By Steve Lichtenstein
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Shortly after scoring on their opening drive of the second half of Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, the Jets offense checked out.
Gang Green managed just four first downs in their last five possessions — not counting the victory formation — over the final 25 minutes after dazzling (ok, mildly captivating) the London audience with their balanced attack in taking a 20-point lead.
The Jets’ special teams also checked out around the same time. Nick Folk missed a makeable 40-yard field goal. A week after allowing an 89-yard touchdown return to Philadelphia’s Darren Sproles, the punt coverage unit barely made an effort to get downfield on consecutive Ryan Quigley boots in the fourth quarter, allowing Miami’s Jarvis Landry to take them both back into Jets territory.
Jets fans have seen a variety of endings over the years. Dominance for most of a game, followed by prevent defenses, bumbling turnovers, costly penalties, and inexplicable clock management. The Jets are why WFAN’s Joe Benigno has moaned “Oh, the pain!” so often on his show that he should have copyrighted it.
Fortunately, the Jets’ defense was on call for the full 60 minutes. When the Dolphins were threatening to take over the game late in spite of their previous ineptitude, it was the “D” that made the big plays to preserve the 27-14 victory.
Thank heavens this unit maintained its composure. There were no alterations of a successful game plan just because the Jets had a nice lead. According to one report, the Jets blitzed Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill on 35 of his 48 dropbacks, sending a defensive back in on the pass rush 22 times.
When the Jets lost some key players — safety Calvin Pryor, middle linebacker David Harris, and rookie defensive lineman Leonard Williams — due to injuries in the fourth quarter, others stepped up.
There wasn’t any extracurricular nonsense that so often got the Rex Ryan Jets in trouble. Yes, the Jets did commit five defensive penalties for 93 yards, but that was more due to officiating that I found somewhat reminiscent of the state semifinals in “Remember The Titans.” I half expected Jets cornerback Buster Skrine to run off the field to complain to head coach Todd Bowles, “Coach, they’re calling a holding penalty every time,” after his foul on a fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line gave the Dolphins a new set of downs with more than six minutes remaining to make up two scores.
It wasn’t necessary.
The conclusion of that Miami possession saw the refs find the Dolphins guilty of a pick play and Jets safety Dion Bailey — fresh off the waiver wire to understudy for Pryor — sandwiching two big tackles in the flat around a pass defended in the end zone in which Miami tight end Jordan Cameron caught the ball out of bounds.
And then, on 4th down from the 9, Tannehill — under pressure from Williams — threw a prayer into the end zone toward Revis Island.
Like a plane flying into the Bermuda Triangle, the ball intended for a streaking Landry was swallowed up by Darrelle Revis.
If the Dolphins had scored there … I don’t want to go there.
Marcus Williams, another part of the Jets’ newfound depth in the secondary, thwarted the Dolphins’ last-gasp possession with his second pick of the season, turning his head in time to snatch the ball away from Cameron along the left sideline in the end zone with 1:51 left to play.
With the victory, the Jets flew home feeling like they can be even better in the second quarter of the season if they can get all three phases humming for a full game.
Sure, the Dolphins were the latest in a line of teams coming apart at the seams and Tannehill may be the most overrated quarterback in the league, but going 3-1 in those games is no small feat for the Jets, who battled their own chemistry issues all preseason.
Give Bowles and especially general manager Mike Maccagnan credit here. Bowles for his steady hand and Maccagnan for importing two veteran leaders in Revis and wide receiver Brandon Marshall to reshape the Jets’ identity following a miserable 4-12 end to the John Idzik/Ryan regime.
Though his touchdown streak ended at three weeks, Marshall went over 100 yards receiving for the third consecutive game on Sunday. His 58-yard fly on the opening snap set the tone for the day. The Dolphins were forced to somewhat respect the Jets’ air competency, which in turn provided Chris Ivory a little more room to rumble for 166 rushing yards on 29 carries. Not that Ivory needed it, as his 91 yards after contact set a league-high for the season, according to ESPN.com.
As for Revis, he’s still as valuable at age 30 as he was when his age matched his uniform number. In four games, he has two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. I’ll admit I’ve had my doubts he could still pull it off, especially with the groin injury he’s been battling the last few weeks. But if I was concerned that opponents would use the injury as their passageway through the Island, the corresponding stats do not support it.
Opponents have still mostly avoided Revis’ side even when he’s been isolated in man coverage. Tannehill was bailed out with a pass interference call on an incomplete deep downfield ball to Landry midway through the second quarter and then there was the interception. That was it for Revis’ body of work on Sunday.
No wonder the Jets had the manpower to be effective when Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers dialed up blitzes on Tannehill, who went 8-for-25 for 70 yards and an interception when the Jets exceeded four pass rushers, per ESPN.com. If any cornerback can justify a $16 million salary cap hit, it’s Revis.
It remains to be seen if the Jets “D” will live up to this standard when the competition stiffens. From here, each game’s importance only increases. After their bye week, the Jets host the Redskins before travelling to bitter rival New England.
The Jets will have no excuse if first place in the AFC East isn’t on the line on Oct. 25.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1