Jets ground and astound, beat Drew Brees and Saints, 26-20
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Calvin Pace just shook his head and sighed.
These Jets have learned to assume nothing these days -- and not to put much stock into what outsiders say.
Few believed in Rex Ryan's team before kickoff Sunday. And Pace, the 33-year-old elder statesman of the Jets defense, figured few would see them differently after the final whistle.
WATCH: Jets vs. Saints highlights
It took a total team effort for the Jets to disrupt Drew Brees and stifle the Saints, but that's just what they did in their 26-20 upset of New Orleans at MetLife Stadium. Rex improved to 5-0 in head-to-head NFL matchups with his twin, Rob, the defensive coordinator for the Saints (6-2).
Former Saint Chris Ivory gained 139 yards on 18 carries for the Jets (5-4), who rushed for 198 yards. Muhammad Wilkerson and Pace each had a sack to lead a swarming defense that kept Brees (30-for-51, 382 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) off balance from the opening series. And while he struggled against the pressure, rookie Geno Smith completed only 8 of 19 passes for 115 yards, but he ran for a 3-yard score late in the second quarter to put the Jets ahead to stay 20-14.
But even in the midst of their lighthearted locker room, Pace was skeptical that the Jets now will be viewed as a legitimate playoff contender.
"We're always the underdog, and ESPN had their little pieces on us. It's cool. It motivates us,'' he said. "We understand what type of market we're in and some of the things we've done in the past. We're just focused on the next game.''
For the Jets, there is no next game -- well, not until they travel to Buffalo after the upcoming bye week. That's why they couldn't leave East Rutherford without a "W.''
It's become impossible to predict the course of this Jets season, with each week providing another unexpected turn. The Jets continued their trend of alternating wins and losses, tying them with the 2005 Patriots for the longest such string to begin a season, according to STATS.
They are masters of inconsistency. But one thing we do know about Rex's Jets is that they're at their best when others doubt them.
"Anybody that made those predictions about this team, did not know this team,'' Ryan said.
Said wide receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs: "On paper, they look better than us. But they still had to go out there and play. We went out with the Bengals and laid an egg, but today, we were ready to play. Today, we were better than the Saints.''
The Jets overcame the absences of tight end Jeff Cumberland (concussion) and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) -- and the in-game injuries to slot receiver Jeremy Kerley (elbow), safety Antonio Allen (head) and linebacker Garrett McIntyre (knee). Big-time plays by Cribbs (25-yard Wildcat pass), and backups Zach Sudfeld (two catches, 46 yards) and Greg Salas (two catches, 57 yards) also provided a big boost. Nick Folk (4-for-4) remains perfect on field goals this season (23-for-23).
Nevertheless, guard Willie Colon insisted this isn't the time for the Jets to be talking about the playoffs.
"Right now, we have to put our foot on the pedal and we've got to start winning some away games,'' he said.
Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson couldn't help himself, however.
"If we stay consistent like this, we're a tough team to deal with,'' he said. "We have spurts where we've shown that we're a playoff team.''
So how good can the Jets be?
"Very good,'' Richardson said. "They were supposed to be the best team in the NFL. So, we proved them wrong.''
When reminded the Jets have beaten two of the NFL's "elite'' teams (New England and New Orleans) in the past three games, Richardson just shrugged and said, "That's ya'll's elite teams.''
Perhaps in the coming days, people will begin to see the Jets for what they are: a team that has the potential to do something special this season. But Pace doubts that the negative perception will change.
"You go to Buffalo, they're not going to believe,'' he said. "They're going to think, 'Oh, the 49-9 Jets are coming up here.' So we've got to go out and play our game. It's not so much about the other team, it's about us. If we're on our p's and q's, we can win the rest of them -- or we can win one, lose one.''