In a turnaround from their first two games, the New York Jets did everything right in their home opener against the overrated Dolphins. Gang Green’s crushing performance belied the 20-6 final score and put an end to all that chatter of a 0-16 season.
Going into this game, the Miami media was howling in laughter over this gimme win in the Meadowlands. Instead, they got run over by a Green and White truck. The New York Jets were dominant in every aspect of the game. Afterwards, Dolphins coach Adam Gase groused, “They just beat the s##t out of us.”
Even stone-faced Todd Bowles was smiling afterward. Give the coach credit for gathering his troops and getting his defense back to basics. There were no backbreaking mistackles, mis-positionings or blown big plays. Even more impressive was the intense pressure on the pocket all game long.
The vaunted defensive line — going into the game ranked dead-last against the run — showed up big time, holding the mighty Jay Ajayi to just 16 yards on 11 carries. Muhammad Wilkerson played his most ferocious game since late 2015. Leonard Williams was relentless. Kony Ealy has been a terrific addition; he plays every down like it’s his last.
Josh McCown was 1-18 in his last starts going into this game. But he sure knows how to play the game. Just think about how much better a QB he is than Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg — or any other Jets QB of the last decade, not named Ryan Fitzpatrick. McCown’s a real class act, and a locker room leader. People laughed at general manager Mike Maccagnan for giving the 38-year-old a deal. But who’s laughing now?
Next week’s opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have become Florida’s top NFL team, more complete than the Miami Dolphins or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And they are riding high after their 44-7 thrashing of the Baltimore Ravens in London. Here are the top five positive signs after slaying the Dolphins and heading into yet another big test of the season against the Jaguars,
Next: 5. The Last in Line
5. The Last in Line
The revitalized defense made a statement. They held the high-flying Dolphins to a paltry 49 yards In the first half, and to zero third-down conversions until the fourth quarter.
Give credit to the maligned linebackers. Darron Lee made no glaring mistakes, other than a foolish late game roughing the passer call. Demario Davis played a sensational game, and was a disruptive force all afternoon.
After the final 53-man cuts, the Jets picked up Vikings linebacker Edmond Robinson, who partook in the first two games before being placed on Injured Reserve. Last week, Maccagnan brought in David Bass, most recently with the Seattle Seahawks. In his Jets debut, the five-year pro out of Missouri Western State, spent more time in the opposition’s backfield than any linebacker this season.
Jamal Adams is proving to be a stud defender. The #1 pick outta LSU brings it every week, and is on his way to a Pro Bowl rookie season. Terrence Brooks, acquired in a late preseason trade with Philly for Dexter McDougle had two INTs, one in a failed punt trick play. When was the last time a Jets player had two INTs?
Morris Claiborne had his finest game for Gang Green, drawing another tough assignment, between Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. But the Fins’ big guns had enough trouble finding their rhythm with frazzled new quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Jets’ cornerback position still works best with Buster Skrine playing nickelback, where he can be let loose to sack and/or attack. At least for this week, Bowles seemed to get that fact about his seven-year veteran out of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Darryl Roberts excelled given considerable field time across from Claiborne. That is not a good sign for Juston Burris, who was on the receiving end of a few of those last-drive big passes that led to a Cutler TD pass on the game’s final play.
So, for one week, the defense looked awesome. Can this continue? Is there really something to build on for the future? Think positive…
Next: 4. Eruption
The predicted worst offense in NFL history has been anything but. Going into this game, few would have predicted that the Jets’ time of possession would wear down Miami’s vaunted quarter-billion dollar defense.
Rookie offensive coordinator John Morton has shown great creativity, spreading the passing game around to all his key skill position players. One of the game’s highlights was a sweet 15-yard swing pass to mammoth DT-now-FB Lawrence Thomas.
Morton effectively implemented three running backs into the game, with heavy workloads for veteran Bilal Powell and rookie Elijah McGuire, after Matt Forte left the game with a potentially troublesome turf toe injury. McGuire is an electric scatback who will get prominent playing time as soon as he solves his ball control issues. He had such problems in camp — losing the job as punt returner — and he got stripped of the ball in a 4th quarter turnover.
The offensive line deserves high praise. It looked like it was gonna be a long afternoon when in the first possession of the game Cameron Wake got the best of young Brandon Shell for a huge loss. There were already concerns with Pro Bowl caliber guard Brian Winters out, after last week’s abdominal injury. But third-string guard Dakota Dozier — the last remnant of John Idzik‘s disastrous 2014 NFL Draft — completely shut down Ndamukong Suh.
Who’d’ve thunk we’d be extolling the offense? Things could get exciting by mid-season with McCown more comfortable with his receivers, and with the infusion of young guns like ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. It starting to feel like there’s something to build on with this Gang Green offense in 2018 and beyond.
Next: 3. Too Hot To Handle
3. Too Hot to Handle
It seems like the Jets’ special teams may have finally stabilized the return game, between a reinvigorated Jeremy Kerley on punts, and fourth-round rookie ArDarius Stewart on kickoffs. If so, that is terrific news moving forward.
Chandler Catanzaro missed wide left on a first-quarter kick from the 35-yard line that looked costly, stalling a first-quarter drive for zero points. But then his two field goals and two extra points more than compensated. The former Clemson star coming off a rocky 2016 season in Arizona may be finally achieving his potential with New York.
Lach Edwards continues to improve. The Aussie booter averaged 48.6 yards on five punts against Miami. Most impressive was a 61-yarder that backed the Dolphins to their own goal line. Last season, Edwards was the worst punter in the 32-team league; this year’s turnaround ranks him a respectable No. 13.
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The team better hope that the injury is not severe to special teams demon and starting linebacker Josh Martin. But watching the former Columbia star getting carried off the field, followed by a long sit on the trainer’s table, did not inspire confidence. Also of note was the under-the-radar re-signing of last week’s punt-dropping goat Kalif Raymond to the practice squad. The organization obviously still sees potential in the 5’8″ speed demon out of Holy Cross.
Special teams are a major aspect of the game, and the Jets have not had a legitimate special teams unit in over a half-decade. If there’s stability in the kicking and return game, this organization can set their sights on bigger and better things.
Next: 2. The Crown and the Ring
2. The Crown and the Ring
The time is now for Bowles to prove his mettle as an NFL head coach. Sunday’s destruction over Miami was a nice start. He’s fumigated his toxic roster of all those over-the-hill, multi-million-dollar distractions, and his young players seem to be buying into his program. Last year, one would’ve never have seen a sideline so loose, or a post-game locker room so animated.
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Bowles understood what needed to be done to stop the bleeding. The game plan was to stop the run and put the game in the hands of Jay Cutler. You know that he’s planning to employ a similar approach versus Blake Bortles, coming off a career-best four-TD performance (128.2 QB rating).
Bowles can relax a little knowing that he’s got a veteran QB who can make all the throws, provide leadership, and inspire confidence in his players. And now he has legitimate tight end power, between the arrival of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and former Giant Will Tye.
He’s got an enthusiastic coaching staff to rely on, between linebacking coach Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, and future NFL head coach John Morton. If Bowles can focus on his young locker room, his defensive schemes, and his on-field adjustments, 2017 will be successful in terms of foundation-building.
Next: 1. Ready to Rock
1. Ready to Rock
This team looks competent enough that Sunday’s win will not be their only victory this season. It is by no means a “Suck for Sam” scenario — none of these pro athletes are tanking it. You hope that a few wins won’t cost this organization a franchise QB. But it’s worth the risk if it helps build a winning culture.
There are still question marks everywhere. There are too many mindless penalties and sloppy turnovers. There are too many aging veterans contributing to this so-called rebuilding season. And the defense really has to prove itself for more than one game. Hello, Mo Wilkerson?!
So far this year, the Jets run defense has gotten schooled by LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch. But they sure as heck throttled Jay Ajayi on the MetLife turf. That tough effort bodes well for this week’s Herculean task against Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette — equal parts elite Olympic athlete and steamrolling bruiser.
Jacksonville is an excellent test for this Jets team. The ageless Tom Coughlin has put his imprint on that organization teeming with young stars on both sides of the ball. The game will also feature the return of the reviled John Idzik to MetLife, his employment clearly influencing the signing of his 2014 Jets backfield acquisitions Chris Ivory and Tommy Bohanon.
If there’s a constant in Bowles two-plus seasons, it’s been a lack of game-to-game consistency. That’s why it’s probably not the worst thing that he is fighting for his coaching life. In the meantime, this organization can take a giant step forward with two very winnable games, this week at home against J-ville and next week on the road in Cleveland.