Houston; we have lift-off.
On a day that marked the debuts of both a rookie head coach and quarterback, the New York Jets took flight, turning in a truly veteran performance.
QB Mark Sanchez completed 18 of 31 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown, while the defense dominated on the other side of the ball, leading New York to an emphatic season-opening, 24-7 victory Sunday at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
“We wanted to get a win under our belt. That meant the world to me,” said Sanchez. “I wanted to play well for the veteran defense, my offensive line and also for coach Ryan. This is just Week 1 of 16, and I gotta keep things in perspective.”
The Jets’ defense turned in a near- perfect game, manhandling the Texans offensive line from the start, forcing two turnovers and not allowing a single point from the Houston offense.
Led by 11 tackles and a sack from LB David Harris, the Jets’ defensive unit applied non-stop pressure on Houston QB Matt Schaub. Rex Ryan’s unit blitzed early and often, never allowing the Texan offense to get comfortable. Houston’s explosive offense was totally shutdown, limited to only 183 yards of total offense.
“When Rex came here, he pretty much brought that physical and nasty mentality, and I think it trickled down,” said Harris.
The Jets’ run defense was particularly stingy, allowing only 38 yards on the ground. Texans’ Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson, who led the league in receiving a year ago, was virtually nonexistent all day, a credit to CB Darrelle Revis. Revis blanketed Johnson, limiting him to only four receptions for 35 yards.
Texan’s QB Matt Schaub completed 18 of 33 passes for 166 yards, threw one interception and was sacked twice. The Jets’ defense also held the Texans to an average of 4.0 yards on first downs. Last season, the Texans were among the best in the league on first down, averaging 6.5 yards per play.
Despite a strong finish to the preseason and high praise from his teammates, no one could have expected such a stellar performance from the rookie Sanchez in his debut.
Sanchez was magnificent, displaying outstanding poise and terrific footwork as he escaped pressure from the Houston defense all day. The rookie was particularly effective on third down, converting 10 of 18 for first downs, a truly outstanding number for a rookie making his first start on the road.
Sanchez also displayed veteran pocket presence in his first start, allowing more time for his receivers to get open down the field.
After the game, Texans’ head coach Gary Kubiak offered high praise for the rookie. “We made him move around. He’s good. He made a lot of plays,” said Kubiak. “He did it in the preseason. He did it in college. I told our guys he’d come in here and do it, and he did.”
The former Trojan was helped tremendously by a strong performance by the Jets’ receiving core of TE Dustin Keller (4 receptions for 94 yards), WR Jerricho Cotchery (6 receptions for 90 yards) and WR Chansi Stuckey (4 receptions for 64 yards, 1 TD) and the diverse play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Sanchez was also helped tremendously by a phenomenal performance from the Jets’ offensive line, which did a great job of protecting the rookie all day, not allowing a single sack.
After going three and out on his first drive, Sanchez led the Jets offense down the field on a 68-yard drive. The rookie converted on third down on three separate occasions, completing passes to Stuckey, Keller, and Cotchery. The drive was encapsulated by 24-yard field goal by K Jay Feely, putting the Jets ahead, 3-0.
The eight minute and twenty-seven second drive lasted 16 plays, longer than any drive the Jets offense put together last season, with Brett Favre at the helm.
After being totally shut down by the Jets defense on their first three drives, the Texans offense began to get into their groove on their second possession of the second quarter.
QB Matt Schaub led Houston down the field into Jets territory with long completions to RB Steve Slaton and FB Vonta Leach. On second and eleven from the New York 35, Schaub completed a short screen pass to Slaton who juked and gyrated past a handful of Jets defenders, picking up a first down and poised for much more.
That’s when the Jets caught their first big break of the day. At the 17-yard line, Jets CB Donald Strickland hit RB Steve Slaton with his helmet, popping the ball up into the air, falling into the arms of Jets DE Mike DeVito.
Taking over at their own 22-yard line Sanchez engineered another brilliant scoring drive, highlighted by two deep third down completions to Chansi Stuckey. On third and nine from their own 38, Sanchez eluded pressure and fired a 20-yard missile to Stuckey. Then, on third and ten later in the drive, Sanchez connected again with an uncovered Stuckey for a 30-yard touchdown pass, extending the New York lead to 10-0.
On the final play of the half, Sanchez completed a 25-yard cross-field pass to a wide open Dustin Keller. After being taken down, Keller exchanged words with Texans LB DeMeco Ryans, who was flagged for a taunting penalty. The defensive penalty ended the half, as the Jets headed to the locker room with the 10-0 lead.
The Jets picked up in the second half where they left off, dominating possession of the football for half of the third quarter. On third and two from the Houston 36, Sanchez came with yet another huge third down conversion. This time, the rookie found Cotchery who took it 25 yards before being taken down at Houston 39.
After two dynamic runs by RB Leon Washington, Sanchez gave it to RB Thomas Jones, who took it up the middle for the 1-yard score, extending the Jets lead to 17-0.
On the Texans’ next possession, the Jets defense delivered the knockout blow. After driving down to the New York 49, the Texans made a last ditch effort, going for it on fourth and two. Schaub’s pass intended for Pro Bowl TE Owen Daniels, was deflected by a diving effort from Jets S Eric Smith. Smith’s deflection ended the drive and effectively squashing any hopes of a comeback for the Texans. But that wasn’t all she wrote for Houston.
On the Jets’ first drive of the fourth quarter, Sanchez made his first rookie mistake. On second and fifteen, Sanchez’s pass to Dustin Keller was intercepted by Texans S James Busing. Busing ran ten yards with the ball and then coughed it up. Fortunately for Houston, the ball was picked up by S Dominique Barber, who took it 48 yards for the score, making it 17-7.
Sanchez bounced back quickly on the next possession, finding Keller for a 33-yard strike on a post route down the right side. On the very next play, Thomas Jones broke free, taking a handoff 38 yards to the end zone, putting the Jets up 24-7.
Before Jones’ game-breaking run, he had struggled mightily all day, accounting for only 16 yards on his first 14 carries. Jones finished the day with 107 yards on 20 attempts and two touchdowns.
Jones praised the Jets coaching staff for sticking with the run, despite the team’s first half struggles. “They were putting nine or 10 guys in the box. Anytime you do that, it’s impossible to block everybody, said Jones. “The coaches did a good job in the second half, sticking with the run.”
On the ensuing drive, Schaub was picked off by Jets CB Lito Sheppard at the New York 12 yard line, officially putting the icing on the cake for the Jets’ victory.
Sanchez makes history
With his second quarter touchdown pass, Mark Sanchez became the first Jets rookie to throw a touchdown since Chad Pennington in 2002.
Sanchez also became the first rookie quarterback since Chris Weinke in 2001, to win his first start on opening day on the road.
Weatherford gets his kicks in debut
P Steve Weatherford, who was signed less than a week ago by the Jets after being by Jacksonville, turned in an impressive performance in his debut Sunday. Weatherford posted an average of 41 yards on four punts, including a 46-yard punt in the third quarter.
Gholston, Westerman turn in solid performances
DE Vernon Gholston, who recorded two sacks during the preseason, was impressive Sunday in his first career start, registering 3 tackles.
Undrafted rookie LB Jamaal Westerman, who shined throughout the preseason and training camp, turned in another stellar performance in his debut Sunday. Westerman registered two tackles, including a key sack in the fourth quarter