The football was hanging right in front of his wide rookie eyes, and new Jets safety Calvin Pryor knew it had "pick-6" written all over it.
"As soon as I saw I was about to catch the ball, I saw the end zone, and I was trying to run before I got the ball," Pryor said. "That's one play I left out there. It won't happen again. I'll get the next one."
That second-quarter play was one of many third-down stops by a defense that shut down the Raiders' running game and gave rookie quarterback Derek Carr a confusing NFL baptism in the Jets' 19-14 victory Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Whatever concerns the Jets had about their patchwork secondary were allayed for one week.
After the Jets allowed Antonio Cromartie to leave in free agency, released Dimitri Patterson after his AWOL episode and lost No. 1 cornerback Dee Milliner for the opener because of a high ankle sprain, cornerbacks Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen and rookie safety Pryor were pegged as the weak links in Rex Ryan's defense. Walls was beaten for a 30-yard touchdown on a circus catch by James Jones near the end, but the Raiders were held to 133 net yards passing and a mere 25 rushing.
"There have been a lot of changes in the secondary, but we stuck together," Pryor said. "Before the game, our front seven said, 'Stay back. We'll handle the run.' [The Raiders] had 25 rushing yards, so my hat goes off to those guys up front."
Allen, who moved from safety to cornerback, and Walls are veterans who knew what to expect. But Pryor, the Jets' first-round draft pick, essentially stepped into the "defensive quarterback" role Ed Reed once played in the great Baltimore defenses Ryan helped coach.
"I think he did a great job," Walls said of Pryor. "It was loud out there, so we had to communicate even more. He did a good job of directing the defense and putting us in positions we needed to be in. With motions and shifts, the safeties have to control it back there. He does a great job doing that. He doesn't get confused on most things I think a rookie safety would get confused on."
Allen echoed those sentiments, but he wouldn't let the rook off the hook for dropping a potential pick-6.
"I think he still owes me 10 push-ups," he said.
The secondary's job was made easier by a front seven that not only cleaned up the run but pressured and confused Carr, who still completed 20 of 32 passes for 151 yards and two TDs.
"They gave [the Raiders] different looks," said Allen, whose open-field tackling ability was a key in several third-down stops. "Carr guessed a couple times out there. He thought he was going to get some pressure, and he let the ball go out pretty quick. Sometimes we were just messing with him."
Things figure to get tougher when the Jets visit Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. The lineup after Rodgers includes Chicago's Jay Cutler, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, San Diego's Philip Rivers, Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady.
"You can say we shut the critics up, but we've got to do that every week," Walls said. "This is just one game. We have to perform every week and show we're not the worst group in the world, as they make us out to be."