Hill, Kerley star in opener

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
8:19
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After preseason drops from a top draft pick and a head coach expressing frustration with his slot receiver, expectations were not very high for the Jets' wide receivers. Add in Santonio Holmes' baggage from last season and overuse of the phrase "ground and pound" and it was hard to know how many passes would even be attempted.

Turns out it was all noise.

In his first career NFL game, Stephen Hill caught five of six balls sent his way for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Jeremy Kerley returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown and caught a 12-yard TD pass from quarterback Mark Sanchez.

[+] EnlargeStephen Hill
AP Photo/Bill KostrounRookie Stephen Hill had a strong first NFL game with five catches for 89 yards and two TDs.
"Those are some impressive stats," said coach Rex Ryan.

That was the same coach who, at the start of training camp, publicly chastised Kerley for a lack of effort as he sat out of practices with a hamstring injury. Kerley took it as a challenge.

"I was disappointed in myself," Kerley said. "I'm my own worst critic; it didn't anger me any. I didn't take it as a negative comment -- it's my head coach so I like the target on my back. [I] fed off of it a little bit and went from there."

Ryan took a little heat recently for revealing that he wasn't the one who identified Hill as the player the Jets should pick in the draft. After Hill's spectacular debut, Ryan joked about the episode.

"I was happy to the see the young man Stephen Hill, my draft pick, get two touchdowns, so that was tremendous," Ryan said. "And I think hopefully Tannebaum will lean on me more when we're drafting those receivers next time."

"He came out and performed the way I thought a rookie should perform," Holmes said of Hill. "You want to be a starter in this league that's the way you come out and do it."

Holmes caught four of the eight balls that came his way for 68 yards, and tight end Jeff Cumberland caught three of four for 33 yards.

Patrick Turner had a hamstring injury early in the first quarter and didn't return. He said his leg was feeling good after some treatment and it was tough not to be out there when the Jets passing game was so effective.

"It was a feeding frenzy out there -- it would have been fun to be part of," Turner said. "But I felt the guys did a great job of rising to the occasion in the first game of the season. Keep playing like this, we can do a lot of good things."

Sanchez was 19 of 27 with 266 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception in his first game of the season.

With all the questions about the passing game that were answered -- for at least one week -- does Kerley think he's won his coach back over with his effort?

"I hope so," he said. "I hope so."
Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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