Sanchez, Cromartie lift Jets over Jaguars 32-3

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the Jets, it was never about how they finished but how they started. Staring down an awful statistic of going 16-straight games without scoring a first quarter touchdown, the Jets were challenged by head coach Rex Ryan to come out of the gates firing against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Last night we challenged our team that if there was one streak we wanted to break that was it, struggling offensively as they always put it,” Ryan said.

And Mark Sanchez and the rest of the offense went to work early and connected with Santonio Holmes on a 17-yard strike just three minutes into the game. Antonio Cromartie chipped in on defense and special teams, intercepting Jaguars’ QB Luke McCown twice while averaging 42.5 yards returning kicks, as the team steamrolled the Jaguars 32-3.

“[Ryan] put the challenge on us and we answered the call,” Sanchez said after the game.

The Jets (2-0) won the toss and received the ball — something that has only happened only a handful of times in the Ryan era. They moved the down field swiftly before Sanchez capped his 4-for-4 60-yard drive with the 17-yard strike to Holmes.

First round pick Muhammed Wilkerson’s first career sack came three plays later. And the big man from Temple did it in a big way — a safety. That’s when the Jaguars and McCown knew it just wasn’t going to be their day. McCown was picked off four times and sacked twice.

“It was a tough one.  The good thing, is it only counts for one game and not the other 14 we have left. We’re 1-1, that’s where we stand. We have to go back to work and get better,” McCown said.

WR Santonio Holmes and QB Mark Sanchez celebrate after hooking up for a TD against the Jaguars on Sunday. (JetsInsider.com Photo)

Eric Smith and Josh Mauga account for the other two interceptions for McCown (6-for-19, 59 yards), and posted an abysmal 1.8 QB rating. This is just the second start for McCown in a Jaguars uniform, replacing former QB David Garrard — who was cut prior to the start of the season. The tenth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Blaine Gabbert (5-for-6, 52 yards), came in to relieve McCown and the offense, who went without their star tight end Marcedes Lewis.

“I’m proud of them. You can’t affect how you get on the field. You can affect how you get off it. That’s got to be a mentality and that is the mentality around here,” Ryan said about the defense.

The Jets left their home field 2-0, a place where they struggled last year. The emphatic victory comes right before a grueling three-game road trip that features visits to Oakland, New England and then Baltimore. A west coast trip then back-to-back games with the cream of the AFC crop will be a titanic test for the former Titans of New York, who moved to 5-1 when playing in their blue and mustard AFL Titan jerseys.

It’s unknown if they will have their All-Pro center, Nick Mangold, on that road trip. Mangold suffered a high right ankle sprain in the first quarter and was seen on crutches wearing a boot afterward. X-rays on his ankle come up negative, yet he still will have an MRI taken on Monday.

“I felt like I could give it a go, but [my ankle] didn’t want to agree with me on that. I couldn’t really put too much pressure on it. I don’t know we’re just playing it safe,” Mangold said.

Dustin Keller (6 receptions, 101 yards, 1 TD) proved to be a significant cog in keeping the Jets offense rolling. In fact, all the Jets tight ends played a role in offensive momentum as they accounted for nine of Sanchez’s 17 completions. For Keller, who’s in a contract year, it was his second straight game with a touchdown.

“They pretty much gave us the middle of the field and they were playing a lot of zone.  They just left the middle of the field wide open so that left a lot of things wide open for me,” Keller said.

Plaxico Burress had zero receptions today and only one target from Sanchez. For large chunks of this game it seemed like he wasn’t even on the team. Ryan attributed that to the Jaguars rolling safeties toward him for double teams.

“He was taking double coverage a ton. On one of those touchdown catches they had two guys on him. He’s great, never complained, never said anything. He just kept taking two guys with him the whole time. That opened things up for others,” Ryan said of Burress.

The fast start of the Jets really set the tone for the game, leaving the Jaguars forced to play from behind just five minutes into the first quarter. After the 17-yard score from Sanchez, Wilkerson sacked McCown in the end zone for a safety. The play was reviewed and Wilkerson’s first NFL sack was upheld.

“It felt great to get there and get my first-career sack in the NFL.  It felt really good,” Wilkerson said.

“The Jets had their way a little bit. They forced us to turn the ball over more than we can. They deserved to win today and won handily,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said after the game. “It wasn’t an ideal way to start this ball game, that’s for sure.”

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