FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Lost in the jubilation and amazement of the Jets’ historic come-from-behind victory last Sunday in Cleveland was a small yet significant sign that Carl Lawson is getting closer to being the impact player this defense needs on the edge.
Lawson, who missed all of last season after rupturing his Achilles, made his presence felt in the fourth quarter on an important play that knocked the Browns out of field-goal range. Lawson and Quinnen Williams were each credited for a half-sack on Jacoby Brissett that impacted the game that the Jets ended up winning 31-30 after scoring 14 unanswered points in the final 1:22.
“What was really cool to see in that critical drive when we knocked them out of field goal range which at the end of the day meant the difference between winning and losing the game, Carl was the guy who got that half-sack,” Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “It’s a glimpse of what he’s growing into as he gets healthier every day and more comfortable and stronger and faster and more explosive.
“As we start to play teams that give us more opportunities to pass rush, I think you’re going to see more and more and more of that from him.”
The Jets’ defense sprung many leaks the first two weeks of the season, and the most disappointing thing has been their lack of a pass rush. They’ve totaled just three sacks and know they have to apply more pressure on quarterbacks.
They attributed some of their struggles to the fact that they played run-heavy teams the first two games in Baltimore and Cleveland. That should change on Sunday with Lawson’s former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, visiting MetLife Stadium.
The Bengals have a top running back in Joe Mixon, but they also have an explosive passing game with quarterback Joe Burrow and receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Cincinnati has allowed an NFL-high 13 sacks, so the Jets, and Lawson in particular, could have more chances to get home.
“We need to finish a lot of those plays,” Lawson said. “We definitely got to get the quarterback down when we get to him.”
The Jets signed Lawson to do that. They gave him a three-year, $45 million deal in 2021 to be a disruptive pass rusher and believe he has the ability to wreck a game. Lawson didn’t get the chance to prove it last year, but the Jets feel he’s trending in that direction.
“He’s getting good movement, good pressure, and all that stuff,” Robert Saleh said. “He’s doing a good job in the run game. Coming back from Achilles injuries, he’s warming back up and he still looks good to me. I know there is another gear in there for him and it’s coming. He’s going to be fine. All his power, all that stuff is there, it’s just getting all his timing back.”
Lawson couldn’t say how close he is to feeling like himself, but he is noticing some important changes.
“The body is starting to heal faster, I’m starting to get healthier, things are going to slow down,” Lawson said. “I’m getting better and each day I’m continuing the process and just working.”
Lawson downplayed this game being against his old team. He was a fourth-round pick of the Bengals in 2017. He spent his first seasons with Cincinnati and still keeps in touch with his former teammates and coaches.
“We got to go out there and win,” Lawson said. “But no different emotion”
Lawson wasn’t wallowing in pity while he rehabbed and watched the Bengals go on an unexpected run to the Super Bowl last season. He said he was rooting for them and their success.
“Oh yeah, 100%,” Lawson said. “You get a lot of bonds and you kind of create a lot of close ties sometimes when you go through a lot of different struggles. Kind of like similar to this last week, press and press and press and seeing these guys work and just go out there and get the win this last week, it was something special, and you bond with your teammates.
“To see the work that those guys have put in over the years, the media used to jump on them and call them different types of things. To see them go to the Super Bowl, I was extremely happy and extremely happy for a lot of those guys.”