Result: In a turgid affair that was absolute ugliness aesthetically, and pure Jets football strategically, New York’s dominating defensive backfield bailed out their sputtering offense, while grinding out a 9-3 preseason victory on the road against the Carolina Panthers. With Darrelle Revis still holding out, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, and Jim Leonhard provided ample evidence that the Jets’ secondary could remain a definite strength, whether or not the League’s best corner reassumes his perch atop a dynamic depth chart. Though the Jets’ reinforced their offense after last season, and possess high expectations for the group, here was a victory that harkened to the raw ground and pound successes of 2009.
Top Players: In a first half that provided scant aerial theatrics, the performances of LaDainian Tomlinson and DeAngelo Williams were an offensive beacon. Tomlinson made the most of his three carries, racking up twenty-six yards. The multidimensional halfback also collected two catches, but he found little running room after securing the receptions. Tomlinson tallied most of his rushing yards on a twenty-yard burst from the five-yard line, which erased a third and thirteen during the Jets’ initial drive. Tomlinson is displaying satisfactory first-step quickness at this early juncture, and his pass catching talents have shown no sign of erosion.
Though the Jets’ first team defense impressed, shutting the Panthers out, their star running-back DeAngelo Williams was not corralled, also collecting twenty-six yards, and chalking up a 4.3 average while knifing through New York’s defensive line, occasionally eluding their fantastic linebackers.
Jets safety Jim Leonhard aborted an early Panthers possession with a nifty sideline interception, smoothly sliding over to help rookie corner Kyle Wilson, who himself was impressive, and hardly exploited by Carolina’s passing game. Leonhard also picked up a sack during a jailbreak blitz on Moore, whose head may have been ever so slightly spinning after opposing an elite defense on point.
Vernon Gholston is showing flashes at defensive end after his impact free tenure as linebacker, nabbing four solo tackles, two for a loss, throwing his weight with agression at the point of attack.
Kicker Nick Folk just may have been the brightest point of the evening for the Jets. His signing questioned by certain fretting fans throughout the off-season and into training camp, Folk racked up three field goals, from 43 yards in the first quarter, 36 in the second, and most impressively, 49 in the fourth. Folk, another year removed from hip surgery, just may be back in the form that made him one of the top kickers in the League.
Panthers defensive-ends Eric Moore and Everette Brown each had two sacks.
Sometimes maligned reserve cornerback Drew Coleman made a leaping interception in the fourth quarter against highly touted rookie Jimmy Clausen to secure the win for New York, sealing a fabulous night for their secondary.
Rough Nights: It was a first half that would have made any forward pass enthusiast wince. Second year Jets starter Mark Sanchez had a terrible performance, overthrowing short, medium and deep targets with equal proficiency. He also appeared slow to identify blitz packages, failing to adequately compliment a strong New York rushing attack.
Sanchez failed to capitalize on favorable field position throughout his outing, provided by a generous Panthers special teams unit, with Jordan Pough and Armanti Edwards doing their best Ryan Mouton imitation. Well, Pough didn’t quite provide a traditional muff early in the first quarter, a bouncing Steve Weatherford punt clipping his foot, as he stood momentarily unaware. Pough and Edwards’ errors resulted in six Jets points, and could have hurt even worse, had Sanchez been able to find a rhythm.
Carolina’s seemingly stout defense should not be overlooked while assessing Sanchez’s disappointing appearance, but it’d take a delirious optimist to provide a positive critique.
Fortunately for Sanchez, his quarterbacking was par for the course, on a night where his backup Mark Brunell also struggled mightily, and Panthers first stringer Matt Moore found his assortment of spirals swallowed by an opportunistic Jets secondary. Moore may have thrown an interception, but his paltry 3.4 yard completion rate easily outdid Sanchez’s anemic 1.2. But if this were some sort of sick contest, Mark Brunell took the prize with an unfathomable 0.3. Safe check-downs, ahoy!
The Jets offensive line was far from sterling, allowing five sacks.
It was an up and down night for rookie running back Joe McKnight, who fumbled and didn’t exactly light up the box score with twenty-eight yards rushing on eleven attempts. But he did return a punt in the fourth quarter for sixty-seven yards.
Kevin O’Connell went 0-3 in a short stint behind center.
Training Camp star Jeff Cumberland, a physical specimen with speed to burn at the tight end position, recorded two catches.
In unfortunate injury news, defensive lineman Ropati Pitoitua was severely hurt during tonight’s contest, suffering an Achilles tendon injury. Pitotua, a mountain of a man, was seen being carried by teammate Kris Jenkins on the sideline, eventually placed on a medical cart and wheeled toward the locker-room.
Head Coach Rex Ryan: “I liked the way our defense played in the first half, keeping them off the board… [Offensively] We have to do better than that. We got three turnovers down there in the red zone. We have to move the ball better. That was disappointing.”
Quarterback Mark Sanchez: “We kept putting ourselves in third and longs, which allowed them to play deep and forced us to take the stuff underneath… We need to be a little more efficient on first downs and score touchdowns in the red-zone.”