EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Four days after Rex Ryan demoted Kerry Rhodes to the second-string, the veteran safety finally made the big plays his coach had been asking for.
Rhodes responded with two interceptions and the Jets (5-6) bounced back from their loss in New England a week ago, rolling to a 17-6 victory over the Panthers (4-7) at the Meadowlands Sunday.
“I got the message,” said Rhodes, who was brief and to the point with the media after the game. “The message was sent. Now, I am moving on and you’re going to see Kerry Rhodes. The message was sent to me by Coach and now I’m moving on. That’s all it takes. You saw Kerry today and that’s what you’ll see.”
“Great game,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “He got a game ball for the two picks. That was awesome to see. He also had a big hit on the quarterback as well. He really played well.”
“He did great today,” said Darelle Revis, who matched Rhodes with two interceptions of his own. “He faced adversity and made two big plays in this game. That’s great on his part. He never got down on himself and we never got down on him, as well.”
It was clear Rhodes wasn’t the only one motivated by his benching. The Jets defense stepped up in a big way, limiting the Panthers to 175 yards of total offense, while picking off Carolina QB Jake Delhomme four times and registering three sacks. Delhomme struggled all day, completing only 13 of 33 passing attempts for 126 yards.
Carolina stormed out of the gate , converting their first three third down situations with plays of 18, 13 and 13 yards and looked poised to score on the game’s opening drive. But their luck ran out on their fourth attempt.
On third-and-9 from the Jets 39 yard line, Delhomme fired a pass into the left flat that was intended for Steve Smith. The pass caromed off of Smith’s heel, bouncing conveniently into the arms of Darrelle Revis, who took it 67 yards to the end zone, to put the Jets on top 7-0 with 8:59 remaining in the first.
Revis’s interception was the Jets first defensive touchdown of the season, and his second career return. Afterward, the third-year cornerback was asked if he’d ever had an easier interception in his career.
“No that was the easiest one,” he said. “That was an easy score right there. It don’t get no better than that to start us off.”
Rex Ryan joked about the play after the game. “We’ve been working on that play,” said Ryan. “You know, the deflection-off-the-heel play for a while. That’s great coaching”
“What’s funny is that the same players are always lucky. Whether it’s Revis or whoever, the great ones are lucky. The thing was there and he made the play. That Steve Smith is a heck of a football player and like I said, we’ve got the only corner in the league that can cover him.”
Smith was held to one catch for five yards and gave credit to his opponent after the game. “He did a good job against me,” said the four-time Pro Bowler. “I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a good, young corner and I think he will continue to do well if he keeps continuing to work the way he is working.”
In the beginning moments of the second quarter, the Jets caught another huge break. After Carolina return-man Captain Munnerlyn returned Steve Weatherford’s punt for 37 yards, the Panthers took over at the New York 37-yard line.
On first down off a flea-flicker, Delhomme threw an incomplete pass intended for Muhsin Muhammad who appeared to be bumped by Eric Smith at the goal line. Off-setting pass interference penalties were assessed on both Muhammad and Smith.
While the Jets defense was successful in keeping the Panthers out of the end zone on the drive, they couldn’t keep them off the scoreboard. John Kasay connected on a 40-yard field goal to cut the Jets lead to 7-3 with 10:11 remaining in the second quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Jets were forced to punt after Sanchez was sacked on third-and-12 by Carolina DE Everette Brown and DT Damione Lewis. Following a 54-yard punt by Steve Weatherford, Carolina took over at their own 20. But it wouldn’t be for long.
On the first play of the drive, Delhomme once again tried to force a ball the way of Steve Smith and ended up paying for it. Darrelle Revis boxed out Smith and intercepted the under-thrown pass for his second pick of the day, giving the Jets possession at their own 42. However, the Jets could not take advantage of their great field position.
After Sanchez connected with Dustin Keller down the middle for 19 yards, the Jets went into ground and pound mode, handing off to Shonn Greene on three consecutive carries. On first-and-10 from the Carolina 29, Greene ran for a gain of two yards but had the ball knocked from his grasp by Panthers DE Julius Peppers. The fumble was recovered by Panthers LB Jon Beason, ending the Jets drive.
Three plays later, Carolina gave it right back. On third-and-6, Delhomme was intercepted by Kerry Rhodes on a ball that was badly overthrown. Rhodes returned the interception, his first of the season, 11 yards, setting the Jets up at the Carolina 38.
On the very next play, Sanchez took off running down the middle of the field for a 12 yard gain putting the Jets in scoring territory setting up a majestic, three-yard prance into the end zone by Thomas Jones with 28 seconds to go in the half. Jones made an impressive lateral cut to avoid a tackler on the play, which was reviewed by the booth. After the play stood as called, the Jets took a 14-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Jones finished the day with 75 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. “It’s very important for us to get this win,” said Jones. “We needed to get some momentum back, get some confidence back. Anytime you can get a win at home, it was a team effort, it’s always a positive.”
On the Jets opening drive of the second half, Sanchez led the offense on a nine play, 72 yard drive that was halted at the Carolina goal line.
After a series of runs by Jones and a pair of receptions by Braylon Edwards, Sanchez completed a 16 yard pass down the middle of the field to Dustin Keller on third down. As Keller reached for the end zone, the ball was knocked loose by Carolina safety Chris Harris. Harris pounced on the ball in the end zone, keeping the Panthers in the game with 9:12 to go in the third.
“I was so close to the end zone, said Keller, who finished with four receptions for 68 yards. “I just wanted to drive in and get a touchdown right there for us. I reached out and he (Chris Harris) made a nice play, knocking it out. I just have to secure that, it was a bad play by me.”
After forcing a three and out, the Jets took over at their own 27. Threatening on first-and-ten from their own 46, Sanchez scrambled to the right side for a gain of eight yards but was taken down hard by Carolina cornerback Richard Marshall. Sanchez landed awkwardly on the play and was replaced by backup quarterback Kellen Clemens. Sanchez briefly had his left knee, the same knee he injured while at USC, examined by team doctors.
Sanchez, who finished 13 for 17 for 154 yards with an interception, downplayed the injury after the game.
Clemens, exhibiting obvious rust, threw one ugly pass and was unable to lead the drive anywhere. Weatherford was forced to punt for the third time on the day on fourth down.
Taking over at their own 20, Carolina gained a first down on a direct snap to DeAngelo Williams. But three plays later, Delhomme was sacked by Jets linebacker Calvin Pace for a loss of 12 yards, ending the drive and forcing Jason Baker’s fourth punt of the day with under a minute to go in the third quarter.
Sanchez returned to the game on the Jets next drive and was given a warm greeting by the Carolina defense. On second-and-6 from the New York 37, the rookie was intercepted by Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble, who returned the pass to midfield.
Carolina wasted no time capitalizing off the Sanchez turnover. On the first play of the drive, Delhomme completed a 26-yard pass to tight end Dante Rosario, who was knocked out of bounds at the Jets 24-yard line. Four plays later, Delhomme found Smith in the corner of the end zone for an apparent 10-yard touchdown pass.
Rex Ryan challenged the play, and it was ruled that Smith indeed did not have both feet in bounds. On third down, Jets cornerback Drew Coleman applied a big hit on Dante Rosario, causing an incompletion and forcing the Panthers to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Kasay. Kasay’s second boot of the day cut the Jets lead to 14-6, with 11:45 remaining.
Brad Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards, setting the Jets up with solid field position, but they could not take advantage. A holding penalty on second down set the Jets back 10 yards and after an 11-yard completion to Dustin Keller, Sanchez was sacked on third down. Another Weatherford punt set the Panthers up at their own 30 yard line with just under nine minutes to go.
Following incompletions to Mushin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett, the Carolina drive was stalled again, inside their own 30. Following a punt return of 18 yards by Jerricho Cotchery, the Jets took over at their own 39.
On third-and-2, Sanchez connected with rookie Danny Woodhead for a 16-yard completion down the left sideline, prolonging the drive. Three plays later, Thomas Jones was stopped on third down, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt for Jay Feely.
Feely drilled the kicked, extending the Jets lead to 17-6 and making it a two-score game with 3:44 remaining.
Taking over at their own 22-yard line, Delhomme led Carolina on one of their promising drives of the afternoon, completing an 11-yard pass to Rosario on second down and then on fourth and long, completing a 24-yard strike to Dwayne Jarrett near midfield. Two plays later, Delhomme connected with Jarrett again for 19 yards this time, bringing Carolina inside the Jets 30-yard line.
Then, on second-and-20 following an offensive interference penalty on Jarrett, Delhomme was intercepted by Rhodes for the second time on the day. With 1:18 remaining, it was only fitting that it would be Rhodes who made the play to seal the deal for Gang Green.
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