The Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez chapter of Jets football got off to a blockbuster start. And it was almost exactly the way the optimists among the Green & White followers would've written it.
Defense? There was plenty. Early on, Kris Jenkins, David Harris and Bart Scott were unstoppable. Later in the game, the Jets were coming on every play and playing havoc with QB Matt Schaub. The end result: Even though the team gave up a touchdown, the defense pitched a shutout.
Offense? It wasn't quite what everyone thought it would be. The Jets' running game was supposed to carry the offense until young Sanchez got his feet underneath him, oh, by Game 4 or Game 8.
Instead, the Texans' defense, led by Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans, kept Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in check most of the way. So it was up to Sanchez to rally the troops, and that's what he did in helping to post the Jets' solid 24-7 opening-day triumph at Houston.
Playing as if, by one observer's observation, he was back in his back yard in Southern California, Sanchez did a fine job in his pro starting debut in directing three long touchdown drives. The first went 78 yards in the first half and ended with Sanchez's first pro touchdown pass, a 30-yard connection with a wide-open Chansi Stuckey.
The second opened the third quarter, traveled 82 yards and ended in Jones' 1-yard keeper to make it 17-0.
Then, as Ryan, coordinator Mike Pettine and the defenders were perhaps dreaming of posting the first opening-day shutout in franchise history, Sanchez suffered his first pro hiccup, an underthrown pass picked off by John Busing and turned into a 48-yard fumble-return TD by Dominique Barber with 12:18 to play.
"It shouldve been a shutout so I owe them one. It was just a costly mistake, really unfortunate," said the rookie. "I wanted to get Coach Ryan a shutout in his opener."
But Sanchez immediately and artfully climbed off the canvas to engineer an 80-yard drive to Jones' 38-yard TD burst off his right side. Key play on the drive: a 40-yard laser to TE Dustin Keller, lined up as a WR and beating backup S Nick Ferguson (the former Jet) to the slant pass.
"With the amount of talent we have on this team, I don't have to do everything," Sanchez said. "Even after my big rookie mistake, the encouraging thing was that Coach Ryan, Coach Schottenheimer, the whole offensive line came over and said, 'We're not going to change our approach. We're still going after these guys."
Jones' second score made it 24-7 with 10:10 to play. T.J. later added a 39-yard burst around his right side to help keep the Texans at bay and to finish with a 100-yard game the hard way — his final line was 20 carries for 107 yards and two TDs.
And Sanchez's line was a fine 18-for-31 for 272 yards, a TD, an INT and an 84.3 rating. Room for improvement. But a delightful way to start a career. The fifth pick of the draft became only the fourth QB since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to mount a road victory in his pro debut, joining Buffalo's Joe Ferguson (1973), Denver's John Elway (1983) and Carolina's Chris Weinke (2001) in that elite club.
"I felt in control. I felt like I needed to play smart all game, and I did that except for one play," he said. "I didn't get touched too bad -- no sacks."
The first half proceeded as many fans and experts (but not all) thought Jets games might unfold this season — with the Jets taking a 10-0 lead into the locker room.
Sanchez's first pass was an incompletion, intended for Chansi Stuckey but deflected away by CB Dunta Robinson. His first completion was an 8-yard checkdown to Leon Washington. His first drive ended in a 3-and-out.
And the rookie's next drive very nearly ended in disaster as he tried to unload a pass under pressure and threw it up for LB Zac Diles to pick it off. Only trouble was Washington played perfect pass defense on the play, breaking up the play — and allowing the drive to continue for 15 plays and 68 yards in all before Jay Feely came on for a 24-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead with 8 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Before, in between and after those drives, the Jets' defense was looking pretty strong, and never mind that DE Shaun Ellis and LB Calvin Pace were out due to their suspensions.
Marques Douglas got his first tackle behind the line as a Jet after doing the same his entire career with the Ravens and 49ers. Kris Jenkins was throwing his weight around. Safeties Jim Leonhard and Kerry Rhodes were switching off responsibilities neatly. Jenkins even played some of that MLB with Bart Scott and David Harris stepping up and making plays.
At one point the Houston radio announcers said, "This Jets defense is something impressive." At another, more depressed, "The Texans' ground game is nowhere to be found."
Even when the Texans finally got untracked, the Jets rose up with a couple of big plays wrapped up into the Ryan era's first takeaway. With a nice block on Harris, Matt Schaub's short pass to RB Steve Slaton broke free for 18 yards to the Jets 15.
But at the end of that play, nickel CB Donald Strickland made his first big play in green, forcing the ball up and out of Slaton's grasp — and into the hands of DE Mike DeVito for his first pro fumble recovery.
That got Sanchez and the Jets started on their first breakthrough TD march, 10 plays and 78 yards to the Sanchez-to-Stuckey connection as Stuckey was passed on from CB Brice McCain to CB Fred Bennett, although no one apparently told Bennett about it.
The first half came to a bizarre close — LB DeMeco Ryans was called for taunting Dustin Keller after a catch to the Texans 18 after the clock had run out, but referee Ed Hochuli ruled that the penalty did not extend the first half. But a tone had been set in the first 30 minutes of play. It wasn't always pretty, but it was pretty effective. It looked like 2009 Jets football.
The Jets set several impressive opening-day marks with the win. Their 462 offensive yards are second-most on OD in franchise history (most in an OD win), their plus-279 yardage margin is the best ever on OD, and Houston's 38 rushing yards are the least by an OD opponent.
Additionally, in running out the last 7:20 of the game, the Jets totaled 38:46 in time of possession, most on opening day since 1981, when time stats were first kept regularly, and their 22:45 second-half possession time vs. the Texans is their most second-half time in any game since the 1991 opener vs. Tampa Bay (23:57). We'll have lots of charts on these stats and more for you in the morning.
Sanchez's third-down passing was unconscious: 12-for-15 for 191 yards, the Stuckey TD and no interceptions, picking up nine first downs in all — four to Jerricho Cotchery, three to Stuckey and two to Keller.
Steve Weatherford's punting was good. His four punts grossed 41.0 yards per punt, not great, but netted 41.0, very nice, due to no returns. Two were inside-20 punts. ... Ryan presented postgame game balls to owner Woody Johnson and to strength coach Sal Alosi and his staff. He'll present player game balls today. ... The four Jets game captains were Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca, Howard Green and James Dearth.