Remember all the negative vibes that surrounded the Jets all week after losing to Baltimore on Monday? I didn't think so. The New York Jets beat the New England Patriots 28-14 in a convincing all-around win, firing the first salvo in the rivalry and in the race for the AFC East title.
The offense that looked completely inept just six days ago showed up in a big way. LaDainian Tomlinson once again stole the show at runningback, tallying 102 total yards and having the fans chant his name multiple times. But it was the quarterback, the maligned Mark Sanchez, who was the biggest factor behind this victory. 21-for-30 for 220 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions is exactly the stat line this team is looking for from Sanchez. Convert in the red zone, don't turn the ball over, and move the chains. He did all three of these things Sunday afternoon.
Sanchez's favorite target was again Dustin Keller who had 7 catches for a career high 115 yards and a touchdown. This was the most impactful regular season game of his career. Braylon Edwards also had a strong game, catching 5 passes for 45 yards, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion. Jerricho Cotchery also added 26 yards and a touchdown.
The offense looked like a completely different unit. There was less pre-snap motion. There was more play action. Sanchez had more time to throw. And most importantly, Sanchez looked confident and willing to make throws down the field. On one play in particular, a 3rd and 1 inside the 20 yardline, rather than dumping the ball off to an open Tony Richardson or running for a first down, he confidently threw a deep pass down the field to Keller for the big gain instead.
He was more willing to let his receivers make plays. And Edwards, Keller, Cotchery, and Tomlinson aggressively attacked the football when called upon in the passing game, making catches and making things happen afterwards.
Defensively, things started off poorly, but a second half shutout was key in winning this game. Tom Brady had time to throw and was moving the chains at will early on. Just before halftime, with the score tied at 7, Randy Moss beat Darrelle Revis deep catching a one-handed pass without ever protecting the ball with his off-hand. Rather than be deflated, however, the Jets offense came back with a field goal before halftime. And that was the last New England would score.
In the 2nd half, even without Revis who pulled his hamstring on the Moss touchdown, the defense was a whole new unit. Antonio Cromartie stepped up in Revis's absence and shut down Moss, while Kyle Wilson also redeemed himself with a strong performance. Even Drew Coleman, a player few Jets fans ever give credit to, covered and tackled well all game. And when the Jets got the lead, New England was obviously one-dimensional, opening up the playbook for Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine to attack Brady.
When the Patriots did try to run the ball, they were mostly unsuccessful, thanks to the efforts of Sione Pouha, Mike DeVito, David Harris, and others. New England ran for 52 yards on 20 carries and mostly abandoned it once they got behind.
The man who finally put the game away for good on defense with a strip-sack of Brady was none other than Jason Taylor. I think it's safe to say Taylor has earned his jersey now, and Jets fans like myself need to not think of him as that prancing Dolphin and more of a key cog in the best defense in the NFL. He's clearly banged up as he had to leave the game twice, but once Calvin Pace gets back, he and Taylor will be a tough duo to stop.
Finally, Ryan and the rest of the staff deserves a lot of credit for calling a great game. Offensively, the Jets were in rhythm, something that seemed impossible last week. The defense held Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez to just 14 points. And Ryan was correct on two challenge flags he threw, one that overturned a potential Sanchez interception that actually hit the ground and one that found Brodney Pool to be in bounds on his interception, giving the Jets the ball with the lead.
After this game, it doesn't get any easier, as the Jets now will have another game that will be hyped up as a major statement game, and for good reason. The Jets will travel to Miami to take on a Dolphins team that is 2-0 this year, winning two road games. This is a team that swept the Jets last year, and if the Jets want to get over .500 and truly stake their claim on top of the division, that would be a big win for them to get. Otherwise, the Dolphins are already two games ahead of the division with the early tiebreaker.
But for now, enjoy it. Beating the Patriots is always great, and we deserve another day or two to savor it.