The Jets' defense was flying all over the field in Week 1. Their energy, passion and preparation led to a five-interception game against the Lions. But instead of pumping out their chests in the days following that game, the collective approach of the unit has been: they need to be better this week.
This week is here for the Jets. They play their home opener Sunday against the Dolphins and all eyes will be on two things — what rookie quarterback Sam Darnold does in his first regular-season game at MetLife Stadium, and whether the Jets defense can have another eye-opening, inspiring performance.
It’s encore time.
“I’m not living in last week,” tackle Steve McLendon said. “But we got to bring that same energy to home.”
The Jets shouldn’t have any trouble finding that energy. Their fans should provide plenty since there is a growing belief that the Jets are in the process of building something.
Yes, it’s only one game, but the way Darnold rebounded after throwing a pick-six on his first NFL pass against the Lions has only raised the level of optimism. He threw two touchdowns and led six scoring drives in a 31-point rout.
But if the Jets are going to be a winning team this season and end their seven-year playoff drought, they’re going to need more than Darnold, even if he is an unflappable 21-year-old who will only get better.
There will be days when Darnold goes through some of those normal rookie growing pains. The defense has to be there for him those days. But their goal is to be stout and stingy every game, and they have the Detroit game to use as the blueprint for how they have to play and prepare.
“We’re trying to be better than that game,” cornerback Mo Claiborne said. “We’re not playing like we’re stuck in the past or anything like that.”
“That’s definitely a good stepping stool in the right direction,” linebacker Darron Lee said. “We want to build some consistency with that.”
Not being satisfied could serve the Jets well as they continue to try and prove they can be a dominant defense, which won’t be easy without an edge rusher.
Following the Detroit victory, McLendon, a respected veteran with playoff experience with the Steelers, told the team that it was only one game, and that they have to approach each one and each week the same way.
The Jets studied the film, followed the coach’s gameplan and instruction and communicated with each other. They held the Lions to 2.6 yards per carry and kept them from converting 10 of 13 third downs Monday night.
“It’s not about any team that we play,” McLendon said. “It’s about every man that’s on that field. It’s about us. It’s not about no team we step in front of. If we do what we’re supposed to do, week-in, week-out, one week at a time, one day at a time, if we win each day, we’re going to put ourselves in a great situation.
“At the end of the season, we’re going to be on the positive side, not the negative.”
Much was made about linebacker Lee, who picked off Matthew Stafford twice, saying the Jets knew all of the Lions plays and Stafford’s hand signals. Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers downplayed it, but there probably was some truth to what Lee said. Other Jets concurred.
Lee spoke specifically about a play that he and Jamal Adams called out as soon as the Lions got to the line of scrimmage. The result was Lee intercepting the pass and taking it 32 yards for the Jets first defensive touchdown in five years.
“You got to talk,” Rodgers said. “You got to let everybody know what you see because the guy over here might not know what the guy over there is seeing. So it’s all about communication. As our team matures and gets older, we hope the communication can get better.”
Communication will be key for the Jets after a short week to prepare for a potential dangerous Miami team.
The Dolphins traded Jarvis Landry to Cleveland, but receiver DeVante Parker, who missed the first game with a finger injury, could return Sunday. Speedy receiver Kenny Stills is playing a bigger role now. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is healthy after knee surgery kept him out last season, and he has Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake to hand off to in the backfield.
Rodgers called that duo “a devastating one-two punch” and said if the Jets focus too much on them it leaves them “vulnerable” to Stills “taking the top of the defense off. He can really fly.”
The Jets, who will be without starting linebacker Josh Martin and probably safety Marcus Maye for the second straight game, can’t expect to get five interceptions every week. They had 11 all of last year. But they can be disruptive and they can be playmakers. An edge rusher would make their defense more complete and perhaps on the road to elite, but they do have guys who can make plays.
Defensive end Leonard Williams hasn’t had a sack in seven games, but he had two quarterback hits Monday. Cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Claiborne and Adams are playmakers — all three had picks against Detroit.
Adams’ versatility, size and speed give him the ability to line up in different spots and make plays all over the field. He had his first career interception against the Lions and came off the edge to tackle LeGarrette Blount for a 7-yard loss.
“I feel like as a unit we can be great,” linebacker Avery Williamson said. “The talent is there. We have great coaches. We just got to continue to work hard. The sky’s the limit for what this unit can be.”
How the Jets' defense fared against Lions quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Cassel last Sunday:
Int. return yards
Int. return TD
Lions' combined QB rating