EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — In a game that was more gritty than pretty, the New York Jets got the job done against their in-town rivals, the New York Giants, as they won the first annual MetLife Bowl at the newly named MetLife Stadium, 17-3, on Monday night.
During the game there were plenty of personal foul calls — including two ejections for Muhammed Wilkerson and Brandon Jacobs throwing haymakers — and, obviously, no love lost between these two teams, but Rex Ryan was all smiles when he was handed the MetLife Bowl “Snoopy” trophy.
“This is awesome,” Ryan said, whose Jets also won a $40,000 donation to Public Land, which aids in developing public parks around the country. “I’ll tell you what, this thing looks good. I’m glad we got it.”
He’s glad he got the trophy, but he may not be happy about the overall game. Both the Jets and Giants looked to be suffering from the layoff due to Hurricane Irene, which postponed the game from Saturday night to Monday. Neither first team offenses looked sharp, with the Jets gaining only two first downs in the first half while the Giants continually shot themselves in the foot on drives.
“I think, with this wacky schedule this week, it just kind of got us off to a sluggish start,” said Jets quaterback Mark Sanchez, who was 8-for-16 for 64 yards and 1 TD. “It was a good test to see how we’re going to come out with distractions during the week. It was a good reminder of how focused we need to be, but without a gameplan, it’s tough to tell what to expect.”
And a good test it was. The game may have been ugly, but the Jets outplayed and outfought the Giants — a testament to the team’s resolve. In short, the game was won after a 17-yard strike from Sanchez to Santonio Holmes, capitalizing on two interceptions from Eli Manning, cashing in on some big special teams plays and holding back the Giant offense on a key goal line stand.
“I don’t know if there are any tickets available to that December 24th game, but I think we just sold them because that was a typical Jets-Giants slugfest right there,” Ryan said. “That’s a fun game. That’s two good football teams going at it. Obviously, it’s a preseason game, but it is great competition, there’s no doubt and the fireworks will fly come December 24th, that’s for sure.”
A one-yard touchdown run from rookie Bilal Powell and a late fourth quarter 33-yard field goal from Nick Folk put the game out of reach for the Giants, whose lone score came in the second quarter — a 34-yard field goal from Rhys Lloyd.
The Jets (2-1) will face the Philadelphia Eagles at home on Thursday. While the Giants (1-2) finish up their pre-season on the road against the New England Patriots on Thursday as well. Monday’s game will likely be the the final tune up for the Jets before they kick off their regular season at home on September 11th against the Dallas Cowboys.
“No question, we’re ready. We played well in the red zone. We were real conservative with our calls. It was definitely a slow start. We were feeling things out,” Sanchez told reporters after the game.
Special teams coach Mike Westhoff looked to be in mid-season as his unit had two game-solidifying plays. Cornerback and kick returner Antonio Cromartie had a 70-yard kick return while defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert blocked a third quarter field goal attempt in the third quarter to keep the Jets ahead, 7-3.
The Giants took the initial lead off of Lloyd’s 34-yard field goal with five minutes remaining in the first half.
Cromartie’s 70-yard return came on the ensuing kickoff, as he initially bobbled the ball before taking it down to the Jets own 35-yard line.
Sanchez took the next 6-plays to find Holmes in the end zone on a post route, on a play that also had former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, a game day captain who had zero catches in the game, wide open going across the middle of the field.
“It was a big play for us to end that half by putting up a touchdown. It kind of got our guys fired up and we came back out in the second half moving the ball just as well,” Holmes said.
Prior to that touchdown pass, however, Sanchez looked to be having trouble against the Giants coverage, consistently checking down and scrambling with the ball trying to make a play.
“They didn’t bring a ton of blitzes, but just kept all the routes and all the throws in front of them on defense, hoping I would get impatient. I showed a little progress from last year in getting it to the backs, scrambling for a couple of yards on first down, giving us a second-and-manageable and keeping the chains moving,” Sanchez said.
Despite the lack of offensive sharpness, both defenses came to play. The Giants did outgained the Jets 224-73 in first half yardage yet trailed 7-3 because of Manning’s two costly turnovers.
On a pass intended for Victor Cruz, Manning threw too high due to linebacker David Harris closing in, and the ball was intercepted by safety Jim Leonhard, his second of the pre-season. Harris got the other interception after Manning under threw a ball intended for Ahmad Bradshaw while under pressure.
“It is great. I think that is the big thing we want to focus on. The coaching staff has been harping on us a lot about that,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said about his defense that ranked 25th in the league in turnovers in 2010.
Manning and the Giants got the early 3-0 lead thanks to Clint Sintim’s fumble recovery at their own 39-yard line after Sanchez fumbled the snap. Bradshaw then pulled off a big play, taking a dump pass 29-yards, juking linebacker Bart Scott in the process.
“We have to get cleaned up, but that’s the great thing, about the preseason, it doesn’t count. The lessons learned are something that we value,” Scott said.
The Jets were 0 for 6 on third downs in the first half and didn’t register their first first down until they got a favorable spot on a fourth-and-1 from their own 28 late in the first quarter.
The Giants had a chance to retake the lead early in the third quarter against the Jets’ second-string defense when Manning drove them from their own 15 to the Jets 1. However, the Jets stopped D.J. Ware cold on a fourth-down attempt from the 1, on a play that normally would have been handled by Jacobs. The big-bruising back was not available because he has been ejected four plays earlier for trading what appeared to be slaps with Wilkerson.
Gilbert blocked Lloyd’s 42-yard attempt with 1:13 left in the third quarter and rookies Greg McElroy and Jeremy Kerley— playing the wildcat— led the Jets 68-yard, 9-play drive.
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