David Barrett talked this past week about how exciting the new entry on his résumé has made him. A cornerback for his first eight seasons in the NFL, he lately has taken on safety responsibilities.
In fact, Barrett gets the first start of his pro career at safety in tonight’s Jets-Chargers game.
The idea is no doubt to cover prolific TE Antonio Gates with a player who has corner skills. And the decision by head coach Eric Mangini and DC Bob Sutton pays dividends just 3½ minutes into the game. Barrett intercepts San Diego QB Philip Rivers on a pass intended for Gates and takes it to the house for a 7-0 Jets lead with 3:33 into the opening frame.
Rivers bobbles the high shotgun snap, and that may well have distracted him from the players in the pattern. He goes to Gates but Barrett jumps hard on the pass, picks it off at the SD-25 and is unchallenged as he bolts down the right sideline for the TD and fires the ball into the giant CHARGERS logo on the end zone wall.
It’s the first interception-return TD by a Jet in three seasons, since LB Mark Brown picked off the Bills’ Kelly Holcomb on New Year’s Day 2006. And it’s the first INT-return score on the road since S Reggie Tongue took then-rookie Ben Roethlisberger’s errant pass 86 yards in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Pittsburgh on Jan. 15, 2005
On San Diego’s next drive, Barrett almost has pick No. 2 when Rivers tries to hit WR Vincent Jackson down the deep middle and DB the DB can’t hold the interception but deflects out of harm’s way.
CB Dwight Lowery also is on his game early as the Chargers obviously are trying to target the rookie from Northern California. Lowery knocks loose a 42-yard pass intended for Jackson and then provides some pro defense in breaking up a Rivers pass intended for Gates on third-and-2 from the Jets 18, forcing the hosts to settle for a Nate Kaeding field goal.
Barrett becomes the fifth different safety to pair with Kerry Rhodes, who’s started every Jets game in the deep middle since 2005. Here are the Rhodes partners during that span:
The Jets gift-wrap 10 points for the Chargers on two turnovers in a span of 4:09 bridging the first two quarters. First Thomas Jones loses a fumble in a scrum and CB Quentin Jammer returns it to the Jets 16, setting up a short field for Rivers’ 1-yard scoring pass to wide-open FB Mike Tolbert.
Then Brett Favre tries to laser an out pass to Laveranues Coles, but CB Antonio Cromartie performs the magic trick, deflecting the ball from Coles’ grasp and into his own, then maintaining his balance and answering Barrett’s return with one of his own, for 52 yards and the TD. That’s the seventh pick returned for a score by an opponent since 2006, the last five on the road.
But Leon Washington turns on his return jets for the first time this season on the ensuing kickoff, ripping 94 yards from his 1 to the bad guys’ 5. That sets up Favre for his fourth TD pass as a Jet and his first to Coles in the back of the end zone.
Mangini and ST coaches Mike Westhoff and Kevin O’Dea think a Jay Feely onsides kick will work on the visitors’ next KO, and it nearly does as Wallace Wright gets his hands on the ball. But Wright can’t hold it, the Chargers recover and then cover 44 yards in five plays, with Rivers off play action finding WR Chris Chambers alone on the post in the end zone, perhaps beating Barrett to the spot.
The 24-14 score at that point resembles an Arena League game, or maybe one of those old-time American Football League shootouts that these teams sometimes engaged in during the Sixties.
The Jets’ bad field position continues. Favre and Jerricho Cotchery aren’t on the same page when Favre overthrows the fifth-year WR and S Eric Weddle makes the diving INT. That sets the Chargers up on the Jets 45. In short order they move inside the 10 and Rivers finds Gates in the right corner of the end zone for a 31-14 lead.
The visitors’ two-minute drive gets to the hosts’ 29 but no closer, and a Favre sack by LB Shaun Phillips put them out of even long FG range. So Ben Graham hits his second effective punt of the night, a drop punt that bounces at the SD-10 and is downed by Wright at the 5. And that’s the first half.
And if you’re an NFL fan, it was an exciting first half. If you’re a Jets historian, it’s also significant — the last time the Jets were involved in a first half of more than 45 points was the 1986 home game against Miami, when they led, 31-21, at the half.
But if you’re a Jets fan, you’re nervous. There’s 30 minutes left and 17 points to be made up to catch the Chargers, who in the first half have found themselves both offensively and defensively.
Tags: Abram Elam, David Barrett, Dwight Lowery, Eric Smith, Erik Coleman, Kerry Rhodes, Philip Rivers
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