History will show that James Robinson scored the third-quarter touchdown that put the Jets ahead on Sunday against the Bills at MetLife Stadium.
But as far as cornerback D.J. Reed was concerned, that was a mere technicality.
That was because Robinson’s score came four plays after Sauce Gardner intercepted the Bills’ Josh Allen and returned the ball to the Buffalo 19-yard line.
“I told Sauce it changed the game,” Reed said after the Jets’ 20-17 victory. “He got that interception, and I told him, ‘That’s your touchdown. If we end up scoring, that’s your touchdown.’ ”
What made the rookie cornerback’s play so pivotal was that it came two plays after Jets quarterback Zach Wilson lost a fumble, short-circuiting a long, impressive Jets drive.
Then Gardner did his thing, setting up Robinson’s 7-yard scoring reception from Wilson that made it 17-14.
Gardner said the Jets were in a cover-2 defense, and when the receiver got outside, he focused on Allen trying to make a throw in front of him and pounced.
“I felt like I had a feel for Josh Allen and the throws he likes to make,” Gardner said.
Did he consider the play a turning point?
“Yeah, most definitely,” he said. “Whenever something goes bad, a lot of people start complaining, but the defense, we have to be the ones who get the ball right back.
“Why not us? That was the perfect time, perfect situation, for me to do that.”
It was an eventful day for Gardner from start to finish. On the Bills’ first play from scrimmage, Stefon Diggs beat him for a 42-yard pass completion.
Gardner said that based on his film study, he believed Diggs would make a cut for a shorter route and that he surprised him by going deep.
“After that play, I just told everybody, ‘Chill out; we’re going to be good,’ ” Gardner said.
On the Bills’ final play from scrimmage, Allen threw a deep pass to Gabe Davis and Gardner broke it up.
Gardner never turned around to look at the ball but could see in Davis’ eyes that it was on its way.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Gardner said. “I was just trying to stay calm and not panic.”
He celebrated by doing snow angels on the artificial turf.
“When I was on the ground after the pass breakup, I was thinking, ‘This is a great opportunity to do it,’ ” Gardner said.
The game was a tour de force for Gardner and Reed, who mostly was charged with defending Diggs and held him without a catch in the second half.
Davis, another dangerous wideout, totaled two receptions for 33 yards.
Asked if he thinks he and Reed are the best cornerback duo in the league, Gardner said, “Oh, yeah, definitely, man.”
Said Robert Saleh: “I know Sauce, he gets all the fanfare, fourth overall [draft pick], and he’s doing a good job, he deserves it, a big interception today.
“But D.J. is playing Pro Bowl football. He’s really deserving of the same praise that Ahmad [Gardner] gets . . . He doesn’t get enough love, in my opinion.”
But holding the Bills in check was a group effort on defense
Asked if his defense is the best in the NFL, Saleh said, “Ask them,” meaning the Bills, whom the Jets held to a season-low 317 total yards.
“It’s a testament to the players,” Saleh said. “The communication has been so good and the precision with which we are playing on the back end has been so much better than it was a year ago.”