The Jets-Eagles preseason finale at the Meadowlands tonight was mostly about the Jets' backups trying to nail down jobs while, of course, trying to nail down Philadelphia's elusive backup quarterback, Michael Vick.
But one Jet helped keep Vick at bay by keeping him off the field in the Green & White's 38-27 come-from-behind victory. Danny Woodhead made a bold statement about wanting one of those 53 roster spots with a scintillating 158-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance.
"We'll see. It always comes down to numbers," Rex Ryan, who evened his first preseason as an NFL head coach at 2-2, said about Woodhead's odds of surviving the final roster cutdown of summer. "But I don't know what more he's supposed to do. He had a heck of a game, he's tougher than nails. I'm certainly pulling for him."
"We didn't get to talking too much about am I going to make the 53 or not — that stuff will come the next day or so," Woodhead said of a sideline chat he had with his coach. "Whatever happens happens. I'm just going to approach it like I'm on the team right now until they tell me I'm not."
It'll be tough to tell the second-year man that after he ran as he must have for Division II Chadron State in setting the all-time, all-NCAA-divisions career rushing mark. Woodhead finished with 158 yards on 18 carries, the second-most rushing yards in an NFL preseason game since 1992. The only back with a better summer showing was Denver's Mike Anderson, who went for 159 yards and two TDs on 13 carries against Indianapolis in 2005.
"Maybe it brought me back to my college days a little bit," Woodhead said about playing virtually the entire game (18 rushes and a reception in all) after the Jets' Mark Sanchez-led first offense scored a touchdown on its only series. "It was great to play as much as I did."
The Nebraska native first burst on the scene in this game with his 55-yard jettison off right guard and through the Eagles secondary to the right pylon to tie the score at 14-all 1:26 into the second quarter. "It felt like I was carrying a backpack or something," he said. "At the end of the run I didn't feel very fast."
He had 70 yards at halftime, then added to it with a 20-yard run on the first play of the second half, then squirted through left guard for 44 yards to set up Erik Ainge's first touchdown pass, to Wallace Wright, that retired things at 24.
"You know what? I don't know if I've ever done a spin move in my life," he laughed about the spin that got him the last 5 of those 44 yards. "I really don't know where that came from."
And his burrowing 3-yard run off left tackle with 5:48 left in the third quarter gave the Jets their first lead of the night at 31-24.
Woodhead shared billing after the Jets' ones left the stage with Ainge and with the Green & White pass rush, which totaled seven sacks of Philly's quarterbacks, by seven different players, and four second-half takedowns of Vick.
Vernon Gholston, who stayed on the field after the first defense left, got the first sack of the night — and the first of his pro career — when he bearhugged Kevin Kolb late in the first quarter.
"The first of many," Gholston said with a smile, echoing Ryan's sentiments.
ILB Kenwin Cummings, who almost dropped Vick in the first half, finally got him at a very fortuitous time, dropping him for 11 yards on third-and-goal at the Jets 7 with 5½ minutes to play. The Eagles had to settle for David Akers' second field goal instead of a game-tying TD.
That's when Ainge and David Clowney struck the telling blow. As Ainge recalled, "On the deep ball, Rex said, 'I don't know what we're calling, but throw it to Clowney.' " Ainge followed orders and Clowney, who had one earlier catch on the night for 35 yards, ripped past CB Jake Ikegwuono, caught the pass, which traveled 48 yards in the air, in stride and completed the 73-yard catch-and-run. That put the Jets up by the final score with 4:51 to play.
It was Ainge's second comeback relief win over the Eagles in two summers, prompting a question for Ryan about if his No. 2 QB spot is decided. "I'm glad you're asking that question," the coach said. "I think we've got three quarterbacks who can play."
Of course, the first QB is Sanchez, and he showed his feistiness on his only drive of the night (against the Eagles' twos, since coach Andy Reid, as is his habit in this preseason finale, started only one of his 22 starters). After the green visitors moved 79 yards (with the help of three penalties on the Jets' first defense) to a 7-0 lead, Sanchez directed an 83-yard response that included three completions to TE Dustin Keller and the 21-yard TD to Jerricho Cotchery.
"It sure looked OK," Sanchez said of the Jets' frontline passing game. "We'll find something to correct on film, but when you have that kind of time to throw and when you have a guy like Dustin Keller going down the middle 1-on-1 with someone, he's a big-time threat. And then for Jerricho to make that big-time catch, I put it on him before he was coming out of his break and he made a heck of a grab."
"I am happy with this football team," Ryan said as the Jets now prepare for their next stop, the 2009 opener at Houston on Sept. 13. "This is a good team. We're going to find out next week. And really everybody is going to find out next week. That is what I'm excited about.:"
Sanchez finished the night 5-for-5 for 67 yards and the TD, which produced a perfect 158.3 passer rating. For the preseason, the Southern Cal wunderkind went 24-for-37 (64.9 percent) for 347 yards, three TDs and one INT and a 111.0 rating. As for drive engineering, he produced five TDs (31.3 percent), two field goals and just one turnover in 16 drives.
The Jets' 398 yards of offense was their most in the preseason since they finished the 2000 summer sked with 446 yards vs. the Giants. And the 191 rushing yards was the most since they went for 216 at Washington in 2006. ... That game was also the last time the Jets had a longer preseason run than Woodhead's 55-yarder. Brad Smith took a reverse 61 yards for a touchdown that night. ... Clowney finished the summer with seven catches for 243 yards and three long TDs.
The Jets have to move 22 players to get from 75 roster players to 53 by Saturday afternoon. Ryan is expected to announce the cuts in a conference call with reporters some time Saturday. ... TE Ben Hartsock, whose signing became official today after Atlanta released him Tuesday, wasn't supposed to dress for this game but did show up in uniform on the sideline and was seen chatting with Sanchez at the end of the first quarter. ... Rookie RB Shonn Greene (ribs) also dressed but did not play.