A lot of missing pieces to the Jets offense emerged on Sunday afternoon, with the most significant being the production of the newest member of the backfield.
"I was pleased with Thomas Jones," head coach Eric Mangini said in his postgame news conference after the Jets scored their first win of the season, 31-28 over Miami. "It's the complement that he gives to the offensive line; it's his style of running. It's the complementary style of running he gives in terms of Leon [Washington] and both of those backs. The relationship they have built with the offensive line is positive and will continue to develop."
Jones broke out for his first triple-digit rushing performance of his young Jets career, covering 110 yards of the Meadowlands turf on 25 carries. The eighth-year veteran ran for more yards in this game than in his previous two games combined (109 combined against New England and Baltimore).
"Thomas is a great back," said fullback Darian Barnes. "When you have a great back, you know that he always has it in him. It's only a matter of time for that guy to bust loose, and we needed it more than ever today and we got it. It was good timing."
It wasn't until the second half that Jones really got his motor running. After 18 yards on six carries in the first two quarters, he plowed his way through the Dolphins defense for 92 yards on 19 carries in the last two periods. Slowly chipping away at opposing defenses is what Jones enjoys most and he showed that Sunday.
"As a running back, you love to wear a defense down," Jones said. "That's the best part about being a running back is when you can feel the defense wearing down."
The Jets' opening drive of the third quarter proved to be Jones' launch pad. Quarterback Chad Pennington handed the ball off to him on eight of the 13 plays that led to a Mike Nugent field goal. For one portion of the drive, Jones ran the ball in five straight no-huddle plays for a combined 32 yards.
"As an offense, coming out with the ball in the third quarter, we needed to establish the momentum and the tempo of the second half and make a statement," Pennington said.
On their next possession, coordinator Brian Schottenheimer again called Jones' number and the 5'10", 215-pound steamroller responded in a big way. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he turned a 5-yard run into an 11-yard gain when he gave 'Fins corner Travis Daniels a stiff-arm ride for an additional 6 yards along the right sideline.
On the next play, Jets fans finally got a taste of Jones' passion. After slicing his way up the middle for another 11 yards and a first down inside the Miami 10-yard line, he popped up and went into a celebratory rage, sending the ocean of green and white fans into a deafening ovation.
"Yeah, he's a passionate guy," laughed Barnes. "If anyone or anything can get the crowd into it, it's Thomas and his big runs. That's just how excited he gets. It's great."
"It felt good to finally see Thomas get excited out there," guard Adrien Clarke said. "He's the same back every week. Today he just got more touches and he just got into his groove. We opened up some holes for him and when we didn't, he created them."
Although he has yet to find the end zone for the Jets, he almost single-handedly set up Pennington's 2-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. And he's far more concerned with the number in the wins column compared to those in his personal stats.
"The most important thing is to get a win. Everybody on this team has had a rough couple of weeks," said Jones, who now has 17 career 100-yard rushing performances. "For us to get our first win today, it makes a big difference in our approach for next week and it will give us a lot of confidence."
"I felt like today, after the first two games, it took some time for us to get the chemistry going," added Jones, who moved into 78th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list, passing former Giant Joe Morris and ex-Dolphin Delvin Williams. "Today our offensive line did a great job blocking. They played hard for four quarters."
While the humble Jones credited his success to his line, Clarke was more than happy to show his emotions.
"It was a steppingstone for us. You love it. What more could you ask for?" the guard said. "When you're a lineman, you like to see [100 yards rushing] and you want to run the ball.
"A 'W' and to have your running back rush for 100 yards. That's a good day."