Jets WR Laveranues Coles made big grabs when the Jets needed him in their 17-7 win over the Dolphins. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Seven days after one of their worst defeats in recent team history, the New York Jets find themselves in a first place tie in the AFC East after their not-so-perfect 17-7 victory over the hated Miami Dolphins.
This was not one of their most dominating performances. In fact it was far from it. However, it was a back-to-basics clinic on hard nosed tough football. Even so, when the first half running game with RB Curtis Martin became non-existent and the gutty defense finally allowed a score in the second half, one man took it upon his shoulders to put his own poor play behind him, and lead the Jets to their first win of 2005.
It was Chad Pennington's time. What ever happened during the first three plus quarters of action didn't matter. The Dolphins had just cut the Jets lead to 10-7 and were gaining confidence. Pennington to this point, was still feeling a hangover from last week's Chiefs debacle. From his incredulous fumble of the opening snap (wiped away by a Jason Taylor offsides penalty) to numerous inaccurate and wobbly passes, only Pennington's beautiful fade touchdown throw to WR Laverenous Coles on the Jetsí first drive saved his performance up to that point from being another clunker. It was time to show the Meadowlands crowd, his teammates, and Jet fans everywhere why there is this belief that Pennington is the key to a Super Bowl run. For one important momentum-changing drive, Pennington was up to the challenge.
After the Dolphins cut the lead, the Jets had a 2nd and 20 at their own 10 yard line early in the fourth quarter. Almost out of nowhere - Pennington reared back and hit WR Justin McCareins for 13 yards. On 3rd and 7, he hit McCareins again for 20 more. A perfect sideline throws followed to TE Chris Baker and then WR Wayne Chrebet for 12 yards. With the Dolphins shutting down the run, Pennington hit Coles in the middle of the field down to the Dolphins one yard line. Instead of trying to pound the ball, which earlier in the game forced an uncharacteristic Martin fumble, Pennington faked the handoff, rolled out, and hit RB Jerald Sowell for a one yard touchdown. All told, Pennington was 7-7 for 74 yards on the drive and his 2nd touchdown pass gave the Jets a 17-7 lead they would never relinquish.
After three quarters of uneven and inconsistent play, Pennington was flawless on this possession. His timing, accuracy and leadership were Montana-like. Answering the Dolphins touchdown drive was huge. Pennington knew it. The Jets knew it. Their fans knew it. Pennington responded with authority and left the game in good hands for the defense to mop up the rest.
All game the defense was stellar, pitching a shutout until the fourth quarter. The Jets D consistently stuffed the Dolphins ground game and much maligned CB David Barrett atoned for a horrible Week 1 by showing much more aggressive play and an interception sealing the win. Both DE's, John Abraham and Shaun Ellis were wreaking havoc throughout the game and each ended with a sack, forced fumble and numerous QB pressures. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was brilliant with seven tackles and four assists.
Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson put the Jets in great positions to succeed and they rewarded him with an inspired effort. The Dolphins were held to just 63 rushing yards and only 169 through the air. This was a complete 180 from the effort in Kansas City last week.
Despite a great win at home, this is still a work in progress for Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's offense. The Jets fumbled four times (none lost) in the contest. On the Jets fourth possession as they were driving for a score, the usually reliable Curtis Martin fumbled on a 4th and goal into the end zone. Jerald Sowell picked the ball for an apparent touchdown. However, the Jets score was called back as you cannot advance a fumble, unless the player who fumbles also recovers it.
What was more troubling was the Jets sudden lack of a running game in the second half. Martin finished with 72 yards (only 21 in the 2nd half) on 31 carries for a not-so-stellar 2.33 average. While many of Martin's attempts were specifically called to waste time and burn the Dolphin's time outs in the 4th quarter, the offensive line could not sustain the burst it had in the first half. Simply put, the Dolphins defensive front seven owned the Jets over the last 30 minutes. Fortunately for the home crowd, it was Pennington's time to attack their secondary and eventually gain the clinching score.
Overall, the Jets effort was good enough to earn them a 1-1 record and a four-way tie for first place as every other AFC East team lost in Week 2. With the victory - Gang Green looks forward to a matchup with another potential playoff squad, Jacksonville in Week 3. While the Jets would be the first to admit that they're not clicking on all cylinders, a mark of a good team is to win games despite not having your best day. It wasn't pretty, but the Jets did just that. In the process, they've restored the hope in their fans and themselves and have put the opening week debacle behind them. Once again the Jets faithful believes that their team is playoff bound.