Think of 315-pound Muhammad Wilkerson and 294-pound Sheldon Richardson as the Jets' sergeants-at-arms. They had their hands full Sunday with a Detroit offense that made clutch plays during a 24-17 Lions victory, but when home fans at MetLife Stadium chanted for backup quarterback Michael Vick, the two defensive linemen came to the aid of struggling starter Geno Smith.
Smith left the field cursing his detractors in the stands and then apologized immediately afterward. Two Smith turnovers in the fourth quarter and five straight three-and-out series in the first half put the defense in a tough spot, but Wilkerson and Richardson made it clear they're not hoping for a change to Vick.
"We can't separate ourselves," an emotional Wilkerson said. "We can't divide as a team."
Wilkerson was ejected from a Week 2 loss at Green Bay, so he understands emotions can spin out of control. He said Smith's vulgar outburst was "out of character and not right," but Wilkerson wasn't about to give the crowd a pass.
"Jets fans are difficult," Wilkerson said. "We're out there playing. At the same time, we need those guys to back us up . . . to support us. When you've got fans screaming negative things toward us, that's not going to build us up. That's only going to break us down.
"We've got to keep that out of our minds and stick together. If they want to be all in, then, they've got to be all in with us -- when it's bad, when it's good. It's that simple. But Geno was definitely wrong for cursing at the fans, and I'm pretty sure guys will let him know that's not acceptable."
Pros know they must tune out crowd reaction, but Wilkerson added, "As a player, it really does hurt that fans are screaming negative things at you."
Richardson faulted the hypocritical nature of many fans, saying, "You cheer for [Smith] when he throws a touchdown, but you were talking about you wanted Vick the whole game. [But] he's got to keep his composure no matter how frustrating it gets."
Asked what he thought when Jets fans called for Vick, Richardson said, "Shut up. If that's the case, produce a child to come into the NFL, and we'll see what he's got. Other than that, just shut up. We've got coaches to do that ."
No one on the defense could question Smith without first looking in the mirror. Detroit took a 10-3 second-quarter lead on a 59-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Jeremy Ross, who came open because of a breakdown by cornerback Antonio Allen and rookie safety Calvin Pryor.
"He ran a double move," Pryor said of Ross. "There was miscommunication between us two [Allen] . . . we were on two different pages."
Although the Jets held the Lions to 6 of 15 on third-down conversions, Ross' TD came on third down, and Stafford hit three third-down passes on a 90-yard drive for his clinching one-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
"We've got to get off the field," Wilkerson said. "We're having too many mistakes. That's why we're losing games."
Looking ahead to a schedule that matches the Jets' defense against San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers followed by Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady, Wilkerson said, "These next couple teams are not getting easier. This is where it shows how tough we can be, how bad we want this. We'll see in these next couple weeks."