He said it didn't bother him but maybe in one small corner of his cornerback's psyche it ate at him just a little. Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, the Jets' first selection of the '22 NFL Draft, fourth overall, was still pickless through the first four games of his pro career.
"Not really," Gardner said about whether he was pressing to get that first interception as a Jet into the history books. "I'm always happy when my teammates make plays. I'm more excited when they make plays than when I make plays. You can try to do too much to get a pick. You can't force it, because that's when you get hit with double moves and a lot of trickery."
So there are good reasons to let the good-natured ribbing roll off his corner's back. But as he also said following the Jets' 40-17 acceleration past the Dolphins at MetLife on Sunday, "Like I said during the week, I think I'm the only who doesn't have one. I think God heard me — I know he heard me. He answered my prayers for sure."
By now you know Sauce had an A-1 game, complete with that interception, created on the front end when DL John Franklin-Myers laid a hit on rookie Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson and finished on the back end when Gardner striding in front of WR River Cracraft and returning the ball 3 yards to the Jets 47. From there the Jets opened their 19-7 second-quarter lead.
"We studied that play a lot throughout the week and it finally presented itself," Gardner said. "The ball was there, thanks to JFM. That caused the quarterback to throw the ball like that and I made the play."
For some corners, that would be a game to write home about, but Sauce expects more from himself and there was plenty more, beginning with his first play of the game when he was sent on a rare corner blitz by coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, crunched Miami No. 2 QB Teddy Bridgewater to the end zone turf.
Gardner won't get two points next to his name for the safety that resulted because end zone penalties by the offense, like Bridgewater's intentional-grounding call on the play, don't get credited to individual defenders. But it still was of huge importance to the day that unfolded for the Green & White, giving them their first lead at 2-0 and sending Bridgewater, an excellent backup QB playing for the injured Tua Tagovailoa, from the game with elbow and head issues, never to return due to the NFL and NFLPA's enhanced concussion protocols enacted just this week.
"It was a huge tone," Gardner said of the blitz setting the stage for the game. " 'Brick' told me, 'I'm going to send you.' He told me that, man, I was ready. That's how they used me in college. I had a few sacks, forced some sack fumbles, stuff like that. It made me feel like I was still in college, and I'm glad I was able to make that play."
Gardner and D.J. Reed made a few more plays over the course of the game that involved keeping Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Miami's outstanding WR tandem, under control. Certainly Hill's quad injury at practice may have figured into his game as did Waddle's groin injury from the previous game.
But then so did the coverage by Gardner, Reed and the secondary, and both wideouts started as usual. And after the two of them had combined for 13 catches, 214.5 yards and 1.3 touchdowns over the first four games, they were held to 10 catches for 70 yards and no scores (but also drew three interference calls for 95 yards) by the Jets.
"We had a pretty good performance," Gardner said. "I still don't discredit those two guys. They're great receivers, man, extremely fast. But I feel we stepped up to the challenge."