For nearly 58 minutes Sunday at MetLife Stadium, a Jets defense breaking in two rookie starters in cornerback Dee Milliner and lineman Sheldon Richardson controlled Tampa Bay, giving the Jets a chance to win while rookie quarterback Geno Smith navigated his way through his first NFL start. But Rex Ryan's defense couldn't protect a one-point lead when the Bucs got the ball back with 2:14 left to play.
On third-and-10 from his own 37 Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman hit wide receiver Vincent Jackson for a 37-yard gain that set up a go-ahead field goal by Bucs placekicker Rian Lindell with 34 seconds left. But the Bucs wound up beating themselves with a personal foul penalty that set up a 48-yard field goal by Nick Folk that gave the Jets and 18-17 victory.
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"Relief? Whatever you want to call it," Richardson said. "Luck? A bad mistake by them. It really doesn't matter because we came out with a 'W.' "
In a season in which the Jets' offense must take a conservative approach and ask Smith to manage the game and avoid mistakes, the defense figures to be under pressure every week with little margin for error. Until the end, the Jets' defense was up to the task. They limited the Bucs to 250 total yards and 12 first downs and running back Doug Martin to 65 yards on 24 carries.
Safety Dawan Landry intercepted a Freeman pass and returned it 38 yards to the Tampa Bay 31 to set up the Jets' only touchdown in the second quarter. But Landry also missed a chance to tackle Jackson on the reception that led to the Bucs' late field goal.
"I missed a tackle," Landry said. "Ain't no excuse for it."
But the Jets got away with that mistake when the Bucs made a bigger one on the personal foul penalty. "It bailed us out, man," Landry said. "You've got to believe. The game is not over until it's over. They got a personal foul, and we got a win."
Milliner played well despite being beat on a 17-yard TD pass to Mike Williams, and Richardson had seven tackles and shared a sack of Freeman. "I didn't make too many mistakes, and I knew all my assignments," Richardson said. "It was a pretty good game."
Now, the Jets have a short week to prepare for division rival New England Thursday night. "I know the rivalry," Richardson said with a laugh. "The fans in New York let you know how serious New England is. I've been getting all kinds of tweets and Facebooks about how we've got to get them."