"Not bad for a couple of rookies today," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said with a smile as big as Texas after the 24-7 victory Sunday in Houston.
The win over the Texans, directed by Ryan in his NFL head-coaching debut along with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez in his pro starting debut, should have said something to the doubters who figured the Jets wouldn't be able to play great defense and win on the road against one of the league's preseason darling teams.
"I believe in this football team, I believe in the coaches we have, I believe in the players we have and I believe in the support staff," Ryan told reporters in the Reliant Stadium visitors' interview room. "I've been saying it all along. It's just nobody wanted to listen."
Ryan presented Jets chairman and CEO Woody Johnson with one of the game balls. Johnson made the decision to select Ryan as the Jets' new head coach back in January, and one of the reasons was his ability to communicate with his players.
After the win, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins couldn't hold back how pleased he was while dancing during an SNY interview.
"Rex cried in the locker room after everything," said Jenkins. "I mean, just with that emotion, we have that type of coach, we have this type of team, and this is what we look forward to do as the season goes on."
"You give him a pair of pads, it may only be for two plays, but he'll go out there and knock somebody in the mouth," said linebacker Bart Scott. "He's a guy that'll go to battle with you. He won't be on the top of the pier calling out signals. He'll be right there with you on the front line."
The Jets backed up Ryan's talk from this offseason and preseason in the season opener.
He said they would run a "ground and pound" rushing attack. The result against the Texans was a mixed assault with a lot of the rushing yardage gained late. Thomas Jones led the way with 107 yards, reached with the help of 39- and 38-yard fourth-quarter runs, and Leon Washington and WR Brad Smith pitched in as the Jets rushed for 190 yards.
He predicted they were going to have a great defense. That unit didn't allow any points in holding the Texans to 183 yards. Even though the "D" was missing Shaun Ellis and Calvin Pace, the Jets found ways to get it done.
"We had some things stacked against us, we played without two guys. Like we expect, I think the next guys have to step up," Ryan said.
The Texans were no easy first opponent. As the coach stressed the rankings all week, that last season they were third in overall defense, first in first-down average gain, and that at home they were second in yards and first in first downs.
"It was a great team effort," he said. "The key was first down. This team was outstanding on first down. It's been the best in the league on offense."
Sanchez provided the Texans their only points after an interception that was fumbled but then returned by safety Dominique Barber for a TD. Ryan wasn't overly critical, supporting his QB as he always has, but he knows holding an opponent to zero would have made even bigger a statement.
"Unfortunately he gave up the touchdown. That would've been something," said Ryan. "It's hard to get a shutout in this league but our defense really did a great job against an explosive offense."
Sanchez knows his rookie mistake prevented what could have been a historic season opener — the Jets have never posted any of the 10 shutouts in their 50-year history any earlier than November.
"It should've been a shutout," he said to his defensive teammates, "so I owe them one."
Winning in the city where his father was defensive coordinator for the Oilers in 1993, Rex's mentality was reminiscent of Buddy Ryan. His fiery confidence and ability to gain the favor of his players proved to be effective.
The team was so happy for him in getting his first victory that in the waning minutes he was given the ceremonial Gatorade dunk.
"This is what the fans of New York have asked for," Jenkins said. "I think this organization has found a coach that it was looking for. You see how the players have responded, especially the defense. We're just glad that we could really just step up and show everybody that we're going to be a good football team this year."
The confident coach says this is just the beginning.
"We're 1-and-0 that's what we expected to be," said Ryan. "There was some tough sledding against a good football team but our guys were up to the task."