A new game, a seemingly different set of variables. So the Jets' run defense, which coach Robert Saleh and his players said played better than it might have seemed last week against New Orleans, suffered through a rough second half in the 31-24 loss at Miami today.
But the pass defense, which had struggled against the likes of Carson Wentz, Josh Allen, Gardner Minshew and rookie Mac Jones, got a good number of the answers right in their rematch against Miami's passing offense led by QB Tua Tagovailoa.
Beginning with something from that otherwise underwhelming second half: rookie CB Brandin Echols' interception-return touchdown that tied the score for the last time at 24-24 with 7:45 to play.
"It was Michael Carter's call and just communication across the board to the defense," Echols said. "I trusted him and that's what led me to get the pick."
And a grand theft it was. Echols snatched the ball out of the hands of rookie TE Hunter Long at the sideline and strode the 20 yards untouched to the end zone. Not only was it the Jets' first defensive touchdown of the season, their first INT-return TD since Pierre Desir vs. Denver last year and their first on the road since Jamal Adams at New England in 2019, it was also the first interception by a Jets cornerback since Bryce Hall picked off Jared Goff, then of the Rams, late last season.
"It was exciting," Echols said of his first pick-six since junior college. "But I knew coming to the sidelines that we had to go back out there and try to do it again. My mindset once I got it was I was happy, excited, but I knew I had to flip the switch, change my mindset and go back out there and try make another play."
That play was elusive as the Dolphins answered with a 75-yard drive to Tagovailoa's 11-yard post to wily veteran WR DeVante Parker. Which brings us to another player in the Green & White secondary on Sunday.
Bryce Hall had a pretty good game working against Parker. He and Echols both had three pass defenses on the game, equaling the Jets' high this season set by Hall with a PD trifecta in the Game 4 win over the Titans. But Hall was singling Parker on the game-winning TD.
"He's a really good player," Hall said. "I felt like we went back and forth. He won his fair share and I felt like I did at times, too."
On the TD, though, the Jets' second-year corner explained, "You've got to recognize the formations. They tell a story. I was kind of expecting a bigger dude [Parker is 6-3 to Hall's 6-1] going up for a fade ball, but he caught an inside route, he ran a slant. That was a good route that he ran. I felt like I could've been better just understanding presnap what the offense was telling me, and then just be there to make the play.
"You learn and grow from it, and I definitely learned from that."
As far as what he learned from his end zone pass interference against Parker that set up Tagovailoa's first TD pass earlier in the fourth quarter, Hall had less to say: "It was just two guys battling. It is what it is. You've just got to kind of move on."
In general, the Jets did a better job on the previously highly accurate Tagovailoa than they did four games earlier at MetLife. He seemed off his game early when he threw his first interception of the day that S Ashtyn Davis picked off to set K Eddy Piñeiro's field goal for a 10-0 lead. On the game he had 59% accuracy and a 75.5 passer rating compared to 82% accuracy and a 108.7 rating four games earlier.
That might have been enough ... if the Jets' run defense showed up in force. Instead, the Miami ground game, which was 31st in the NFL coming into the weekend and was relying on practice-squad elevation (but seven-year pro) Duke Johnson because their top two runners, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, both had come off the reserve/COVID list before the game, cranked out 183 rushing yards. Johnson had 107 of the yards and the 'Fins' first two TDs on short runs.
The Dolphins had 42 carries Sunday, after the Saints had 44 and the Eagles 41, marking the first time since the last three regular-season games in 1986 that Jets opponents had hung 40-plus carries on their run defense in three consecutive games.
"It is disappointing," Saleh said. "There were a lot of missed tackles in the run game. It's clearly not good enough."
So perhaps the pass defense has edged ahead of the run defense this week? No way to tell except to prepare everyone ready for the next game of December football, at home against the 2-12 Jaguars, their rookie QB in Trevor Lawrence, and their dangerous bellcow back, James Robinson.