The Jets started their preseason slate without the NFL’s top cornerback, but the league’s best defense lived up to its standards Monday evening. Coach Rex Ryan let his starters play almost the entire first half in the annual battle and they responded with a fine effort that included one of the most vicious hits you’ll ever see.
Veteran outside linebacker Bryan Thomas, donning an unfamiliar No. 58, let the Giants know early that they’d have a tough go of it on the ground as he attacked on the first play and stopped Ahmad Bradshaw for a 4-yard loss behind the line. Two Eli Manning incompletions followed and the Jets were off the field.
But the D was put in an unenviable position a minute later when Giants S Antrel Rolle intercepted Mark Sanchez’s first preseason pass and returned it 59 yards to the Jets’ 1-yard line. The run defense, which finished eighth in the NFL last season and had a healthy Kris Jenkins back, dug in and stopped Brandon Jacobs twice, on first and second downs. Jacobs fought through on third down, barely crossing the goal line over the right side and giving the visitors a 7-0 first-quarter advantage.
“Sometimes you get put in situations like that and no matter how close they are, you have to find a way,” said OLB Calvin Pace, who finished with four tackles. “Our motto is they’re not in until they’re in. We would have liked to have a better goal line stand there, but you have to tip your hat to them.”
“It felt great. It’s been a long time coming,” said Jenkins of his on-field return. “I knew it was something I had to get out of my system. Today was rather great when I got on the field.”
After a long Jets scoring drive, the starting defense came out and forced another three-and-out. Then backup S Eric Smith blocked Matt Dodge’s punt, setting up a Nick Folk field goal, and the Jets were out in front, 10-7.
With Darrelle Revis engaged in a holdout, the Jets proved to be difficult to both run on and pass on before a nationally televised audience. Over the course of the first 15 minutes, the Giants ran the ball six times for 0 yards and Manning’s 6-yard pass to Ramses Barden was his only completion.
Manning avoided a blitz early in the second stanza, stepping up and dropping off a ball to Bradshaw, and the speedy runner advanced it 51 yards to the Jets’ 14. But three plays later, Pace got a free shot from behind on the Giants’ QB and the result would be a three-inch laceration that required 12 stitches to repair.
“I guess when I hit him, Jim [Leonhard] kind of hit him, too,” said Pace. “So it was kind of a double whammy right there. You never want to see anybody get hurt, especially in a preseason game, and hopefully he’ll be fine.”
Facing a third-and-1 from the Jets’ 5, Manning went to the gun and lost control of the rock when Jacobs came rumbling through. Amidst the chaos, the 6’4”, 265-pound Pace, who had a career-high eight sacks in 2009, unleashed a huge shot on the quarterback, snapping Manning’s helmet off, and he eventually wound up caroming into Leonhard. Jacobs recovered and the Giants tied things up on Lawrence Tynes’ 32-yarder, but they were forced to watch their woozy leader head to the exits.
“A hellacious hit by Calvin. I think Brandon Jacobs should send Eli some flowers,” said WLB Bart Scott. “That’s why you finish the play and Mr. Butterfingers here didn’t pick up the ball. I’ll work on that this week. It’s still preseason.”
The Jets, who emptied their defensive bench in the final two minutes of the half, held their opponent to 97 yards on 26 plays. If you remove the Bradshaw play from the equation, you’re talking 46 yards on 25 plays or 1.84 yards per snap.
“In the first half, we established ourselves and got some three-and-outs,” Scott said. “They got a big play with Eli coming out and dumping it to Bradshaw. I think we responded. We could have responded a little bit better on the goal line and hopefully next time will get a stop. I think all in all we looked great.”
While failing to create a turnover, CB Antonio Cromartie had a couple of near thefts in the second stanza.
“We had three opportunities to come up with some turnovers and we came up with none, so that’s something we would like to improve on,” Ryan said. “I was kidding with Cromartie that we’re not getting our money’s worth. He did drop the two but he played great. I was really happy with the way our first defense played.”
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Darrelle Revis, Jim Leonhard, Rex Ryan
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