EAST RUTHERFORD NJ – Just call it Christmas in September. In a tense physical battle, a pair of costly blunders by Tennessee return man Ryan Mouton proved to be the difference as the Jets defeated the Titans 24-17.
Mouton was manning the momentum pendulum, swinging it twice for the wrong side. He fumbled a first quarter kickoff, allowing a temporarily in-sync Jets offense to take advantage. After scrambling for the team’s first score, Mark Sanchez hit reserve tight end Ben Hartsock for a two yard touchdown and fourteen point lead. Sanchez and Leon Washington badly fooled the Titans’ defense with a nifty play-action fake.
The impact of special teams on this Sunday was undeniable. While the Titans’ unit practically gift wrapped fourteen points for their opposition, the Jets were a swarming force. Jason Trusnik set the tone on the Jets’ initial kickoff, forcing Mouton to cough up the football before recovering it himself. In the third quarter, Larry Izzo scooped up a dropped punt by the beleaguered Mouton. “Each week, the coaches put us in the best position, and you just have to do your job,” said Trusnik after the gun. “From what the coaches give and from what you watch on film, you know who’s going to be blocking you, you know what their trying to do,” he added before reiterating, “You just do your job.” Izzo, a special teams warrior throughout his distinguished career, opted not to compare this crew to the dynamic group he led with New England, but his confidence was obvious. “Each team is different… we’ve got young players, great returners. Each week we expect to dominate that phase.” Today’s dominance set the Jets up for a win.
The Tennessee Titans were branded desperate in the week leading up to this game, and perhaps attempted to shroud self-doubt with bravado. Keith Bullock and Ahmrad Hall brazenly talked trash. The team backed up their boasts with ferocious play, decisively dominating the trenches. Their resolute efforts, however, were undone by turnovers, dooming the Titans’ season to a potentially terminal state.
When quarterback Kerry Collins was given time to throw, he excelled. He connected with talented rookie Kenny Britt for 27 yards at the start of the third, setting up a precise laser touchdown pass to Nate Washington three plays later, giving the Titans’ their first lead of the game. But Collins’ accuracy vanished when the Jet defenders pierced the pocket. The defensive line is due credit for both of Collins’ interceptions, forcing him to make rushed throws. The first pick was grabbed by Safety Eric Smith in the second quarter. “I’m just trying to do my job,” said Smith, echoing Trusnik. Smith, an able coverage safety whose reputation was somewhat skewed after his vicious hit broke Anquan Boldin’s jaw last season, has been quite adept at shutting down opposing tight-ends, often in man situations. “I like playing one-one,” said Smith. “It’s like a challenge within the game.”
As for the Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez had an inconsistent day marked equally by success and frustration. The rookie started on a roll, marching the Jets’ downfield on their first possession with the detached cool of a ten year veteran. After moving the chains with perfect intermediate strikes to Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery, Sanchez cashed in with a frenzied fourteen-yard dash to the paint. It appeared Sanchez would be stopped at the one by Defensive Back Michael Griffin, but the gutsy signal caller lowered his head and drove himself forward, reaching out with his right arm to break the end-zone plane as he was being driven to the ground. The spectators went wild, and with good reason. “That was a big-time hit,” said Sanchez, summing up the nasty shot he absorbed for six points. “It was a big momentum swing for us… that’s just the way I’ve been playing since I was little.”
Head Coach Rex Ryan was thrilled with the play, though he wondered if the Owner might feel differently. “Mark showed a lot of guts, a lot of courage,” said the head coach. “I thought it was great. Just don’t tell Woody I thought it was great.”
Most of Sanchez’s trouble occurred during a nightmarish second quarter. The Titans would leap back into a game that had nearly spiraled completely out of their control. They rushed Sanchez and challenged him with confusing fronts, forcing a key fumble before the Jets could hammer in another nail. “That second quarter was a disaster,” admitted Sanchez honestly. “I can’t put the ball on the floor like that. It was a big-time letdown for us.”
New York would recover, due in no small part to wide-receiver Jerricho Cotchery. The Jets’ most established and accomplished pass catcher is being validated as a true number one option, though Rex Ryan would like to keep it a secret. “He’s just an average receiver,” said the gregarious coach sarcastically at his presser, drawing laughs from the assembled media. “Far as anyone knows…”
If Cotchery continues having eight catch, one hundred yard days for an undefeated team, everyone is going to know. “God is at work right now doing special things in my life,” said the man known as J-CO to teammates. Sanchez and Cotchery connected for the Jets’ pivotal go-ahead score after Mouton’s second charitable act in the third quarter. Cotchery was particularly impressed by his quarterback’s ability to read a defense. “Young buck did a great job,” claimed Cotchery, referring to Sanchez. “Changed the route, made a great throw, put the ball on me.” With a safety blitzing and Cotchery singled up in the red-zone, Sanchez made the proper read and communicated excellently with his target. Cotchery the grab and stood defiantly on his feet despite being drilled by two defenders. The duo would also key a Jay Feely field goal in the fourth, hooking up again for forty six yards down the sideline, Cotchery acrobatically keeping two feet within the field of play before slamming down out of bounds. Sanchez was pumped for that throw before even taking the field for the drive, exclaiming to Cotchery that, “We got the go-route!”
The Titans, who trailed 14-0 in an eye blink, fought back in the second with a five yard LenDale White run off left tackle for a touchdown. White broke two tackles on the play.
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