NY Jets vs. Cowboys: Defensive surge keys Darnold successful return
EAST RUTHERFORD - The MetLife Stadium crowd, at least those not wearing Dallas Cowboys gear, was as energized as it had been since the Jets' 16-point lead against the Buffalo Bills in the season opener began to evaporate.
The Dallas Cowboys had just driven 75 yards to pull within 24-22 with 43 seconds left in the game. And then, on the two-point coversion attempt, Jets' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzed and safety Jamal Adams came racing up the middle to drill Dax Prescott as he unloaded a pass over the middle intended for tight end Jason Witten.
The ball skittered through the end zone, as the defense made one final play to secure the win, making the triumphant return of quarterback Sam Darnold to the lineup possible.
The Jets' defense was hanging on at the end, but hang on they did.
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New York Jets' Darryl Roberts, left, and Jamal Adams celebrate during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo: Adam Hunger, AP)
So while the pressure is squarely on first-year head coach Adam Gase to fulfill his reputation as a quarterback whisper and sort of the team's offensive woes, the best way for a young signal caller to succeed is with the backing of a stout defense.
``Gregg blitzed everybody, so we didn't really care what they were doing on offense. Somebody was coming free,'' said Gase of the two-point conversion attempt.
``Those guys did a great job. You try to contain 21 (Ezekiel Elliott) as much as possible. You can see you have three, four guys hitting him and he doesn't go down. He' a tough matchup in the passing game, no matter if we're in zone or man.
``It's a tough offense to play against and I thought those guys did a great job.''
Earlier in the day, the Jets' Robby Anderson was sauntering across the goal line after finding himself on the receiving end of a 92-yard touchdown pass from Darnold late in the second quarter.
But none of the exaltations in the east end zone would have been possible were it not for what happened moments earlier. When a defensive surge, led by Adams and rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, stuffed Elliott on fourth-down at the Jets' 7-yard-line.
``We all had the same mindset, the same goal, and to see everybody attack, everybody communicate we turn into a dominant defense,'' Williams said. ``And you can see it, when everybody's on the same page we're a good defense.''
On this day, it was a symbiotic relationship, with each side of the ball feeding off the other's energy, pushing both units beyond the lowly expectations after four straight losses to open the season.
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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) is stopped by New York Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon (99) and safety Jamal Adams (33) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)
``Our defense, they did a heck of a job stopping that crazy offense. Credit to those guys,'' Darnold said.
Statistically, no offense in the league has rolled up more yards each weekend than the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Jets have been awful defensively since Bills' quarterback Josh Allen shredded them in the second half in the opener.
Still, the Jets, who continue to be without injured linebacker C.J. Mosely, looked solid in their return home after a pair of lopsided road losses. They limited Elliott to 105 hard-fought yards on the ground on 28 carries, an average of just 3.8 yard-per-attempt. And while Prescott threw for 277 yards, he didn't throw a touchdown pass, as the Jets limited the Cowboys to just a pair of rushing touchdowns.
When Darnold was picked off by cornerback Jourdan Lewis in the red zone late in the third quarter, the Cowboys, trailing 21-9, quickly drive into Jets' territory.
But the march ended when Prescott's third down pass from the 22-yard-line was incomplete, before Brett Maher, who hit a 62-yarder as time expired in the first half, missed a 40-yard field goal try.
Sam Darnold (14) of the New York Jets attempts a pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo: Steven Ryan, Getty Images)
Even when the Cowboys started eating up chunks of yardage, the Jets did a great job of limiting by keeping them out of the end zone. They held the Cowboys to a field goal to open the second half, turning them back in a goal-to-go situation.
What does it all mean?
In a division where the New England Patriots are 6-0 and the Buffalo Bills are off to a 4-1 start, this is a season when the Jets must prove to everyone that there's a brighter future ahead. That the Super Bowl drought, now stretching into its 52nd season, might actually end someday in the not-to-distant future.
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The Patriots happen to be coming to MetLife Stadium next Monday night, where the Jets can make a powerful statement with a strong effort against the world champions.
This was a pretty good afternoon for both of the teams inhabiting the Meadowlands. Combined with the Philadelphia Eagles' loss to Minnesota, the Giants, a 2-4, are just a game behind the Cowboys and Eagles in the NFC East standings, with a pair of winnable games upcoming.
As for the Jets, it was just a 60-minute sampling. But big plays when it mattered most by the defense was the difference in securing the first win of the season. Now it's a matter of building on this performance eight days from now in front of a national audience in primetime.
S tephen Edelson is a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey sports columnist who has been covering athletics in the state and at the Jersey Shore for nearly 35 years. He's passionate about the area's rich sports history, and the history being made today. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; [email protected]
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