NEW YORK (WFAN) — Rex Ryan’s motivational ploy of the week heading into Monday night’s game in Atlanta was demanding that his Jets put aside the brutal loss from the week before and just play with fearlessness.
It’s safe to say they got the message.
“That was the message the night before the game. I think we did that as a team. Everybody came out and played their guts out,” defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson told WFAN’s Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on Tuesday.
The Jets marched into the Georgia Dome and in front of national television audience took down a team that very few gave them a chance against. Their 30-28 victory over the desperate Falcons could very well be the springboard that ups the ante for a team not many thought would be a factor in the AFC this season.
But yet, the Jets are 3-2 and are coming home to play the winless Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Suddenly, anything seems possible.
Wilkerson had a massive game, with five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He said the Jets have used all of the talk of how bad they were supposed to be as motivation.
“Personally, I do and as a team I think my teammates do as well. We have people thinking that we can’t finish and we can’t get the win. Collectively we put it together as brothers and fought together out there on the field,” Wilkerson said.
Statistically, the Falcons dominated the game, registering 11 more first downs and nearly 11 more minutes of possession, but the Jets did not commit a turnover and got an incredible performance from rookie quarterback Geno Smith on offense, and limited the Falcons to 64 yards on the ground and kept their dangerous skills position players — Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez — out of the end zone.
Wilkerson said the Jets took the criticism that followed their 38-13 loss in Tennessee two weeks ago personally, adding that his team got contributions from seemingly the entire roster.
“It definitely felt like it was one of my better games and overall as a defense as well. Many guys made great plays across the board on the defensive line, and a hell of a game for David Harris. He did a great job,” Wilkerson said.
The Jets put a ton of trust in corner Antonio Cromartie against Jones, one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. Though Jones did end up with eight receptions for 99 yards he had to earn every last bit of what he got, and was blanketed near the end zone.
“Coaches told Cro earlier in the week he would be matched up with Julio all game. That was a great challenge and I know he expected it and wanted that challenge as well,” Wilkerson said.
As mentioned earlier, the Jets did not beat themselves with turnovers, but also cut way down on penalties. After getting 20 in a win over Buffalo back in Week 3, and then 10 in the loss to Tennessee, they were only flagged six times against Atlanta.
“To make it simple, we’re really just tired of doing push-ups at practice,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson gushed when asked about Smith, the first-year signal-caller who took a ton of abuse in the press and from fans after committing four turnovers in the loss to Tennessee. Smith even apologized to his defense for his poor play. He then backed that up by going 16-of-20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns on Monday night, earning a passer rating of 147.7.
“Geno is a great player, a great athlete. Like you guys said he had those turnovers last week, but last night on a prime time stage he had zero turnovers. He’s learning each and every day from his mistakes and he’s only going to get better,” Wilkerson said. “He doesn’t feed into the pressure or whatever anybody says about him, negativity-wise, and he’s becoming a great player at a young stage of his career.”
For the first time in a long time the Jets are heading into a game that they are actually expected to win. The Steelers are 0-4, have struggled to run the football and have not played the type of trademark defense that has been their calling card for decades. Wilkerson said the Jets understand the new expectations, but they are trying to keep things in perspective.
“We can’t go into this game and think just because of their record we’re going to automatically win. Those guys at the end of the day play the game just like we do and want to win,” Wilkerson said. “Any team can be beaten on any given day or night. We’re gonna come out just like any other weekend and do what we have to do, collectively, to get the win.”
The Steelers own an 18-4 edge in the all-time series, including the 24-19 victory in the 2010 AFC title game.
“We lost to them last year so that’s something I don’t like going into this week,” Wilkerson said, referring to the 27-10 defeat in Pittsburgh. “But we’re going to prepare mentally for Big Ben (Roethlisberger), He’s a great quarterback, always making plays, especially down field with those receivers. So just like every week we know we are going to have a great game plan with the coaches that we have; they always put together a great game plan for us.
“At the end of the day I know all 11 guys will go out there and know their assignments and do their jobs,” Wilkerson added.
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