For a few minutes, it was like the good old days for the Jets' defense. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie were reunited in green for the first time in two seasons and came flying out of the tunnel one after the other during introductions to leap in the air and chest bump as the fans roared.
But with 8:51 left in the second quarter Sunday, Cromartie crumpled to the turf with a noncontact injury to his left knee. Suddenly, the air was hissing out of the opening-day balloon as Cromartie was carted off and replaced by second-year man Marcus Williams.
"Cro is one of the leaders in the secondary and someone we look up to as young guys," second-year safety Calvin Pryor said. "To see him go down in the first game is definitely a big blow to our defense. But everybody stepped up and started playing for one another after that."
The Jets' defense went on to force four of five Cleveland turnovers, including an interception by Williams, in a dominant 31-10 victory. Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall forced a turnover when he stripped an interception away from Tashaun Gipson.
Cromartie is scheduled for an MRI Monday. "Cro's situation we don't know much," Revis said. "It was sad to see him go down. He's a great friend of mine."
Aside from a slow start, Revis was pleased by the defensive performance, saying: "One of our main characteristics is to create turnovers. That's one of the things we want to harp on."
The Browns' turnovers began on their opening drive with a big hit by Pryor on quarterback Josh McCown, who fumbled at the Jets' 1-yard line. Cromartie recovered in the end zone.
"I knew as I watched film that he doesn't like to get down," Pryor said of McCown. "So I was able to get a shot on him. I think that turned the momentum of the game around."
McCown left the game after that play with a head injury and was replaced by Johnny Manziel, who hit a 54-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin behind Cromartie for a 7-0 lead. That was the Browns' only big play.
Early in the third quarter, Williams picked off Manziel and returned it 18 yards to the Cleveland 28 to set up a 1-yard TD pass from Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to Marshall for a 21-10 lead.
"Marcus has been making plays all of training camp," safety Buster Skrine said. "It's been noticeable. He did what he's been doing, he stepped up in the big game."
Williams said the situation is comparable to last season when he replaced injured Darrin Walls as the starter. But he knows that with Revis on the opposite side of the defense, he will be a marked man.
"I'm pretty much going to be 'hot' most of the time because they're probably going to stay away from [Revis]," Williams said. "So I've got to be ready at all times. I'm going to keep learning from Revis, picking his brain. He's a good leader."
Revis expressed confidence in Williams. "Marcus stepped in with a lot of confidence and made plays right off the bat," Revis said. "He has a lot of potential. We've seen that in OTAs and training camp. We have high hopes for him."