The two green and white NFL teams met at MetLife Stadium tonight for their annual preseason finale, and it was a little different in that the first three quarterbacks on the Jets' roster didn't register one snap on the night.
Instead, head coach Rex Ryan and coordinator Marty Mornhinweg turned the controls over to Matt Simms for the whole game, or all but newly signed Graham Harrell's end-of-game kneeldown. Simms — with able help from RB Kahlil Bell and WRs Michael Campbell and Ryan Spadola on offense and LB Ricky Sapp and safeties Jaiquawn Jarrett and Antonio Allen on defense — got the job done in his first NFL start as the Jets beat the Birds for the 10th time in the last 12 preseasons, 27-20.
All those "supporting cast members" are important because while Simms (33-for-44 for 285 yards!) took the fore and most of the Jets starters sat out this game as usual, he was one of a number of Jets fighting either for starting jobs or roster spots in this seemingly meaningless contest that presents highly meaningful battles within battles all over the field.
"As a coach, you want to keep everybody," said Ryan. "There are a lot of guys we're going to let go that can be contributors for us. That's the tough part for any coach to go through. We'd like to keep everybody, but quite honestly we can't do that."
We'll formalize the winners of most of those position fights with Ryan's announcement of final cuts some time Friday or Saturday, but below are how a few of those battles shaped up after tonight's win, which gave our Green & White their first 3-1 preseason since 2008.
Bell —Who will be the Jets' third running back behind Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory before and perhaps even after Mike Goodson returns for Week 5? It may well be Bell, who rang up the Jets' two offensive touchdowns on 8- and 2-yard runs. Besides the TDs, he had the yardage production with 80 yards on 21 carries and 10 more yards on a turf-top catch.
"Anytime you get a chance to go out and play, whether it's preseason or regular season, when you get your number called, you want to try to do the best you can," Bell said. "I felt like there are a lot of things I still could have done better, pass-blocking in particular, but we got the win. I did everything I could, so I'm just leaving it in the hands of God."
Jarrett and Allen — One of the few potential starters to be starting for the Jets in this game, Jarrett got the start this time over Allen and was all over the field in the first half. He blitzed twice, forcing Nick Foles into a strip sack on the first and an incompletion on the second, and finished with six tackles and a pass defense.
But Allen, who also started as a member of the nickel that opened the game, flashed late, jumping the route, snaring Matt Barkley's out throw and taking it 20 yards for the Jets' key finishing TD.
"I think it's maybe a little too close to call," Ryan said of the competition for the starting job alongside S Dawan Landry. "We know we have a couple of good football players there. Both guys had their moments today as well. ... We're happy with both those guys."
Sapp —All over the field also describes Sapp — "I try, I try," he said with a smile — who is fighting for work as a pass rusher and a spot in the outside LB rotation at least until Quinton Coples returns from his ankle injury. Sapp was the player who got the sack and forced the Foles fumble on Jarrett's first blitz, swatted down a pass in the backfield on another rush, and finished with three tackles. Said Rex: "I thought Ricky Sapp played pretty well."
Spadola and Campbell —Spadola appeared to have moved into the pole position for a spot among the wideouts behind Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates. But Spadola, who had six catches for 47 yards in this game, got sudden company as Campbell had five grabs for 90 yards, including a nifty catch-spin-and-run for 41 yards on the Jets' third-quarter FG drive. Ben Obomanu, also in this jockeying for position, had three catches for 24 yards and Zach Rogers had four for 40 but dropped an on-target skinny-post laser from Simms.
Nick Folk and Dan Carpenter —It's hard to say which way Ryan and new special teams coach Ben Kotwica will come down on this one. The Jets dismissed Billy Cundiff early this week but brought in Carpenter, the former Dolphins Pro Bowler who had hit 18 of 20 regular-season field goals vs. the Jets since 2008. Carpenter nailed his 45-yard try early, Folk hit from 28 later and also had two extra points. Five of the six players' kickoffs went for booming touchbacks.
Simms — Due to the injuries to Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy and the decision to keep Geno Smith on the sideline, the son of Giants QB and CBS top analyst Phil Simms got the start, the win and nearly a 300-yard passing performance. The start wasn't pretty as we went backward from our 20 on a holding penalty and two sacks, the second one for the second safety against a Jets QB in two weeks.
"I was a little rattled at first," the modest Simms said. "But I got it figured out."
And how. It wasn't perfect but it was prolific. His 33 completions were the most by a Jets QB in the preseason since at least 1975 and the most in the NFL preseason since at least 1992. His 285 yards were the second-most by a Jets QB in the preseason since 1975, trailing on Ray Lucas' 286-yard effort, against the Giants in 2000.
Did Simms pass McElroy? Did he at least force Ryan to consider keeping four QBs active for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Darrelle Revis at MetLife on Sept. 8? Maybe and probably. But not knowing for sure is part of the hidden allure of this fourth and last game of the summer season.