Many positives came out of the Jets' fifth victory on Sunday, but Lito got a little lost in the shuffle.
A healthy Lito Sheppard made his third start for the Green & White and played very well, holding Panthers WR Muhsin Muhammad to just one catch for 2 yards.
"Lito is a big-time player and he's helping out," said Darrelle Revis. "He had a great game. He shut down Mushin Muhammad. He did a good job. He had a chance to make a couple of plays. Like the ball Kerry [Rhodes] caught, the first interception — Lito was right there to get his hand in there."
Sheppard finished with four tackles and one PD, but he came oh-so-close to collecting a takeaway or two himself on a day when Revis and Rhodes each picked off Jake Delhomme twice. If Rhodes didn't grab Delhomme's pop fly intended for Muhammad in the second quarter, Sheppard was in position to make a play. Then in the closing moments, Sheppard jumped a Muhammad out route and very nearly had the Jets' second pick-six of the afternoon.
"That's one you dream of — to catch it in stride and walk into the end zone," said Sheppard, who has returned three INTs for scores in his eight-year playing career. "Hopefully I'll get another opportunity this week."
The 5'10", 194-pound Sheppard, acquired in the February trade with the Eagles, was slowed much of this season by a quad injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Patriots. It was a big blow for the Jets because Sheppard was excellent in the season-opening win at Houston, recording his 19th interception and four tackles. But he was inactive five of the next six weeks and didn't get back to 100 percent until after the midseason bye.
"I had two weeks to kind of get a gauge of where I was going to be," he said of the club's ninth and 10th games, vs. Jacksonville and at New England. "It just felt good to play a full game and not feel any hurt. It was a big momentum boost and it felt good to be out there helping the team.
"I'm back. Last game was my first complete game and I felt great. And I think it kind of showed in my play. I'm looking to continue that and keep helping this team out."
The Jets hope to avoid a season sweep by the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto. Sheppard attempted to hurry back for the clubs' first meeting on Oct. 18 at the Meadowlands, making a start and racking up four tackles before suffering a setback with the quad.
"I know how I played that game and how I felt, so I'm looking forward to being this much better this week because I feel this much better," he said with a smile
In Week 6, the Bills overcame a 10-point halftime deficit, knotting things up on a 37-yard slant from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Lee Evans. Lining up across from Sheppard, the speedy Evans took advantage of a misaligned defense and easily raced untouched into the end zone following a short toss.
"The thing I love about Lito is he never once said anything to anybody. He wore the hat. He should have had somebody underneath him — never said one word about it," head coach Rex Ryan said after the game. "He wasn't the only one that had a chance to make a tackle and didn't.
"I think a lot of Lito. So far, it's unfortunate because he hasn't been healthy that much this year. Once he gets back and he is healthy, I think this young man can play. I know he's competitive. He wants it bad."
Sheppard followed the Bills game with two weeks back on the inactive list before returning against the Jaguars. He's remained upbeat throughout it all and now gets another chance at Evans. You can bet Revis, who held Owens to three catches and 13 yards at the Meadowlands, will see a lot of the suddenly hot T.O. and Sheppard's speed will be an asset in trying to contain Evans.
"We're going to have a good game plan. If it results in me being on Evans and Revis being on T.O., then so be it," Sheppard said. "We are going out to try to win the game and whatever puts us in the best position to do that, that's what we're going to roll with."
Everyone on defense must be cognizant of Fitzpatrick's ability to run. Last week the Harvard product ran for a 31-yard score and threw a 51-yard TD to Owens as the Bills upset the Miami Dolphins.
"Especially in third-down situations, if we do our job and guard those receivers, you have another dimension now with a quarterback who can run," Sheppard said. "He's been definitely keeping a lot of drives alive and last week you saw he scored on a 31-yard run. I think that adds an extra dimension for that team and hopefully we can slow him down a little bit."
The Jets, who own the NFL's second-ranked pass defense, have added an extra dimension themselves in a healthy Lito Sheppard.