It was during training camp when cornerback Antonio Cromartie proclaimed himself the Jets' second-best wide receiver behind Santonio Holmes. With Holmes out for the season and wideout Stephen Hill and tight end Dustin Keller sidelined by injuries, Cromartie got a chance to show what he could do on offense against Houston Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
Cromartie not only got open deep down the right sideline in the second quarter but hauled in Mark Sanchez's pass. The only problem was that it didn't count because the ball was thrown out of bounds. Cromartie was targeted again on a swing pass on the Jets' final drive, only to see it tipped away by linebacker Conner Barwin.
To top it off, Cromartie had a great game on defense, intercepting a pass and holding perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson to one catch for 15 yards. The interception came in the first quarter and led to a 27-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to tight end Jeff Cumberland that tied the score at a touchdown apiece, but all that wasn't enough to prevent the Texans from pulling out a 23-17 win.
"I'm happy personally, but it's a team sport," Cromartie said. "We've got to play better on both sides."
In addition to the injuries that already had thinned the receiving corps, the Jets lost backup wideout Clyde Gates during the game. But Cromartie said he practiced four or five plays at wide receiver during the week to prepare for emergency duty.
On the deep ball, he got behind Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson and might have scored if the pass had hit him in stride. As it was, he did a good job to hang on to it as it sailed out of bounds.
"We did a stop-and-go," Cromartie said. "I felt if I could get the DB to jump on it, I might as well try to get past. Mark threw a great ball, and I tried to get my feet back in bounds."
Cromartie has played multiple roles in the past. He returned kickoffs when the Jets upset Indianapolis in a playoff game two seasons ago. "It doesn't take anything out of me. It's just playing football,'' he said. "I'm not worried about getting tired or anything like that."
Without Holmes and Hill at wide receiver, Jeremy Kerley caught five balls for 94 yards and Chaz Schilens had four catches for 29 yards. Unfortunately for the Jets, Sanchez didn't spot Schilens open in the back of the end zone just before halftime on a pass that was intended for Kerley but was tipped by J.J. Watt and intercepted by Brice McCain.
"They blew the coverage," Schilens said of the Texans. "I was so open that there was no one within 10 yards of me. They got lucky."
Despite all the injuries to the receiving corps, Schilens praised the efforts of Cromartie and free agents Gates and Jason Hill. "It's not your conventional way, not Santonio Holmes, not what people want to see," Schilens said. "But we have no other choice but to make plays and make it work."