Role players outshine stars in Jets victory
October, 12, 2010
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJohn Conner paved the way for Shonn Greene's 23-yard score in the fourth quarter.EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rex Ryan gathered his players in the New York Jets locker room Monday night and delivered a prophetic pregame speech.
He said the Jets were going to beat the Minnesota Vikings. He just didn't have any idea how it would unfold.
Ryan knew somehow the Jets were going to get it done.
In the days leading up to a showdown that provided more storylines than a season's worth of the WWE and "Grey's Anatomy" combined, there were all sorts of leading characters and themes to choose from.
Vikings quarterback Brett Favre returned to the Meadowlands under duress to play his old team. Randy Moss made his first Vikings appearance after the New England Patriots traded him. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis played for the first time since Moss scorched him. Jets receiver Santonio Holmes came back after a four-game suspension.
Any of those players -- or the handful of other future Hall of Famers -- would be the likely hero.
Of all of the newsprint and bandwidth dedicated to previewing Monday night's game, I didn't see Nick Folk's name mentioned much. Or Dwight Lowery's. Or John Conner's. Or Brad Smith's. Maybe Shonn Greene's here or there ...
Yet all of them played crucial roles in a 29-20 Jets victory Monday night.
The game was delayed 45 minutes because of lightning and it was finished off by players who offered little pregame crackle. Not one of the Jets' points was scored by a star.
"Those aren't the people that you would think would ice the game," Jets right tackle Damien Woody said. "That's why football is the ultimate team sport. Anybody can make a big-time play."
The Jets delivered the sort of resourceful performance great teams find a way to pull out. Their offense encountered trouble scoring touchdowns, and their defense had to hang on at the end like a staggered prizefighter hoping to hear the final bell against a desperate slugger.
But the Jets got it done against a team that's reeling but was talented enough to come within a couple plays of the Super Bowl eight months ago.
AP Photo/Seth WenigDwight Lowery sealed a victory for the Jets by intercepting a Brett Favre pass and returning it 26 yards for a touchdown.
"I love the resolve of this football team," Jets fullback Tony Richardson said. "Just keep fighting, keep fighting and whoever makes the play makes the play.
"That's the making of a team. It doesn't matter who gets the glory, just that you get the job done. That's when you know your team is growing together."
Folk turned into points what Mark Sanchez, LaDainian Tomlinson, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller and Holmes couldn't, making all five of his field-goal attempts, including one from 53 yards away.
All of Folk's field goals came in succession, with the Jets unable to score a touchdown despite getting inside the Vikings' red zone four times. One of Folk's field goals came three plays after Smith returned a kickoff 86 yards to the Vikings' 19-yard line in the third quarter.
"It could have gotten really frustrating," Richardson said, "with field goal, field goal, field goal ... We kept getting down there and couldn't put it in. We just dusted ourselves off and kept going until we popped that run."
Greene, the backup running back, darted 23 yards for the offense's only touchdown behind a nasty block from Conner, the rookie backup fullback, in the fourth quarter.
If you were to draw up a list of the 10 Jets defenders most likely to score a back-breaking touchdown Monday night, Lowery's name wouldn't have been on it. The reserve defensive back returned a Favre interception 26 yards for a decisive score with 90 seconds to play.
"I really can't describe it," Lowery said of his first NFL touchdown. "I haven't ever been in that situation before. It's all really so new."
Most of the Jets' stars, meanwhile, didn't shine as brightly as the players beneath them on the depth chart. They didn't have to, and that's the point.
Tomlinson was an exception. He came 6 yards short of recording his second straight 100-yard game, something he hadn't accomplished since 2007.
In rainy conditions that made throwing difficult at times, Sanchez completed less than half of his passes and posted a 59.9 passer rating, his first sub-100 score in four weeks. Holmes was targeted nine times but caught just three balls for 41 yards. Keller caught two passes for 14 yards and had his touchdown streak snapped at three games.
Revis looked like he didn't belong on the field. The All-Pro gimped around and didn't do a very good job covering Percy Harvin in the slot. Harvin scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Antonio Cromartie had an overall successful game against Moss, but he still gave up a 37-yard strike in the end zone that gave Favre and the Vikings life in the third quarter.
But as the veterans in the Jets' locker room can attest -- guys like Woody, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, or Richardson, who's in his 16th season -- nights like Monday suggest a coming of age.
"We feel good because this was one where we had to dig and it took the whole game," Greene said. "It took everybody we had. It was one of those games where we got tested, and we came out on top."