'D' still the key for the Jets

Posted Sept. 20, 2010 @ 5:50 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

The Jets' Week One performance in a 10-9 loss to the Ravens led to a lot of questions: Why can't Shonn Greene hold on to the ball? Who will replace NT Kris Jenkins? Will Mark Sanchez throw the ball down the field? And what's with all the penalties?

The Jets' performance in Week Two has New Yorkers asking different questions: Is the Sanchez who showed up Sunday here to stay? Will LaDainian Tomlinson run this well all season long? Can Antonio Cromartie be an impact player for 16 games? And have the Jets regained their swagger?

Yes, the tone has changed in New York after the Jets' dominant second half lead them to a 28-14 victory over the Patriots. Rex Ryan challenged his team to go out and take care of business, and in the final 30 minutes, they did just that. The Jets are now 1-1, and can grab first place in the AFC East if they beat the Dolphins Sunday night.

The PFW Spin

The blame for Week One and the credit for Week Two both might have gone to Sanchez, and that's completely deserved. But lost amongst all the quarterback talk is that the Jets' defense also made a huge improvement from Week One to Two. The defense played well vs. the Ravens, allowing only 3.8 yards per play. But they were awful at getting off the field on third down — Baltimore converted 11-of-19 third downs —and were exposed with what appeared to be a lack of depth at cornerback. Despite having the services of CB Darrelle Revis for only the first half of the Patriots game, the Jets' new additions on "D" helped halt New England when it mattered most.

One play epitomized the defensive upgrades vs. the Patriots. On the very first play of the fourth quarter, the Patriots had 2nd-and-3 on their own 38. The Jets had just taken a 21-14 lead, and everything was set up for a classic final 15 minutes between the longtime rivals. Tom Brady was under center, prepared to do what all 78,000-plus at the New Meadowlands Stadium expected: Lead his team down the field to tie the game.

Brady took the snap, dropped back two steps and immediately looked right, where Randy Moss was being guarded by Cromartie, who'd taken over when Revis went out with a hamstring injury. With some pressure in his face, the QB lofted a pass 17 yards downfield and hit his favorite target perfectly in stride along the Patriots' sideline. As he'd done earlier in the game on his touchdown, Moss leaped to catch the ball with just his right hand. But instead of hauling it in, he bobbled it, allowing Cromartie to recover on the play. As the ball hung in midair, the cornerback tackled Moss, ending the chance at a reception for both of them.

The ball didn't fall to the turf though. Jets FS Brodney Pool, who had started the play in the middle of the field, had come over to help Cromartie bring down Moss. Pool missed the Ravens game with an ankle injury but appeared to be fully healthy on this play, as he camped under the batted ball, pulled it into his chest and dragged both feet inbounds to make the catch. The referees called it incomplete initially, but Rex Ryan challenged and replays proved the interception was legal.

Last year, Cromartie was on the Chargers; Pool was on the Browns. Last week, Cromartie was in the crosshairs of Ravens QB Joe Flacco and was picked on repeatedly; Pool had to watch what should have been his Jets debut with crutches under his arms. But in Week Two, both were on the field when it mattered most for the Jets, ending the Patriots' comeback before it began.

Sanchez's improvement won the game for New York, but like 2009, it will be the defense that will be relied on from week to week.