Smith, Rhodes Switch Roles, Post Big Games

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2009 Week 12 Jets vs Panthers Photos

Safety Kerry Rhodes, who had his 75-game starting streak since being drafted by the Jets in 2005 broken Sunday, responded just the way head coach Rex Ryan wanted with a two-interception performance in the Jets' 17-6 victory over the Panthers.

"He got the game ball," said Ryan. "The two picks, that was awesome to see. He also had a big hit on the quarterback as well. He really played well."

"I got the message," Rhodes said regarding Ryan's decision to start Eric Smith in his place. "Now I am moving on and you're going to see Kerry Rhodes."

No. 25 was used in a lot of sub packages in an effort to force some turnovers by the Panthers. The defense collected four interceptions on the day: two by Rhodes, one leading to the Jets' only offensive touchdown, and two by shutdown corner Darrelle Revis, the first returned by Revis for the Jets' first TD.

"You need guys to step up," said safety Jim Leonhard. "When our number was called, we stepped up. They were pounding the ball and using a controlled passing game with [Jake] Delhomme. He had to make plays to beat us. We did a good job of taking the ball away."

The Jets held the Panthers' potent rushing O, which was averaging 159 yards a game led by the two-headed attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, to just 75 yards. Smith credited his defensive line in forcing Carolina into a lot of third-and-long situations.

But the fourth-year safety made several plays of his own to drive the Panthers' backs into the turf.

"We knew they were going to run the ball a lot but we knew our front seven was going to do a good job stopping it," said Smith, who tied Leonhard with a team-leading eight tackles. "When we saw run we were just playing pass and then going off where our guys up front fit."

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine came up with the right formula to disturb Delhomme. The veteran Carolina signalcaller finished the day 14-for-34 for 130 yards and a 12.7 passer rating.

"We knew going in the general idea of the routes we were going to get from formations," Smith said. "We knew we could get pressure on him to make him get the ball out quick maybe before he wanted to."

They did immediately and Delhomme threw a pick that was returned for a score by Revis on the game's first drive. That was just the start of the secondary's big day.

"There were a couple of times where he didn't set his feet," said Smith. "He just kind of threw it up and we took advantage of it."

Smith reached out to Rhodes to bounce ideas off each other in preparation for this game.

"We were talking the whole week about different things we're seeing on film," said Smith, who also had a pass defense. "It was like our role was switched in the sub groups, so I was kind of telling him things I knew from when I was in. We were just kind of sharing tips back and forth. He'd catch me on certain plays and say 'You should be outside on this, be a little slower here.' He was a big help."

Rhodes benefited from putting himself in the right place at the right time and making the plays that needed to be made. Kicker Jay Feely knew he'd come out and prove the type of player he was.

"For Kerry to get two picks when he's had such a tough week like that is definitely vindication," said Feely. "I told him in the tunnel going out, 'Watch, all that crap this week and you're going to get two picks.' "

"That's all it takes," said Rhodes. "You saw Kerry today and that's what you'll see."

Instead of treating the decision as a punishment, Rhodes and Smith proved they could be a formidable duo in certain formations.

"He's a prideful guy," said Leonhard about Rhodes. "I knew he was going to come out here and play his game. Smith played well. He has a good understanding of this defense and he continues to work hard."

And with a short week ahead, Smith will be ready for whatever role he's selected for when they travel to Toronto to face the Bills on Thursday night.

"We're going to have to get right to work tomorrow," he said. "There's no off days this week."

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