EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They arrived fashionably late to the party -- almost too late. After six weeks of losing and bickering and searching for an identity, the New York Jets made a grand entrance into the 2011 season Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
In a had-to-have-it game against the San Diego Chargers, the Jets reminded everyone of the team they used to be. They beat up the Chargers 27-21, displaying the winning formula that was missing for nearly two months.
They controlled the line of scrimmage. They played defense in crunch time. They staged a fourth-quarter comeback -- all the stuff that made them so successful the past two seasons.
They also realized that a 6-foot-5 wide receiver with a small-forward frame might be a good option in the red zone. Say hello to Plaxico Burress, he of the three short touchdown catches.
"We saw our team, the one we envisioned at the start of the season," said Rex Ryan, looking more relieved than he had been in about a year. "We were slow to get it going, but we saw it."
The Jets came dangerously close to throwing their season overboard, but they're back in it with a two-game winning streak. This win was huge because it showed they can beat a quality opponent and it got them to the bye week at 4-3, setting them up for a second-half run.
"It definitely feels like a new season," guard Brandon Moore said.
It should because the Jets look like a new team.
It's hard to believe, but this marked the first time they outrushed an opponent (162-96). They tweaked their approach in the running game, switching to a "downhill" style for this game. They put their zone-blocking scheme on the back burner, emphasizing straight-ahead blocking with more double-team and combination blocks than usual.
Translation: Enough of the finesse garbage; they went smashmouth. And it worked, as Shonn Greene rushed for a season-high 112 yards, his breakout performance as the Jets' feature back.
This movement really began three weeks ago in a meeting room at the Jets' facility, where Ryan told his players they were renewing their vows with Ground & Pound. After two weeks of baby steps, they finally delivered the kind of performance that was commonplace in 2009 and 2010.
In Saturday night's team meeting, the players all but predicted a breakout game. They felt that "we should dominate this team physically," guard Matt Slauson said. "That was the theme, and we went out there and showed that our offense could do anything."
Back in the day, circa 2009, the Jets used to own the line of scrimmage. It has been a struggle this season for a variety of reasons, but Moore liked the switch to the downhill style.
"It helps you get into a groove, setting your pads and moving people off the ball," he said. "We have to get back to that."
Moore noted how "people laughed at us" when they talked about gradual improvement -- it sounded like whistling in the graveyard after losing to the New England Patriots -- but the Jets kept building on that, turning baby steps into strides.
"This is the football team we think we have," Ryan said. "We had more than a few hiccups along the way, but here we are."
It was a welcome-back kind of afternoon, especially for the defense, which made a statement. Facing Philip Rivers and one of the top vertical passing attacks in the league, the Jets pitched a second-half shutout and rallied from a 21-10 deficit.
Not counting the lopsided wins over the offensively challenged Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, this was the first time the Jets actually held an opponent scoreless in two consecutive quarters. They held the Chargers to five first downs and 1-for-7 on third down in the second half, befuddling Rivers (16-for-32, 179 yards).
For the second time in six days, Darrelle Revis made the game-changing play, this time a fourth-quarter interception he returned 64 yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown. The Chargers were on the Jets' 31, threatening to build on their 21-17 lead. It was a terrific play by Revis, but credit the coaches on this one.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine fooled Rivers. He gave Rivers a man-to-man look, but they ran a loaded zone. Rivers threw slightly behind Vincent Jackson, covered by Antonio Cromartie, and the ball deflected to Revis, who was behind the play in his zone. If he had been in man-to-man, he wouldn't have been facing the quarterback and the ball would've fallen to the turf.
A few minutes later, Kyle Wilson made his first career interception -- two takeaways in the fourth quarter. This was a big step for a defense that disappeared in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.
"They were in the high red zone and they were going to score," Revis said, describing the impact of his interception. "It's good for our defense to make a play and turn the ball over."
This could've been a disastrous day for the Jets. A loss would've crippled their playoff chances, and it would've been embarrassing for Ryan, considering his foot-in-mouth episode from last week. They don't have to live in that world because the Jets threw an early Halloween party and came dressed as themselves -- for a change.
Naturally, Ryan couldn't restrain his bravado, saying of the Chargers, "We'll probably see them again."
In the playoffs, he meant.