Buried in the middle of his news conference with reporters following the Jets' 12-7 win over the Giants on Saturday night, Robert Saleh offered a neat little insight into one of the best things about the start of the games phase of his NFL head-coaching career.
"I was glad," he said, "that I could finally cheer for somebody."
By that, he meant, of course, that he didn't have to hide his smiles and attaboys and backslaps during a Jets training camp practice because every good play by hs offense often meant a bad play by his defense and vice versa.
And there were a whole bunch of good plays for the Jets' O and D as they took a 3-0 lead on the game's first drive and then, with some up plays and some down, still managed to never trail, keep control against Big Blue, and come away with the five-point win.
The first topic on media and fan minds was how the coach felt about how the second pick of the draft out of BYU performed at quarterback. "Comfortable" was a word that was said frequently, by Saleh and others, about Zach Wilson's passing line of 6-for-9, 63-yard, no TDs but no INTs or FUMs or sacks in his two series, both of which reached double digits in offensive plays.
"We have so much confidence in the young man," Saleh said. "You want him to stack up as many good days as possible, but there's still youth, he's still a rookie. There are going to be a lot of opportunities for him to grow. Even in this game, even though he looked comfortable ... the young man's potential is through the roof, but there are still going to be things he can learn off of."
Another joy for the coach to watch was the performance of the unit close to his heart. The Jets defense wasn't perfect, either, but the accomplishments against the Giants offense (even with starting QB Daniel Jones sitting and RB Saquon Barkley still rehabbing) were impressive.
The pass defense was outstanding. The 4-3 defense brought the pressure on QBs Mike Glennon and Clayton Thorson to the tune of five sacks, with DL Bryce Huff scoring two of the sacks. The QBs combined for 8-of-23 passing. They managed 92 gross passing yards, but the 58 net yards (with sack yardage subtracted) was historically superb — the last time a preseason opponent had less net yardage was in the first game in which the Jets were finally members of the NFL, not the AFL. In the 1970 summer opener, the Buffalo Bills had only 51 net yards in the Jets' 33-10 win at Birmingham, AL.
"The defensive line, they were relentless," Saleh said. "They missed some opportunities, especially on that touchdown. You've got to keep them pinned back in that situation. But it was awesome to see them come back and win the game with that safety."
"That safety" was the last great contribution from the D-line, and rookies Jonathan Marshall and Hamilcar Rashed specifically. The Jets gave the Giants a little window through which they might tie or win this game, with the ball on their own 6 after another Braden Mann inside-the-20 punt, with no timeouts, but with 1:46 to play.
On the first play, Marshall and Rashed burst into the backfield, sandwiched Thorson and dropped him just shy of his own goal line as he was trying to get out of the end zone. The safety made it a five-point game but, most important, gave the ball back to the Jets for three kneeldowns by QB James Morgan to make it official.
And on an earlier bookend play for the DL, in the first half rookie free agent DL Michael Dwumfour pounced on a fumble by Giants RB Corey Clement, forced by the helmet of rookie LB Hamsah Nasirildeen. That was a Jets red-zone takeaway at their 3.
"It was organized," Saleh summed up his team's performance on opening night. "The players were on it, the coaches were on it. It was a clean game. It was a really cool experience."