It was on Nov. 2, a Thursday night of dancing, when it all came together.
The Jets had seven sacks, nine tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits and three forced turnovers in a 34-21 victory over the Bills that ended their three-game losing streak.
In a game the Jets needed badly, the defense played its best, and it hopes to give that kind of performance again at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
“Just set the bar of where we should be as a defense and what we should be striving to be,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “Keep pushing from that last game. We stopped the run (2.9 yards per carry), we got after the quarterback, we got takeaways, we did everything a great defense wants to do and we showed we can do it. So, we want to keep progressing off that.”
The drama is building for what these Jets might end up being after preseason discussions of tanking and trying to obtain the No. 1 overall draft pick. Now the discussions are about beating the Bucs and reaching .500 heading into their bye week and maybe getting into playoff conversations going into the final six games.
If that’s the case, the defense will need to live up to expectations. At the start of the season, the defense was thought to be a team strength, but it stumbled. The Jets allowed 370 rushing yards in the first two games and Muhammad Wilkerson and Williams went nearly two months each without a sack. Wilkerson also didn’t hit a quarterback for almost two months. The Jets were in the middle of the pack in terms of takeaways, but things gradually began to click, especially last week against the Bills.
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene pushed the Jets to become something linebacker Jordan Jenkins described as “head hunters. Blow through somebody.”
Demario Davis noted the Jets needed to get their ‘attitude’ back and fans saw that against the Bills.
Early in the fourth quarter, 10 defensive players were dancing to a song by Philadelphia hip-hop artist Lil Uzi Vert’s 444+222. The next day, the Jets’ social media staff showed a video of the players dancing on twitter with a hashtag #JetsDancetoAnything and it went viral. Many fans placed their own soundtrack to the video, but a closer look reveals the Jets’ swagger and it started with the defense.
“Just part of our DNA,” Davis said. “Have a lot of confidence, have a lot of fun on the team.”
There has been improvement in many areas on defense, but it starts with Wilkerson and Williams. Wilkerson didn’t have a sack in the first seven games but has picked up one in each of his last two. Williams got on the board for the first time with a half-sack in the Bills game.
Coach Todd Bowles preaches that creating turnovers is critical to a defense establishing itself. The Jets forced three turnovers against the Bills and are tied for third in the NFL in takeaways with 16.
“We held the running game to a minimum and that in turn helped us get after the quarterback,” Williams said. “We got seven sacks. Jordan was [AFC Defensive] Player of the Week. It’s awesome to see a combined effort from the defense. In all three phases, from front, linebackers to secondary, everybody doing their job. That’s the main thing we saw on film. Nobody [was] doing anything really flashy. Everybody was just trusting the person next to them to do their job, and they did their job, and it showed we can do that every week if we wanted to.”
Now the Jets must continue that play at Tampa, where former teammate Ryan Fitzpatrick awaits. For two seasons the quarterback saw Bowles’ defense: corners playing man-to-man, big run stopping ends who also must rush the passer and an attacking pass rush on third-and-long situations.
But Fitzpatrick’s familiarity with the defense isn’t something the Jets can worry.
“You want to go out and win and at this time it’s about stacking wins,” Davis said. “Every game is critical and the stakes rise each game. So we got to go to Tampa with all guns blazing. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They have a good team, a lot of good players and we have to go out there and play football.”
NY SACK EXCHANGE REDUX?
The Jets’ greatest hits last week:
9 OR 10???
Tackles for loss
Bills fumbles recovered