It defies imagination how the Jets' defense could give up 35 of the 49 points Cincinnati scored in a 40-point loss one week and then turn around the next week to contain quarterback Drew Brees and a high-scoring Saints offense.
But Rex Ryan's defense changed like a chameleon in a stunning 26-20 victory Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Jets confused Brees from the first series, when he had to call a timeout, drew a delay-of-game penalty and watched a teammate commit a false start. By the end of the first quarter, all three Saints first-half timeouts had been used.
"In the first quarter, they thought they had our number, you know, they thought they knew our game plan,'' Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "But we switched some stuff and the crowd was loud and he couldn't get his checks to the offensive line. So he had to burn timeouts.''
Brees being Brees, he still managed to lead the Saints to a 14-6 second-quarter lead, hitting tight end Jimmy Graham for touchdown passes of 51 and 10 yards. Brees completed 30 of 51 passes for 382 yards, but he also threw two tipped-ball interceptions, had a third pick erased by a penalty, was sacked twice and was unable to manufacture any fourth-quarter heroics.
Graham caught nine balls for 116 yards, but as cornerback Antonio Cromartie said of Graham, "One man is not going to beat our team. We did a great job of the front seven getting pressure on Brees in the second half and making him throw some errant throws. We got a lot of tipped balls where we can make plays on the ball.''
Cromartie was beaten by Graham on the second TD, but he also came up with an interception at the Saints' 39 that set up the Jets' go-ahead scoring drive before halftime. "We played with very high confidence, and we came out playing from the start,'' he said.
"That's been one of my pet peeves is trying to make sure we started fast, and I felt like we did. We caused some turnovers early, and it just went from there.''
Second-year defensive end Quinton Coples had his best game of the season with three QB hits, a pass knockdown and a key fourth-quarter stop when the Saints had fourth-and-inches at the Jets' 36. With the Jets stacked to stop a run, Brees handed off to tight end Josh Hill on a reverse, but Coples was waiting to drop him for an 8-yard loss.
"My job is to make sure the pitch doesn't get outside of me and to make sure I get to the quarterback,'' Coples said. "I was thinking Brees was going to pull it up and throw the ball, but when he handed it off, my eyes got big because I knew I was going to go right through .''
Describing the defense's second-half performance, Richardson said, "We tightened it up. It was guys wanting to make plays, our DBs attacking the ball, the D-line getting a lot more pressure in his face. We all just clicked. We're finally singing out of the same hymnal.''