Florham Park, N.J.– “I will say this, it would be ridiculous if we don’t comment on how good Cromartie was today as a kick returner and then the two interceptions.” – Rex Ryan

Yeah Rex it would have been ridiculous if you didn’t mention how well Cromartie played yesterday and it would be equally ridiculous to write an article about giving out game balls for yesterday’s performances and not lead with Antonio Cormartie.

Last week didn’t really go all that well for Cromartie as he had a rather tough game against the Cowboys, with Tony Romo picking on him for most of the first three quarters. Last Monday Cromartie said he felt better about his performance after watching the film, he felt like he played worse than he actually did according to the tape he said. Well whatever the case was, he made sure to make up for it this week as he absolutely took over the game against the Jaguars yesterday afternoon.

It started out with the Jets winning the coin toss and actually electing to receive the ball, determined to end their first quarter touchdown drought and get out to an early lead for once. Enter Cromartie as the kick returner, the Jets love having the option to use Cromartie in that role when need be, but with him being such an integral part of the defense it becomes a delicate risk/reward balancing act. Obviously Ryan felt the reward of such a move outweighed the risk of a possible injury.

“Last night we challenged our team that if there was one streak we wanted to break that was it, struggling offensively as they always put it. That is really a team deal. It’s not just on offense, it’s a team statistic. It was great.” Ryan said, “We received the ball and Cro (Antonio Cromartie) had a great kick return. Obviously, we had a great drive and the touchdown, captain to captain, Sanchez to Santonio (Holmes) so that was big.”

The first return by Cromartie (39 yards) helped set it off for the Jets, but Cromartie was just getting started. Later in the first quarter he responded to a Jaguars field goal, by taking the next kickoff back 46 yards, which allowed the Jets to immediately get those three points back. Then came the interceptions, the first coming in the second quarter with a 37 yard return, then the nail in the coffin coming in the third quarter when Cromartie snagged his second interception and took it back 26 yards before getting knocked out of bounds at the goal line. Which set up a one yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene to give the Jets a commanding 29-3 lead with one minute a thirty seconds left in the third.

“It was good. The defense, we did a great job of recognizing plays and going out and just playing solid.” Cromartie said of his performance yesterday, “A lot of stuff we clicked on was play recognition and just going out and attacking.”

Jaguars receiver Jason Hill probably won’t be doing any more talking about the Jets secondary being overhyped now that he got a good up close and personal view of just how good these corners are, from the sideline since he didn’t even suit up for the game.

After last week’s game, Ryan made a point to purposely not give any defenders a game ball, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace both could have been deserving of some recognition after the Cowboys game, but Ryan was trying to send a message to his defense that he expects more out of them as a whole. Well yesterday it was obvious his message was received loud and clear as Cromartie wasn’t the only defender deserving of a game ball.

Rookie Muhammad Wilkerson earned his first career sack and first career safety all on the same play. After the Jets scored on their opening drive the Jaguars were looking to respond with a fast start themselves, but Wilkerson quickly put an end to that pipe dream when he crushed McCown in the end zone for a safety and gave the Jets a 9-0 lead.

“The center talked to the guard to help with the protection. I knew the guard was going to come down to help him, so I just popped my hips, got outside of the guard and got the quarterback.” Wilkerson said, “It was awesome. It felt great to get there and get my first-career sack in the NFL. It felt really good.”

“That kid is going to be a heck of a football player. We really never brought him in here to be the answer as a pass rusher, just be a contributor.” Ryan said, “Chip in there, get some inside pressure and that’s what he’s done. He was actually on the outside there and did a great job in getting his first sack.”

Wilkerson then spent the rest of the day, disrupting the Jaguars running game along with the rest of the defensive front seven for the Jets and after the game explained that he feels like he is starting to get into a rhythm, “Yes, my job is just to try to (help). You have to feel comfortable out there. You can’t play uptight. I’m just trying to help out the defense and make plays with the other 10 guys.”

Eric Smith was another defender who was deserving of a game ball and like Cromartie, Smith rebounded nicely after getting burnt by Jason Witten and the Cowboys all game last week. Smith just narrowly missed two separate interceptions yesterday before finally holding on to the third one, he also helped lead the way for the Jets defense with 5 tackles (tied with Mike DeVito and Calvin Pace) and seemed to always find himself wherever the ball was.

This week it’s the offenses’ turn to get less recognition, because despite the perfect opening drive the offense was back to their normal inconsistent sputtering self. Of course losing All-World center Nick Mangold early in the game didn’t help matters at all, but still this game was won by the defense. That doesn’t mean no game balls for the offense though, as it would be a critical mistake to ignore the contributions of Dustin Keller.

Sanchez had a really good day if you can erase those two interceptions from your memory, but since I don’t have that type of technology available to me I can’t in good conscious give him a game ball. Those interceptions are exactly what is holding Sanchez back from taking the next step as an NFL quarterback and not every team is as bad as the Jaguars so it won’t always be so easy for the Jets defense to bail Sanchez out. In fact the thing I was most impressed with by Sanchez yesterday was with the way he read the defense and decided to run the ball instead of making more bad throws as he rushed for 29 yards on three carries.

Sanchez finished 17-24 for 182 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, but six of those catches, 101 of those yards and one of the touchdowns went to Keller, which is why Keller will get the final game ball here.

“Obviously those guys have been around now for three years together so there is confidence with them for sure. But, the great thing is Mark is trying to throw it to the open guy. Sometimes coverage will dictate where our outside receivers are going to be and they will get more opportunities and sometimes it will be the inside receivers.” Ryan said, “With the way they were playing us today, it seemed like Dustin had a few more opportunities than the outside guys. Again, the great thing is with our group, now we’re throwing it to the open guys and sometimes the coverage will dictate who will get more opportunities.”

“They pretty much gave us the middle of the field and they were playing a lot of zone.” Keller said, “They just left the middle of the field wide open so that left a lot of things wide open for me.”

But don’t be fooled by the final score, 32-3, or the insane differentials in the stat sheet, yes the Jets dominated this game with ease, as they should have, but they still have some glaring problems that need to be fixed. None bigger than the offensive line problems. Shonn Greene finished with 49 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, but he actually looked much better than that. Unfortunately it seemed like every time he made a big run or catch the play was called back for a hold.

The loss of Mangold obviously was a big factor in this problem, but Wayne Hunter once again turned in a far from stellar performance and this time it’s not nearly as simple as just saying he had to face DeMarcus Ware. For the past two seasons the Jets offensive line has been the best in the league, right now Hunter is preventing them from being able to three-peat. The Jets need to find a solution to this problem or Sanchez will continue to be a tackling dummy and the ground and pound game could simply disappear.

Colin Baxter filled in admirably for Mangold, considering he had never snapped the ball to Sanchez in his life, not even in practice. But if Mangold has to miss an extended period of time (and it seems as if he will, with early reports being a high-ankle sprain. X-rays were negative but he is having an MRI today), the Jets could face a world of trouble over this three game road trip they have coming up.

Yesterday was a great game for the Jets, like Ryan likes to say, “a great all around team effort,” but the Jets will need to keep this level of play up, regardless of whose injured, if they want to keep pace with the New England Patriots. That means picking up right where they left off yesterday when they make the trip out to Oakland next week.

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