- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets' starters ended the preseason on an upbeat note, combining a well-balanced offense and a tenacious pass rush in a 35-24 loss to the New York Giants on Friday night at MetLife Stadium.
Because Rex Ryan doesn't play his starters in the last preseason game, this was the final dress rehearsal. After a week of mild trash talk between the teams, the Jets relinquished the coveted Snoopy Trophy (wink, wink). Ryan wanted to retain that dog in the worst way, but let's not overlook the big picture: The Jets (2-1) are improving as the regular season draws near.
A few other takeaways from the game:
Geno Smith (9-for-14, 137 yards) delivered his finest performance of the preseason, leading the Jets to 10 points in the first half. It should've been 14 points, but Eric Decker dropped a pass in the end zone. Smith, a nervous wreck last year against the Giants, calmly directed the offense, making good decisions and mixing screens and intermediate strikes. Obviously, the starting job is a fait accompli. Michael Vick played well in two series with the starters, finding Decker for a touchdown, but don't read anything into that. Ryan used Vick to give him one last run with the first team before the season starts.
In a surprise, Ryan pulled Smith for the start of the second half. The plan was to play him at least a series in the third quarter, giving him a chance to restart after the halftime break, but you have to wonder if Ryan was haunted by last year's Mark Sanchez injury disaster. This time, he played it safe with his presumptive starter.
The Jets' beleaguered secondary can't catch a break. The revamped starting unit actually played a decent game against Eli Manning & Co., but safety-turned-cornerback Antonio Allen left in the second quarter with a head injury, the result of a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Demario Davis. If Allen has a concussion, he'll have two weeks to recover before the opener. The Jets, already down two starters, can't afford to lose Allen. He was replaced by LeQuan Lewis, who they signed only a couple of weeks ago. Lewis got beat by Rueben Randle for a 15-yard touchdown at the end of the first half.
All things considered, the secondary was better than it was in last week's Cincinnati debacle, but it benefited from a fierce pass rush. It was a feeding frenzy for Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., which harrassed Eli Manning (12-for-21, 139 yards). The Jets exploited the Giants' rebuilt line, forcing questionable throws. They couldn't capitalize, as Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson missed would-be interceptions. Wilson had a tough time with Victor Cruz in the slot.
The Jets have to be thrilled with their running back situation. Chris Johnson started and played well for the second straight week, finishing with 42 yards on nine carries. He got into the open field a few times, and there aren't many players more dangerous in space than Johnson. It was an impressive 1-2 punch, as Chris Ivory came off the bench and hammered away for 50 yards on six carries. Their skill sets are so diverse that it'll be hard for opponents to handle them, especially with creative play-calling.
Hey -- whaddya know? -- the Jets rediscovered the screen pass. They ripped off three long gainers with well-executed screens, a great way to slow down an aggressive pass rush.