Coming into their game against high-scoring New Orleans, the Jets were missing injured wide receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Jeff Cumberland and suspended tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Then they lost veteran wide receiver Jeremy Kerley when he suffered a partially dislocated elbow.
At that point, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had to patch together a receiving corps with bubble gum and duct tape, using four receivers who didn't start the season with the Jets. But free agents Josh Cribbs and David Nelson, waiver pickup Zach Sudfeld and practice-team call-up Greg Salas came through in a stunning 26-20 upset of the Saints Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
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"It was tough,'' Salas said of Kerley's gruesome injury. "He's a leader in our room. To see him with his elbow like that, it's a little scary. You're like, 'Ooooh, I hope he's OK.' At that point, I knew it was going to be my time to step up and help out the team."
Amazingly, the Jets reached halftime with a 20-14 lead. A running game that produced 198 yards created chances for quarterback Geno Smith to use play-action for big passing plays. Salas caught a 13-yarder in the go-ahead TD drive, and his 44-yard reception set up a field goal for a 23-14 third-quarter lead.
"It's something I know I was completely capable of,'' Salas said, "so this is a big confidence-booster."
Tight end Sudfeld blocked well and caught two passes for 46 yards, including a 21-yarder that set up Smith's go-ahead 3-yard TD run. But his most memorable play was a 25-yard catch from wide receiver Josh Cribbs out of the Wildcat formation to set up a second-quarter field goal by Nick Folk.
"What an athlete, huh?" Sudfeld said of Cribbs, who also carried three times for 12 yards, had two catches for 6 yards and returned five kickoffs for a 26.8-yard average. "That was a great throw. I didn't know if he was going to run. I felt the linebackers run forward and got behind them. He saw me and he put it on me. I don't think I was his first read on that."
Cribbs smiled when Sudfeld's comment was relayed. "He wasn't the first read," Cribbs said. "I didn't throw it to him one time in practice. I was telling everybody, 'I don't care who's open, I'm going to run with it anyway.'
"But we wanted to get that passing threat out there so they won't stack the box on us . Now teams know we throw the ball out of that formation."
Cribbs credited Jets general manager John Idzik for finding replacement parts that could be integrated quickly. "We have a lot to play for, guys that are coming off the street like myself," said Cribbs, a former Pro Bowl returner. "That's what our GM did. He got guys that are hungry, guys that are going to play like a Jet."