Rex Ryan's defense finally was dominant. What changed?
Facing the Arizona Cardinals clearly helped, but the defense made sure it didn't play down to the level of its opponent.
After an embarrassing showing against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night, the unit rattled rookie Ryan Lindley, who completed only 10 of 31 passes for 72 yards. The Cardinals' third-string quarterback, who was sacked twice and intercepted by LaRon Landry, finished with a 28.0 passer rating.
Even more impressive, the Jets prevented the Cardinals from converting on a single third down (0-for-15). The last time the Jets held a team without a third-down conversion was Sept. 25, 2011, at Oakland (0-for-8).
"I'd have to say it's probably our best defensive game of the year," safety Yeremiah Bell said.
The overworked defense easily could have worn down, but it seemed to draw strength from a crowd energized by Greg McElroy's entrance into the game. Lindley went 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter and was sacked on third down by Muhammad Wilkerson and Bart Scott with a little more than eight minutes remaining. The Cardinals never got the ball back.
"Guys were playing relentless," said cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was matched against Larry Fitzgerald (one catch, 23 yards on the Cardinals' first possession). "Our biggest thing was just to keep them out of the end zone. At the end of the day, it might look ugly, but a win for us is just a win."
The Jets, who gave up 475 total yards of offense and 152 rushing yards against the Patriots, held Arizona to 137 total yards.
Defensive lineman Mike DeVito said the energy of the fans helped fuel the defense.
"We know how tough it's been for them this year as well as us," he said. "We know how disappointing it's been. To see them fired up and getting into it built a lot of energy, and I think that really helped us going out there."
Was former Jet Kerry Rhodes pumped up to face his old team?
Rhodes found the spotlight early and often. Labeled "selfish" and a "Hollywood-type" by Ryan in his 2011 book, the former Jets safety intercepted Mark Sanchez's first pass of the game and again picked off his former teammate later in the first quarter. Rhodes also forced a fourth-quarter fumble by Kahlil Bell that set up a field goal that brought Arizona within 7-6.
Rhodes said he wasn't trying to make a statement against his former coach.
"I have a lot of ties here," he said. "For me to come back and play well, it was good. Rex came up to me after the game and told me I played a hell of a game. There wasn't an edge. It was just an opportunity for me to come here and play well in front of friends and family."
Some might argue that Lindley played even worse than Sanchez, but Arizona coach Whisenhunt did not bench the struggling rookie.
"It was a combination of him missing some throws and some of it was our receivers not making the right route adjustments," Whisenhunt said. "When you play a defense like this, you have to understand and be on the same page. A couple of times we had receivers do the wrong things."
Whisenhunt said he thought about going to backup quarterback John Skelton late in the game, but Lindley's 16-yard throw to Michael Floyd on the sideline changed his mind. "At that point, I thought, 'OK, we've got a chance to stick with him and see if we can make something happen here.' "
What did the Cardinals say about losing their eighth straight game?
Fitzgerald was at a loss for words. "I have to laugh to keep from crying," the standout wide receiver said. "It's been a tough stretch." Arizona started the season 4-0 before dropping the next eight games.
Did Ryan explain why Tim Tebow was put on the inactive list?
Tebow, who was inactive because of two fractured ribs, did not speak after the game, but Ryan explained why Tebow wasn't in uniform.
"I never thought he was full go," Ryan said. "He kind of sat back and had a little trouble throwing the football. We did practice him on a very limited basis throughout the week, but it was just something where I felt he would be better if he took this week off to get ready and be much healthier for Jacksonville."
Dustin Keller (ankle) and kick returner / running back Joe McKnight (ribs) left the game and did not return.