There was a little bit of good and a little bit of bad for the Jets, who rested virtually all of their starters for their preseason finale in Philadelphia tonight.
But the one starter they didn't rest, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, made it all come out on the right side of the ledger as his 51-yard touchdown reception from Mark Brunell with 14:17 to play lifted the Jets past the Eagles for the ninth consecutive year, 21-17, at Philadelphia.
Holmes, playing a lot because he'll miss the first four games of the impending regular season due to NFL suspension, got free a few times but really got loose on the second play of the final frame, gliding past CB Geoff Pope for the bomb from Brunell, who reentered the game after Kellen Clemens got in for two third-quarter series, then left with a stinger in his finger.
"Santonio had a great night," said Brunell, who finished with a flourish for 11-for-17 passing for 118 yards and two TDs and a rating of 124.1 for the night. "And I felt good about today. We were able to throw the ball downfield a little bit, so it was good."
Head coach Rex Ryan didn't dispute the goodness, which included a defensive effort that held the Eagles to 12 first downs, 184 yards and three points, but he wasn't happy with the badness he saw.
"There were a lot of positives," said Ryan, who finished 2-2 for the second time as an NFL coach. "But the negatives were still penalties in the red zone and turning the ball over. That's something that has to be addressed. It's just ridiculous."
So ridiculous that up until Holmes broke away for the last catch of his four-catch, 97-yard game, the Jets looked to be in no position to win this game. There was even a historical aspect to their struggles in the first half, provided by Philly rookie safety and Ohio State product Kurt Coleman, who returned a fumble by rookie Joe McKnight 64 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter, then went 8 yards with a fumble by fellow rookie John Conner late in the second quarter.
It marked one of the few times in NFL history that one player scored twice on fumble returns in the same game.
Ryan minced no words in expressing his unhappiness with McKnight, who lost three fumbles in the preseason.
"I was disappointed in him," the coach said. "I don't see how he can make the active roster. I'm very disappointed in him and I told him that." He didn't mean that he was thinking of cutting the fourth-rounder but that the gameday deactivation list beckons until "we have more confidence in him."
The fumbles contributed to a struggling first half for the Jets' second offense. With Mark Sanchez on the sideline in uniform but not wearing pads, the "twos" had eight series and other than the TD didn't get close enough to even give Nick Folk a field goal try.
But there was actually a silver lining of a story to the one TD series. As Ryan promised during the week, Sanchez put on the headset and called several offensive series, including both touchdown passes, as coordinator Brian Schottenheimer stood by. The first TD pass was Brunell's 2-yard soft-toss pass to rookie TE Jeff Cumberland with 8:39 left in the half, cutting the Jets' deficit to 10-7.\
"It was good. It's more difficult than you think," Sanchez said of his playcalling experience. "You feel bad for Schotty now because he has so much pressure to get certain guys the ball, to put in the right formation, the right personnel on the field, certain runs Coach [Bill] Callahan wants to get called. Guys want the ball, so there are so many factors. You've got to stick to what you think and call the plays with confidence.
"It was fun. We got a touchdown drive, which was nice, and a touchdown pass too."
"I threw the passes," Brunell said. "I didn't call the plays, though. Mark did really well. He has a good feel for it for a young guy."
That first TD was a mini-drive set up by S Emanuel Cook's pilfering of Eagles third QB Mike Kafka's overthrow and return to the Birds 15. So give Sanchez the OC just a little bit of the credit for the five-play march to paydirt.
The TD was only the third this preseason by the Jets. It was Brunell's first TD drive in 11 series as a Green & White QB. And it was the first TD by the non-starters after going 25 drives without a TD.
Still, it was the only success of the Brunell offense in the first half. They had eight possessions to produce those seven points.
Clemens came on to direct a 68-yard, 12-play drive to the Jets' second offensive success, capped on a 14-yard second-effort run up the gut by Danny Woodhead, which cut the Eagles' advantage to 17-14 midway through the third quarter. Woodhead, who gained 168 yards from scrimmage in last year's preseason finale vs. the Birds, had 12 carries for 45 yards and a catch for 10 yards.
Who did enough to make the Jets' 53-man roster? "Well, I think Danny Woodhead did, I'll say that right now," Ryan said.
On the game's opening drive, the Jets "D" bent but didn't break against Michael Vick and the Eagles' offensive backups. They traveled 46 yards before Vernon Gholston's pressure forced Vick into an incompletion on third down. On came David Akers, who made it 11-for-11 on his field goal tries this preseason by converting from 29 yards out.
And that was it for the Philadelphia offense for the night. There were several stars for the visitors: DT Matt Kroul had two sacks and a team-leading six tackles, CB Brian Jackson had three pass breakups, and Cook had another PD besides his INT and was active all night.
And Gholston finished the game with a second-down sack of Kafka from the Jets 48, preventing even a Hail Mary attempt.
"Rex talked to me when I was out early on and said if we get into a situation where we need to win the game that he'd put me back in, and that's kind of how it played out," Gholston said. "At that point we were trying to win the game, and that's what I'm about, too."
The entire Jets organization feels the same way, and they'll get to show what they've got the next time they go out on a field, which will be a week from Monday night at New Meadowlands Stadium in their season opener against Baltimore.
"They probably look better, their offense is clicking on all cylinders and all that stuff, I understand," Ryan said of the Ravens. "And I understand they're going to show up. But we're going to show up also."
But not all the Jets who played tonight will be dressing for the Monday nighter. Next up on Friday and Saturday, the Jets will be announcing their final cuts.
Chauncey Washington led all rushers with 56 yards on 12 carries and also pounced on Holmes' fumble at the end of his 24-yard reception at the Philly 14, setting up Woodhead's TD run on the next play. ... The Jets rushed for a preseason-high 175 yards and held the ball for 37:31. ... Steve Weatherford had a fine night with five inside-the-20's on his seven punts.
No player has scored twice on fumble returns in the same preseason game since at least 1992 in the NFL. In fact, only one player has done it in regular-season history. That was Fred "Dippy" Evans of the Bears against the Redskins in 1948. ... The Jets sent four captains out for the opening coin toss: Ghoston, Wayne Hunter, Rob Turner and Lance Laury, who no doubt were the four most senior players among all the Jets who were going to play in this game.