without four starters, including top TE Marcedes Lewis, managed 11 first downs and 203 yards from scrimmage as Eric Smith and Josh Mauga added picks and Sione Pouha and Calvin Pace provided solid all-around play.
After three quarters, McCown was replaced by rookie QB Blaine Gabbert, exiting with a 1.8 passer rating that was the third-lowest by a starter vs. the Jets since 1981.
And shortly after, Sanchez gave way to Mark Brunell, who 16 years and one day earlier made the first start of his pro career not far from MetLife for the Jaguars against the Jets in a 27-10 loss.
That's the kind of day it was. And so the Jets finished the home-start phase of their schedule and begin the next work week before they head west for yet another game in Oakland against the Raiders, who were lost to the Bills, 38-35, in a tooth-and-nail battle at Buffalo this afternoon.
"We know how to travel to the West Coast," said Ryan of the trip ahead that begins next Friday. "Really, we are a confident team. We will always be confident, and I see that as a positive, not a negative."
A Different Kind of Start
The first sign that things would be different for the Jets offense today came on the opening coin toss. The Jets won the toss — and elected to receive. That was only the second time under Ryan that the Jets had won a toss and did not defer their decision until the second half.
And they set right to work on ending their first-quarter touchdown-less offense. Sanchez went 5-for-5 passing on the series, including a 33-yarder to TE Dustin Keller, which set up his rocket and Holmes' classic end zone snag for a 17-yard TD.
The play marked an end to the Jets' twin droughts of 16 games and 36 drives without an offensive touchdown in the first quarter, both of which began after their opening TD drive at Buffalo in Game 4 last year. Good riddance.
Not to be outdone, the defense took advantage of bad Jacksonville field position after Folk's kickoff with a third-down sack by Wilkerson of McCown for a safety. It was the first-round rookie's first pro sack, the defense's fourth safety in the last 11 games, and it gave the Green Team a 9-0 lead over the Teal Team less than 4½ minutes into the game.
"It felt great," Wilkerson said. "I really don't focus on telling myself I've got to get a sack. If it comes, it comes. On that play, I anticipated the protection and made my move and I got a sack. Give credit to Coach Pettine for the call, it was a great play by me, and I'm happy I helped out the defense and the whole team."
With Calvin Pace making plays on Maurice Jones-Drew on two plays, followed by Eric Smith's PD on third down, it seemed the Jets defense had dodged another bullet. Only partially — Josh Scobee came on for a 55-yard field goal to trim the hosts' lead to 9-3. It was the longest FG by an opponent at a Jets home game since Miami's Pete Stoyanovich rocked a 59-yarder at the old Meadowlands venue in 1989.
Undeterred, the Jets offense moved into Jaguars territory as Shonn Greene got going for the first time. But the O suffered a reverse of a different kind late in the quarter when C Nick Mangold hobbled off with an ankle injury. Colin Baxter came on at the pivot position for his pro debut and held up well throughout the final three quarters.
"X-rays were good so that's a good start," said Mangold after maneuvering to his locker on crutches following the game. "It got rolled up on. ... I felt like I could give it a go, but it didn't want to agree with me on that. I don't know. We're just playing it safe."
"All things considered, it was not bad," said Baxter, an undrafted true rookie acquired on waivers from San Diego earlier this month. "Obviously there were a few mental errors I have to correct. I'll get those straight. The other team doesn't care if the starting center's gone down. You've just got to go in, play ball, and execute it."
The Jets drive stalled and on came Folk, hero of the opener one week before, to convert from 38 yards and the Green & White had a 12-3 edge.
Sanchez threw two interceptions in the first half. The first one, to CB William Middleton, filling in for injured Derek Cox, didn't hurt. The second, to CB Rashean Mathis, started a Jags drive at their 40 midway through the second frame, but still the Jets defense held as Cromartie answered with his first INT of the season and a 37-yard return.
But it took S Eric Smith's leaping effort for his first pick since Game 3 in 2009 vs. Tennessee (coincidentally named the Titans) to set up a score. That came with 1:20 to play in the half and led to Folk's second field goal, this one from 45 yards out, making him 4-for-4 on the young season and sending the Jets into their MetLife locker room with a 15-3 lead.
Keller's game marked his third career 100-yard receiving performance. ... Greene had 49 yards plus his TD on 16 carries as the Jets ground out 101 rushing yards on 32 carries. ... Cromartie, who almost scored his third career INT-return TD (he was ruled out at the 1-foot line after a booth replay review), wound up with 149 all-purpose yards on five touches — 63 on two INT returns, 85 on two KO returns and 1 yard on an end-around.
The Jets, after having no penalties vs. Dallas, were called for seven penalties for 60 yards vs. Jacksonville. ... Sanchez banged his throwing arm before leaving the game in the fourth quarter. The QB said anytime that happens, "it's always scary, but it's no big deal." ... There was no prognosis from Ryan or Mangold on whether the center will be ready to go for Oakland. Mangold has made 89 consecutive starts, including playoffs.
The only starters with a lower passer rating since 1981 than McCown's 1.8 were Carson Palmer's 1.7 for Cincinnati in the 2009 regular-season finale and Trent Dilfer's 0.0 for Tampa Bay in 1997. ... The Jaguars' four missing starters were Lewis and WR Jason Hill on offense and DE Aaron Kampman and CB Derek Cox on defense. ... Former Jets DBs Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery had quiet games for the Jags. Coleman had three tackles, Lowery one.