The Jets defense tallied three takeaways Sunday in their 27-13 win over the Rams in St. Louis, featuring a budding star on the defensive line and a trio of talented veteran safeties in the backfield.
Trailing 7-3 early in the second quarter, Eric Smith set the offense up inside the red zone at the STL 16 as he stepped up in front of a Sam Bradford pass intended for TE Mike McNeil.
"My man just released in the flat and he threw a little behind him, giving me a chance to sweep in there and take it from him," Smith said.
Unfortunately the offense couldn't cash in and Nick Folk's 27-yard FGA was blocked by rookie Janoris Jenkins. But the D wasn't deterred as second-year DE Muhammad Wilkerson racked up a strip-sack of Bradford moments later and veteran WLB Bart Scott advanced the fumble 28 yards to the STL 28.
"We were in a 46 front and I just got up the field and made a play for the defense," said Wilkerson.
"Mo balled out," added the Madbacker in an interview with SNY, who was caught from behind by former teammate Matt Mulligan. "He gave me the alley oop, but I couldn't finish it. I couldn't dunk."
Maybe Scott couldn't finish with points, but Mark Sanchez gave the Jets the lead for good at 10-7 on a 25-yard scoring hookup with Chaz Schilens.
Wilkerson hasn't been stopped too much the past five games, totaling 28 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two PDs during that time. Last week, he recorded the Jets only points in Seattle on a 21-yard fumble return.
Up 20-7 in the fourth quarter, the Jets put it away after another takeaway. LaRon Landry delivered a perfect hit on RB Daryl Richardson and LB Garrett McIntyre recovered at the STL 38. New York's AFC representative finished with 14 points off takeaways when Bilal Powell recorded his second scoring run of the day from 11 yards out.
Landry led the Jets with eight tackles, Yeremiah Bell pitched in with six stops and Smith had three tallies in addition to his pick. With Smitty back at full strength, the Jets have tremendous versatility and punch at safety. The Rams were five of 16 on third-down this afternoon while Bradford completed 52 percent of his passes for just 170 yards.
It looked like the Jets might be in for a long day when Bradford led a 13 play, 86-yard opening drive, culminating on a short 4th down scoring pass to Brandon Gibson. But the defense went into lockdown mode from there and cruised to a 27-13 victory.
"There were no adjustments. We just had to keep fighting," Wilkerson said. "You can't get caught out of your gaps, and not keeping your eyes on your keys. We're just going to keep working hard and move on to the next play."
"As the game went on, I thought Mike Pettine and everybody did a great job. Just playing fundamentals," added head coach Rex Ryan. "Our communication got much better and we made some plays up front. That was huge."
The Jets are going to need outstanding performances from Wilkerson and their safety trifecta on Thanksgiving night against the Patriots. But before the focused shifted to the Pats, they took care of business in the Midwest.
"We're running out of games," Smith said. "If we're going to make it to the playoffs, we have to make a run and this is where we needed to start."