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Jets CB Sauce Gardner Stands Tall in Every Competition

Sauce on QB Aaron Rodgers: ‘Everyone Gravitated Toward Him...I Love That Guy’ 


During a Pro Bowl Games flag football contest that featured 133 total points, Jets CB Sauce Gardner regretted that he didn't add to the scoreboard with pick-six. Gardner, the first cornerback since the merger to be named first-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons, intercepted a fourth-down toss from Geno Smith in the third quarter of the PBG and returned it 50 yards before being forced out of bounds by Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb.

"If I had to rate it out of 10, I'd say 5/6 because I didn't score at the end of the day," Gardner said of his interception during an appearance last week on NFL Network's "Super Bowl Live".

Gardner, playing on AFC HC Peyton Manning's team, said NFC HC Eli Manning was targeting him throughout the NFC's 64-59 win.

"I feel like Eli was game-planning against me," Gardner told Andrew Siciliano and Bucky Brooks. "I got the most over routes and I got the most go balls out of any corner at the Pro Bowl Games. I don't know why."

When it was fun and games, Gardner was targeted a good amount. But during regular season play, opposing offenses avoided Gardner and with good reason. Among the 49 defenders who played 300+ snaps at outside corner in 2023, Gardner had the lowest targeted percentage according to NextGenStats. Targeted 53 times, he allowed .76 yards per snap. In 430 snaps, Gardner had a target % of 12.33 while yielding just 30 receptions.

"Don't make the game bigger than what it is," Gardner said of his approach this offseason. "The things that I know how to do well, keep working on them, make sure I'm working on the fundamentals and keep finding ways to get better. Keep being a sponge, keep asking questions around the league. You got other guys in the league, Jalen Ramsey, Pat Surtain, D.J. Reed, Jordan Lewis, — he's a Detroit guy. There are a lot of guys around the league, cornerbacks, Jaylon Johnson, I'm always trying to pick their brain to see how I can get better. A lot of people might think that because there are accolades that I could be in my own little zone, but I'm always just trying to find ways to get better."

In 16 games last season, Gardner (6-3, 200) totaled 57 tackles and 11 PDs. Since 2010, only 17 position players have made the Pro Bowl in each of their first two seasons. And Gardner is one of just six players named starters in each of their first two Pro Bowls. One of the NFL's most promising young stars, Gardner echoed the sentiments of QB Aaron Rodgers, who talked earlier this offseason about everything the Jets do needing a purpose.

"Let's stay focused on what we have going on in the building and that's how we're going to be able to achieve our ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl," Gardner said. "If we keep letting outside things affect us as players, coaches, whatever, that's not going to be good for business. But I'm extremely confident in the personnel, the players, my teammates, my brothers, my coaches, Tony Oden, my cornerbacks coach, Coach [Jeff] Ulbrich, my defensive coordinator, especially Coach [Robert] Saleh. Coach Saleh is a tremendous leader. He's from Michigan, so we have that connection there. He's always a guy I love to be around. I'm always picking his brain when it comes to football. He's helped me in so many ways — he just don't know about it."

After a 7-10 finish for a second consecutive season, Rodgers' return to the lineup will bolster the Jets' chances to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2010. While the offensive line needs remodeling and there will be other alterations on offense, Gardner leads a unit that finished as Pro Football Focus's top-rated defense.

"I've learned so much stuff from Aaron," Gardner. said. "It's a blessing just to be around him and see his work ethic, see the way he carries himself inside the building and outside the building. I know he's older than me but he's a great person to be around. He has a great sense of humor. I don't care about what nobody else said about him. I know when he came into to the Jets building, the Jets facility, he was a great guy, he was a great leader, and everyone gravitated toward him. I love that guy."

The Jets also love Gardner, although No. 1 can get a bit lonely on his island, at least during the regular season.

"I don't know if it was respect," he said of going up against Eli Manning and the NFC's Pro Bowl Games QBs. "Instead of not going at me, they threw at me the most. That's crazy."

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