By Abraham Gutierrez
After surviving an atrocious first half of play, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick helped the New York Jets keep the Cleveland Browns winless (0-8) with a crucial, 31-28 victory on the road, improving the Jets to 3-5 on the 2016 NFL season. Gang Green not only extended its win streak to a season-best two games and also kept the team’s slim playoff hopes alive.
This was also a contest that had a little bit of everything, including an early scare. With second-string quarterback Geno Smith out for the remainder of the season, Fitzpatrick was taken to the locker room just a few minutes into the game following a vicious blow to the head.
Proving his toughness once again, “Fitz” shook off a hit that sent his helmet flying into the sidelines, passed the NFL’s concussion protocol, and didn’t allow backup quarterback Bryce Petty to attempt a single pass, as he returned for the following series.
After the game, a fired up Jets head coach Todd Bowles summarized New York’s resilient win with one simple word: Attitude. “It was all about attitude,” he said in his post-game press conference. “We need an attitude check, we didn’t come out with an attitude in the first half, which we preached all week in practice. We came out in the second half with a bunch of attitude and played a different type of game.”
Offensively, the Jets recorded 21 first downs, out of which, 12 came on passing plays and eight on the ground. New York also went 7-for-16 on third downs and was perfect on their lone fourth-down attempt. They also caught a break by getting a first down on a penalty committed by the Browns.
After a first half to forget, the Jets finished the game with a total of 393 yards in 71 plays, which averages out to 5.5 yards per snap. After a win like this one, there’s no question that running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell deserve a steak dinner, as the duo rushed for 82 yards (25 rushes, 2 TDs) and 76 yards (6 rushes, TD) respectively.
As stated above, the passing game got off to an extremely dreadful start. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the Jets would rally to win this game after watching them struggle to get the offense going through the first two quarters.
At the break, the Jets trailed the Browns, 20-7, and had tallied a miserable 106 yards of total offense, with 24 coming through the air and 82 on the ground. Off to one of the worst first halves of his NFL career, Fitzpatrick went into the locker room having completed just 3-of-14 passes for 30 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, while being sacked twice (39.6 QBR).
However, the Harvard product would turn things dramatically, eclipsing his first half numbers in the opening drive of the third quarter (54 yards, TD). Fitzpatrick must have gotten an earful in the locker room, as the Jets came out, marched down the field and scored a touchdown to swing the momentum back in their favor.
The offensive line also deserves a ton of credit for the Jets turnaround. Not only was Fitzpatrick not sacked in the final two stanzas, but they also enabled the running game to win the time of possession battle, 33:41 to 26:19. The following two players were also instrumental on the win, as they led the Jets in receiving yards: Quincy Enunwa (4 catches, 93 yards, TD) and Brandon Marshall (4 catches, 68 yards).
The Jets’ defense also got off to a shaky start, allowing one of the worst offenses in football to put up a 20-spot through the first 30 minutes of play. However, much like the offense, the Jets’ “D” would recover, pitching a shutout in the third quarter and giving up just eight points in the final stanza to help seal the victory.
With a gutsy performance, Kacy Rodgers’ defensive unit allowed 21 first downs and 407 yards of total offense — highlighted by just 68 yards from the Browns’ rushing attack (339 passing yards). Defensive standouts include Darrelle Revis (9 tackles), Marcus Gilchrist (6 tackles, INT), Lorenzo Mauldin (2 tackles, INT) and Muhammad Wilkerson (2 tackles, sack) for the Jets.
Special Teams: A+
With the offense struggling the way it did, the importance of having solid special teams unit is magnified. It comes as no surprise that the Jets’ special teams unit minimized the damage by simply doing the job they are paid to do.
Punter Lachlan Edwards had a great day, as he helped win the field-position battle with six punts, which averaged out to 47 yards per kick, along with three boots inside Cleveland’s 20-yard line and a long of 57 yards.
Clearly, Bowles deserves a ton of credit for not letting his team’s slow start determine the outcome of this game. His decision to stick with the running game –rather than forcing passes — when nothing else was working, could have been the difference in this ballgame.
When asked if he had given his team an earful or an inspiring speech during halftime, Bowles responded candidly. “No big speech to be made,” he calmly said. “You have got to have attitude when you’re getting your ass kicked.”
Up Next: Miami Dolphins (Week 9) in South Florida
Riding a two-game win streak, the (3-5) NY Jets travel to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, for an old school AFC East clash with the (3-4) Miami Dolphins in Week 9. The Dolphins, who’ve also won two straight coming off a bye week, are listed as two-and-a-half-point (-2½) favorites at home against the visiting Jets (+2½).