NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — If there is a bright, shining light in the Jets’ galaxy this season, it’s Muhammad Wilkerson.
He’s the guy the fan base is hanging its collective hat on. He’s the new player they trust most, now that Darrelle Revis has taken his island to northern Florida.
So when the mammoth defensive lineman went down in a heap against New England last Thursday there was legitimate cause for concern. While there are ridiculous fans out there that think every injury these days is some kind of player-wide conspiracy to slow down a motivated offense or to buy time when a team doesn’t have a timeout, Wilkerson did indeed suffer a legitimate ankle sprain.
However, he told WFAN co-hosts Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on Tuesday that he’s definitely good to go for the Jets’ tilt with visiting Buffalo on Sunday.
“Well, I felt some pain and I wasn’t too sure. That’s why I stayed down. But we got a great training staff here. I’m getting all my treatment here to get me back on the field,” Wilkerson said. “Those guys would do whatever needs to be done to get me back out on the field.”
Wilkerson, who is coming off a 70-tackle, 5-sack 2012 season, is already considered the heart and soul of the defense, but when combined with rookie Sheldon Richardson, undrafted rookie Damon Harrison and, eventually, last year’s first-round pick, Quinton Coples, the Jets could very well end up with one of the more dominant defensive lines in the NFL. Wilkerson said all the media talk of the Jets being among the worst teams in the league was just that, talk.
The Jets, at least from a defensive standpoint, showed why Thursday, putting the clamps on Tom Brady during the 13-10 loss to the Patriots. Brady was limited to 185 yards and a 48.7 completion percentage. And while it’s true New England was missing several of its key skill position players, Wilkerson said he’s confident his defense would still have done a fine job had running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Ron Gronkowski played.
“I think overall our defense played pretty well, getting Brady off the field and getting the ball to our offense. That’s what we’re here to do. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the win. There was just some mistakes we also made on the back end that we have to fix and learn from them and move forward and get ready for Buffalo.
“The credit goes once again to the (coaches) for putting together a great game plan. All 11 guys were going out there trying to execute to the best of our abilities,” Wilkerson added.
However, despite the solid defensive effort, the Jets did lose a game many thought they should have won. When asked by Joe and Evan if he viewed the outcome as a missed opportunity, Wilkerson said there’s no such thing as a good loss.
“After watching the film, just small mental mistakes that we made as a defense we have to correct them. I guess I don’t believe in small victories so I think we should have won, but we didn’t, unfortunately,” Wilkerson said.
The Jets have been stout against the run in the early going, something that wasn’t the case last season, allowing just 119 yards total, or 2.4 per carry. Wilkerson said the defense felt is absolutely necessary to set a tone immediately in Week 1.
“I think that’s just for myself and the defense, just starting off last we had Spiller and those guys running all over us. So we definitely wanted to make sure we made emphasis on stopping the run this year and doing it early in the season,” Wilkerson said.
Spiller, as in C.J. Spiller, will pose a significant challenge for the Jets on Sunday when Buffalo comes to town. He had 325 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in two meetings last season. Out wide, the Bills sport Stevie Johnson, who is coming off an 8-catch, 111-yard performance, including grabbing the winning TD with seconds to play, in a 24-23 victory over Carolina last week.
“We need to set edges. He’s a quick, fast guy and we have to make sure everyone is filling their holes and filling their gaps and not letting them get in any creases. On the back end, we gotta do our job, know our assignments and shut down Stevie Johnson,” Wilkerson said.
While the Jets’ offense will remain a work in progress for the foreseeable future under the control of rookie quarterback Geno Smith, Wilkerson said his team is not nearly as bad as all of the so-called experts have said. And if you think the Jets haven’t read what’s been written, think again.
“That’s always motivation for myself and hopefully for my teammates as well,” Wilkerson said, referring to a recent report that ranked the Jets 32nd in the league in its power rankings. “At the end of the day you have to have some pride. Somebody’s telling you that you are not capable of doing something, you know, you want to go out there and prove to yourself that you can do it. That’s what we’re doing.
“We just gotta believe in each other and keep preparing like the pros that we are and learn and get better each and every day, and at the end of the day, have each other’s back as well,” he added.
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