Sunday, October 3, 2010
Jets on fire, led by LaDainian Tomlinson
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The New York Jets reached the quarter pole of the season atop the AFC East, having won their first three division games for the first time since 2000. They beat the Buffalo Bills every way possible Sunday, 38-14, and yet there was a "You ain't seen nothing yet" feeling in their locker room.
"We're not fully Voltron right now," said linebacker Bart Scott, referring to the rampaging robots of science-fiction fame. "We're like a Voltron, missing an arm."
LaDainian Tomlinson, expected to be just a third-down back for the Jets, has shown he has a lot more in the tank.
With Santonio Holmes returning this coming week from a four-game drug suspension, and with Darrelle Revis and Calvin Pace likely back from injuries, the Jets should have that other arm next Monday night, when they face the Minnesota Vikings.
A very good team will get better. If this turns into a special season for the Jets (3-1) -- and it's starting to look that way -- they should thank LaDainian Tomlinson for carrying them through the first month. If Mark Sanchez is the first-quarter MVP, Tomlinson is the MIP -- most inspirational player.
Tomlinson, the old, broken-down running back who isn't going to make anybody forget about Thomas Jones (that's sarcasm, folks), was the best player on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He ran 19 times for 133 yards, his first 100-yard day since October 2008. If the Jets didn't blow open the game with a 21-point third quarter, they would've kept feeding him the ball and he would've gone for 200 yards, no question.
It was the 25th time in his Hall of Fame career that he rushed for at least 100 yards and two touchdowns in the same game, and there's only one other player in NFL history who can make that claim: a fellow by the name of Jim Brown, who also did it 25 times. Tomlinson's second touchdown was a 26-yard run that will make his personal highlight reel, a play straight out of 2006. Safety Donte Whitner, who tackled air, will have nightmares for a week.
"All players don't slow down when they get to 30 or 31 [years old]," said Tomlinson, who has rushed for 341 yards and a remarkable 6.1 yards per carry in four games. "Some players just defy the odds, and I like to say I'm that type of player."
Facing the marshmallow Bills, the Jets returned to their ground-and-pound roots, running for 273 yards. Shonn Greene, in his 2010 breakout game, contributed 117. The Jets relied on two running plays, a basic outside stretch and an inside lead that employed an element of misdirection.
Over and over, they ran those plays, with Tomlinson and Greene gaining huge chunks behind an offensive line that simply dominated the point of attack.
"You could see their heads spinning a little bit," guard Brandon Moore said of the Bills (0-4).
Save for the final two minutes of the first half, the Jets were in control, overmatching the Bills in every phase of the game. They scored on big plays (a 41-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards) and trick plays (Brad Smith's first career scoring pass). They made it such a laugher that Scott cracked, "We could've put up a 40-bird, but I don't think Sanchez wanted to [tick] anybody off. He's a politician."
Make no mistake, this was Tomlinson's game, his masterpiece. On the game-opening drive, he accounted for 52 of the 63 yards -- 42 on the ground, 10 on a reception. And he finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown, and the game was pretty much over right there.
"Somebody forgot to tell him whatever age he is," coach Rex Ryan said. "The guy is playing great. I thought he was going to be outstanding, but he's already better than that. What a great football player."
Before Sunday, Tomlinson had gone 25 straight games without a 100-yard performance. The washed-up whispers were justified, but the Jets took a chance on him, betting that he'd be too proud to go down without a fight.
"I think Rex can see things nobody else can see," Tomlinson said. "I think he looks at the heart of a man sometimes."
More from ESPNNewYork.com
Everything you need to know about the Jets' runaway win in Buffalo can be found here: Jets Center
Tomlinson's heart has carried the Jets to their second straight 3-1 start, but this 3-1 is different than last season's. The biggest reason is Sanchez, no longer the weakest link. He's playing out of his mind, with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Now here comes Holmes. He joins an offense that already has hit the 28-point mark three times, equaling last season.
"Pretty scary," Sanchez said.
Now here comes Revis. And Pace. They're expected to return this week from injuries, according to Ryan, who was part giddy, part defiant as he imagined the possibilities.
"There's no ceiling for this team," right tackle Damien Woody said. The old warhorse, defensive end Shaun Ellis, said, "It's going to be good to see how dominant we can be when all the pieces are in place."
Maybe they will be a Voltron, as Scott suggested. But forget about high-tech machinery for a moment; they're 3-1 because of a 31-year-old running back who refused to head toward the sunset, believing he still can be the light of someone's season.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.More from ESPNNewYork.com »