The Jets defense made sure it didn’t matter who was playing quarterback for Gang Green on Sunday.
Forced to start backup Kellen Clemens at quarterback with starter Mark Sanchez sidelined with a knee injury, the Jets (7-6) turned in a dominating defensive performance en route to an emphatic 26-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-12) on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
With the win, the Jets have now won three-straight and find themselves right back in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
“It’s going great,” said Jets corner Darrelle Revis, who finished with three tackles and a key interception on the day. “It started out three weeks ago. We got that one win and no we’re just racking up wins. I think our confidence is high and our level of play is high.”
Tampa Bay rookie QB Josh Freeman, coming off a five-interception performance a week ago, struggled against Rex Ryan’s defensive group all day. Freeman was unable to get comfortable and establish any rhythm against the Jets’ blitz packages, as the rookie was faced with non-stop pressure all afternoon. He finished a horrid, 14 of 33 for only 93 yards with three interceptions and a fumble.
The Jets defensive unit, which yielded only 124 yards of total offense and six first downs to the Bucs, made it clear from the get-go, that Tampa Bay was in for a long day.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Freeman was intercepted by Jets linebacker Davis Harris. The pick was Harris’s second of the season, and set Kellen Clemens and company up with strong field position at the Tampa Bay 31-yard line.
Three plays later, Tampa-native Jay Feely, split the uprights on a 40-yard field goal attempt, giving New York an early 3-0 lead.
After forcing a three and out on their second defensive possession of the game, the Jets took over at their own 36-yard line.
Faced with fourth down after failed check down attempts, the Jets once again turned to some special teams trickery, a common theme throughout the 2009 season.
In the punt formation, Mike Westhoff’s unit executed a direct snap to WR Brad Smith who lofted a pass right over the Tampa Bay defense to a wide open Eric Smith. The safety made the grab and sprinted into the open field for 27 yards and a first down, improving the Jets special teams unit to an impressive 3-for-3 on fake punt attempts this season.
After a direct snap run by Brad Smith put the Jets inside the 10-yard line, Clemens was unable to get Gang Green into the end zone.
Smith saw an expanded role against Tampa Bay, finishing with five carries for 16 yards and 27 passing yards on the day.
“Brad’s an explosive athlete,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “It was great to get him more involved in our offense.”
On second-and-6 off a play action, Clemens misfired on a pass to a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery in the back of the end zone. After another incompletion on third down, the Jets were forced to settle for another field goal. Feely’s second field goal of the day extended the New York lead to 6-0 with 4:47 to go in the first quarter.
Three drives later, after Clemens’ pass to Woodhead in the flat went astray, Feely was called on again to bail the Jets out after a wasted possession. Once again, the 33-year old veteran was absolute money, this time connecting from 49 yards out to extend the Jets lead to 9-0, with just under seven minutes remaining in the first half.
While Clemens looked shaky at times, he did just enough to get the job done and played mistake free football, exactly what Ryan had asked of him. Clemens finished the day completing 12 of 23 passes for 111 yards.
After forcing the Buccaneers to punt for the fourth time, the Jets offense took the field again with 5:10 remaining in the half at their own 42. Led by Thomas Jones, the New York offense executed their most successful drive of the first half.
On first down, Jones burst up the middle for 16 yards. Two plays later, Jones hit a hole and took off down the right side for a 33-yard TD score, his tenth of the season, to give the Jets a commanding 16-0 lead.
But the Jets weren’t done. The Jets defense forced a sixth three-and-out from Tampa Bay and regained possession with 1:23 remaining in the half. This time the Jets went with the air game to get themselves in scoring position, as Clemens completed several short passes to Braylon Edwards and Danny Woodhead. Jay Feely’s second 49-yarder of the day extended the Jets lead to 19-0, heading into the intermission.
Raheem Morris’s group went into the locker room with only 15 yards of total offense, 6 punts and not a single first down.
On third-and-5 from the New York 25, Shonn Greene broke a tackle and darted up the middle of the field for a 25 yard gain but fumbled the ball as he fell to the ground. The fumble was recovered by Tampa Bay corner Aqib Talib, keeping Tampa Bay alive.
Josh Freeman was dropped behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-9 by Donald Strickland, but Bart Scott was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The penalty gave Tampa Bay a first down for the first time on the day, coming with 9:04 remaining in the third.
A 43-yard field goal by Connor Barth got the Buccaneers on the scoreboard, cutting the Jets lead to 19-3 with 4:50 remaining in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tampa Bay recovered the onside kick to start off at their own 42-yard line. But once again, the Jets defense stepped up.
On third-and-short, Freeman’s pass intended for TE Kellen Winslow was broken up David Harris, who made a great play on the ball, thrashing Tampa Bay’s momentum.
Clemens turned in one of his more encouraging possessions of the afternoon on the ensuing drive but couldn’t close it out. The 12-play, 66 yard drive was marked by a 19-yard strike from Clemens to Edwards on third down and a 26-yard completion to Cotchery.
However, after misfiring on third down, the Jets were force to trot out Feely for another long attempt. Clemens struggled to get the hold down after a high snap from James Dearth and Feely misfired for the first time on the day.
After Jay Feely’s 48-yard attempt sailed wide right, Tampa Bay took over at their own 31 with 11:23 remaining.
Six plays later, the Jets defense delivered the haymaker. On third-and-10, Freeman was picked off by Darrelle Revis, who returned the interception 54-yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 7 yard line. Revis’s interception was the corner’s sixth of the season, which leads the team.
Thomas Jones took it into the end zone on the very next play, giving the Jets a 23-point cushion and effectively ending any hope for a comeback from the Buccaneers.
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