TE Chris Baker grabs a Chad Pennington pass during the Jets 20-17 win over Miami on Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
It was an ugly start for quarterback Chad Pennington and the Jets offense but ultimately Pennington and company made just enough plays in an action-packed second half to beat the rival Miami Dolphins and earn their first home win of the 2006 season. After a first half marked by mistakes rather than big plays, wide receiver Laveranues Coles stepped up to make two enormous touchdown grabs in the second to seal the game for the Jets.
Rookie head coach Eric Mangini has talked about playing fast and starting fast since his arrival and his Jets tried to do just that on Sunday. The Jets used some of their quickest players like rookie running back Leon Washington and veteran wide receiver Tim Dwight out of a no huddle offense to move the ball deep into Dolphin territory on their first possession. However, the drive ultimately stalled out at Miami’s 15-yard line, forcing the Jets to settle for a 32-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent.
That would do it for the offense in the first half. The play was extremely sloppy for much of the first two quarters. Both squads continually shot themselves in the foot with penalties, and it started on the kickoff following Nugent’s field goal as the Dolphins returned the ball to their own 35 only to have it called back to the 12 because of an illegal hands to the face call. The Jets special teams had penalty problems of their own as a 65-yard punt by special teams captain Ben Graham was called back because of an illegal touch by rookie cornerback Drew Coleman. The re-kick went just 35 yards and was returned 11 yards by Dolphins returner Wes Welker.
Miami began at the Jets 38 rather than their own 15, but this turned out to be inconsequential as the Dolphins turned the ball over on downs after a big run stop on fourth and 1. Miami head coach Nick Saban challenged the spot of the ball but the call was upheld by referee Terry McAulay. A half cluttered with dropped passes, punts, and penalties mercifully ended with the Jets leading 3-0.
Washington gave the Jets a spark when they came out for the second half. The fourth-round pick had a couple long runs as the Jets drove down the field. The 12-play drive again was halted at the Dolphins 15-yard line and Nugent came on to make a 33-yard field goal.
“We came out and executed better and most importantly managed first and second down better so we weren’t leaving ourselves in third and long situations,” Pennington said of the difference between the second half and the first half.
Miami answered back on the ensuing possession. The Dolphins had a 9-play, 69-yard drive highlighted by a 26-yard run by running back Ronnie Brown. Brown bounced outside to the right and ran down the sideline to the Jets 12-yard line. Brown was stopped short on a third and 2 play from the 4-yard line and Miami had to take a 21-yard Olindo Mare field goal to cut the deficit to 6-3.
The Jets made a loud statement on their next drive, though. On the second play from scrimmage, wide receiver Laveranues Coles torched Miami cornerback Eddie Jackson for a 58-yard touchdown catch. The reception was the longest of Coles career and the veteran went over the 6,000 yard plateau for his career on the play.
“I had run like eight slant routes and the corner was just sitting on the inside so I went to the sideline and told coach that we had to get vertical,” Coles said referring to a conversation he had with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer before the big play. “It was a double move and he bit hard, real hard.”
Gang Green’s defense held the momentum as defensive tackle Rashad Moore forced a fumble out of Miami back Sammy Morris that was recovered by linebacker Victor Hobson at the Dolphins 43-yard line. The turnover led to more Jets points as Coles made an incredible leaping catch over a defender in the end zone to give the home team a 20-3 lead.
The Dolphins answered back with a 12-play, 81-yard scoring drive that resulted in a short 2-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to wide receiver Chris Chambers to cut the lead to 10. The comeback would continue as Harrington engineered another long scoring drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Brown. Suddenly the Jets had cause for alarm as the lead was trimmed to three and Harrington looked like a new man, spreading the ball all over the field with sharp, accurate passes.
“We were just thinking we have to keep them out of field goal range by any means necessary,” Hobson said of the defense’s mindset on the final drive. “They have a great field goal kicker and once they get a little inside the 50, they’re getting close for him.”
The Dolphins got the ball back at their own 10 after the Jets went three and out. Miami would have had the ball at the 25 but Welker’s return was called back on a clipping penalty. Harrington, who ended up with 266 passing yards while completing 27 of 43 attempts, picked apart the Jets defense and drove the Dolphins down to the New York 32. However, on a huge third and 2 play, Harrington missed McMichael.
The stadium held its breath as Mare came on to try a 51-yard field goal. It was an awful effort, though, as the ball wobbled and fell about five yards deep in the end zone, well short of the uprights.
With a simple kneel down by Pennington, the Jets were back at .500 with a 3-3 record on the season.
“With the game last week and just everything leading up to this game this was a huge win for us,” the veteran quarterback, who had 175 yards and two touchdowns on 17 of 29 passing, said. “It was very important for us to come out here and get a good solid team win and get back on the winning track.”
-Graham had a rough day punting the ball. Though the Aussie had the negated 65-yard boot, he averaged just 42.3 yards per attempt on the day and sent one punt straight into the Miami end zone for a touchback.
In contrast, rookie wide receiver Brad Smith had a brilliant day on special teams. The former quarterback made two great open-field tackles on kickoff returns to pin the Dolphins around their own 20 yard-line. He also sprinted downfield to take down Welker at the Miami 25 on Graham’s final punt of the day.
Washington and Coles continued to play starring roles in the Jets offense. Coles had five catches for 106 yards and Washington, who has emerged as possibly the Jets best runner in the last three games, led all Jets backs with 58 rushing yards on 11 carries.
-After the game, Coles scoffed at the notion of being among the league’s top receivers. While the veteran said their were too many good receivers in the NFL to compare him with, Pennington made his stance clear.
“I’ve always considered Laveranues one of the best in the league,” Pennington said. “He’s not as flashy as some other guys but he gets the job done week in and week out.”
-Often when it comes to traditional rivalry games, like the Jets vs. Dolphins, you can throw out all conventional football logic. However, one adage loomed large in Sunday’s match-up. The Jets won the turnover battle three to none and ultimately walked away with the victory.
A pleasant surprise to all male attendees today was the replacement of the Jets flag boys who for years have waived and run huge Jets flags up and down the field after every score, with attractive girls. The girls, dressed in tight fitting Jets sweatsuits certainly psyched up the crowd. Is it possible that cheerleaders could be next?
-With games against Detroit and Cleveland coming up over the next two weeks, then a bye, the Jets have a legitimate shot to be two games over .500 when they have their season re-match with divison leading New England in Foxboro on November 12.
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Head Coach Eric Mangini addresses the media tomorrow at 2:50 PM. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com for a full report!