It’s not often that a preseason game can hold so much intrigue and captivate an entire stadium, but for the New York Jets and their new golden-arm, tonight’s game was memorable. For kicker Mike Nugent, it quickly turned into a night to forget. The Jets fell to the Washington Redskins 13-10, as Nugent missed two field goals, including a 23-yarder that would have capped off a thrilling last-minute drive by quarterback Brett Ratliff.
Of course, the night was not all that bad for the fourth-year kicker until the final minute.
After a 33-yard touchdown pass from Redskins' quarterback Colt Brennan to tight end Jason Goode gave Washington a 13-10 lead with just 1:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, Ratliff orchestrated a drive that sent the thousands of fans remaining in the Meadowlands into a frenzy. With the game clock ticking away, Ratliff drove the Jets 71 yards in just 8 plays, setting Nugent up for a chip-shot field goal to send the game into overtime. However, Nugent’s kick sailed left and bounced off the upright, ending the night in disappointment.
“It was a missed field goal from the five-yard line to win the game. You have to make it. We have to be able to execute that play. That’s pretty standard operation procedure,” Jets head coach Eric Mangini said.
With the Jets down by just three, the opportunity to pass up the field goal and instead go for the win was there, but with only five seconds remaining, the risk was too great for Mangini.
“With five seconds left, plays in the NFL take six seconds even on a fade. If you get any type of bobbled snap or an indecision by the quarterback, if you don’t just get the ball and chuck it, you have an issue,” Mangini explained.
It was a rough ending for Nugent, who in the third quarter pushed a 43-yard attempt wide right. He did have some success on the night, nailing a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter to give the Jets a 10-6 lead with 9:08 remaining.
While the Jets' offense sputtered for most of the night, the defense left the Redskins' top two quarterbacks bruised and battered. Jason Campbell connected on 4-of-10 passes for 28 yards, while Todd Collins completed 11-of-15 passes, but for only 72 yards. Collins momentarily left the game after being hit from behind by Jets linebacker Marques Murrell. Rookie Derek Devine replaced Collins for two series and was intercepted by safety James Ihedigbo.
Despite the troubles through the air, the Redskins succeeded on the ground. Washington rushed for 181 yards total, 126 in the first half alone. Rock Cartwright led the team with 90 yards on just six carries.
"[The running game] was outstanding, especially on the long runs. Our line opened up some holes for our running backs," Redskins head coach Jim Zorn said. "They did a nice job hitting the right creases, getting through and accelerating."
The Redskins failed to execute off their early success, but the Jets' defense just happened to fold at the most crucial time. With Brennan in at quarterback late in the fourth quarter, the Redskins' offense moved 80 yards in just four plays. The former Hawaii standout was 4-for-5 with 79 yards, including the game-winning touchdown pass.
Brennan’s game-winning drive left his peers impressed, especially Campbell.
“I like the way he kept his composure. He gave the receivers an opportunity to catch the ball. Like I said, winning can be contagious. You get a great feel for it and start winning, it’s all you’re going to do,” Campbell said.
Luckily for Gang Green, tonight was only a preseason game, and their newest star proved his worth.
On Wednesday, quarterback Brett Favre admitted his arm was “dragging,” he acknowledged that his body was “fatigued” and he had “no idea” how his Jets debut would turn out. For the 38-year old gunslinger, all his doubts would be answered tonight.
The Brett Favre-era got off to a bang for the Jets, as Favre completed 5-of-6 passes for 48 yards and one touchdown. Earlier in the week, Mangini said he had not set an exact number of snaps for the quarterback to run, but he did mention “eight, 10, 12” plays as a reasonable number. Favre ended up taking 14 snaps tonight during his two series with the starting offense, and afterward, was relieved to have gotten his much-anticipated debut out of the way.
“First day I came out to practice there was a big crowd and everyone was cheering and stuff. We’re a team. I’m just one piece of this puzzle. At some point we have to go on and focus on what we’re trying to do as a team and not on one person,” Favre said.
Tonight was the first time Favre played in a game since being intercepted by Giants cornerback Corey Webster in the NFC Championship game last January. Even though Favre's offseason was comprised of indecision on whether to return to football, he knew he was in the right place.
“I knew I was out there for the right reasons. Obviously a lot of things have gone on the last few months. I’m not going to sit here and say I haven’t second-guessed decisions, not only this year but along the way. One thing I know for sure, when I step on the field as I did tonight I knew I made the right decision,” Favre said.
Heading into tonight's debut, Favre was unsure whether he would understand his new offense. After playing 17 years with the Packers, the learning curve still is not completely polished.
Favre told reporters afterward that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer "threw a couple protections at me that I kind of gave him a double-take on," but the future Hall of Fame quarterback made all the correct defensive reads.
Favre’s first play from scrimmage, and first completion, came on an 11-yard slant to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Favre went 3-for-4 on the drive. On his next time with the football, he ended his night with a rousing ovation. Favre went 2-for-2 on the drive, capped off with a four-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dustin Keller.
The game result aside, Mangini couldn’t have been happier with Favre’s performance.
“It was an excellent start. He moved the team down the field and put us in a position to score,” Mangini said.
Coles, Ellis Out
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles (undisclosed) and defensive end Shaun Ellis (right hand) were held out of tonight’s action with injuries. Both players did not play in last week’s preseason opener at Cleveland and have missed time in practice this week. Brad Smith replaced Coles and Mike DeVito replaced Ellis in the starting lineup.
Wide receiver David Clowney left the game in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury. Clowney led the Jets in receiving for the second consecutive game, recording four catches for 59 yards.
The Redskins also lost two starters due to injury. Running back Ladell Betts (mild right knee strain) and right guard Randy Thomas (right knee strain) both left the game in the second quarter.
Wright Way on Special Teams
Wide receiver Wallace Wright performed well on special teams, registering two tackles. The first came on a Ben Graham punt, as Byron Westbrook appeared to have an open lane along the left sidelines, but Wright tripped him up and limited him to a 14-yard gain. The second came on a Mike Nugent kickoff, as Redskins kick returner Devin Thomas was tackled in the open field and limited to 14 yards.
Shaky Performance for Kellen, Rushing Game
For the Jets’ backup quarterback, tonight’s performance was one to forget. After Favre led the Jets into the endzone on the team’s second drive, Kellen Clemens entered and struggled mightily. Clemens was 3-for-10 for 45 yards against the Redskins’ second-team defense. He also fumbled twice and failed to lead Gang Green to points. Clemens had his foot stepped on twice by the center, leading to multiple shaky passes.
"If the center steps on his foot twice, it's not going to look very good. I'll have to look at the decision-making where he went with the ball, things like that. It's just a pretty unique set of circumstances there. It makes it harder to evaluate that part," Mangini said.
The Jets running game was relatively quiet on the night, gaining only 69 total yards. Jesse Chatman lead Gang Green in rushing with 45 yards on 11 carries. Thomas Jones recorded two carries for seven yards and Leon Washington ran for only six yards on four carries.
Ratliff on the Mark Again
Ratliff followed up his strong debut with another impressive performance. The second-year quarterback completed 13-of-19 passes for 148 yards and nearly led the Jets to a last-minute comeback. Mangini remains pleased with Ratliff's progress.
"There were a couple of plays early that he had that he didn't make the decisions that I was looking for, but he was able to come back, regroup and move the ball down the field in a pressure situation," Mangini said.
Brown a Plus
Second-year defensive end Kareem Brown was a bright spot for the Jets tonight, recording six tackles.
"He has done a good job throughout camp. What we are trying to do with him is not just play him defensively, but play him on special teams. For a big man, he runs pretty well," Mangini said.
Linebacker Cody Spencer had a standout game on defense, recording six tackles and two sacks. Defensive end Bryan Mattison had the team's other sack.
Vernon Gholston's learning curve continues to move along slowly. The first-round pick recorded just three tackles on the night.
Grading the Jets
Again, it's only preseason so it's tough to put much stock into the stat sheet. Most importantly for the Jets, Favre looked solid in his limited work and drove the team for its lone touchdown. However, aside from the game-ending drive by Ratliff which resulted in a missed field goal, the offense stalled. Recording 317 total yards and ten points is not going to translate into many wins in 2008.
Constant pressure on the Redskins' quarterbacks was a positive, but too many yards allowed on the ground. Not to mention, the Redskins had three plays over 30 yards. Giving up an 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive was the nail in the coffin.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
When your kicker misses two field goals, including a chip-shot to tie the game, it's never a good night. The lone bright spots were Ahmad Carroll's 49-yard kickoff return and multiple tackles on kick coverage by Wright. Graham's 44.1 yards per punt was a plus.
One of the most overlooked strategies in preseason is deciding how long to play the starters. As a head coach, you want to provide your starters playing time so they can stay fresh, but you also do not want to extend them and risk injury. Nearly two quarters was a generous amount of playing time for most starters. Also, the decision to allow Nugent to attempt a game-tying field goal instead of going for the touchdown was a questionable one, but understandable. Overtime would have allowed Mangini to further analyze his players.