FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Kony Ealy said he’s not looking for revenge against a team that let him go. He just wants to play football. However, you can’t help but wonder what the Jets defensive end’s reaction will be if he produces a good game against the Patriots on Sunday.
In March, the Panthers traded Ealy to the Patriots for a 2017 third-round pick. Ealy didn’t last long with the Pats and was released Aug. 26. The Jets acquired him shortly after he cleared waivers the next day, and he’s been productive ever since.
“A great addition for us,” Todd Bowles said Wednesday. “Obviously, the difference he made in the plays against Jacksonville (four passes broken up, one interception) helped us out quite a bit. He’s been a welcome presence for us, very intelligent ballplayer. Glad to have him.”
It seems the Patriots could use a pass-rushing end, because they’re last in the NFL with 447.2 yards per game allowed and 28th in sacks per pass play. Ealy didn’t fit their scheme, however. New England likes its defensive ends and outside linebackers to be versatile enough to support the run and react quickly on pass plays. With the Jets, Ealy does play the run, but his main objective is rushing the passer, and that’s all Bowles wants.
It’s an easier scheme to master, as Ealy’s play has shown. He’s played in four of the Jets’ five games and also has two quarterback hits, five pass breakups and nine tackles.
Getting a bunch of tackles isn’t required of Ealy. The linebackers and safeties are the keys in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme against the run, while the front three handle double-teams and keep linemen from getting to the second level on run plays.
“A different scheme fit, that was the only reason why as far as my departure,” Ealy said. “Here the scheme fit allows me to do what guys have been doing here for years, and that’s being able to rush the passer.”
Speaking of the Patriots, he said: “A lot more responsibility up there in the defense. It just wasn’t a good fit for me there.”
It seems Patriots coach Bill Belichick has noticed Ealy’s work, and during Wednesday’s news conference seemed to get irritated with the line of questioning about him. Belichick praised Ealy for his four pass breakups against the Jaguars, saying, “I think their whole defensive line does a good job of that.”
Later, Belichick got another question about Ealy’s ability to knock down passes.
“Well, usually if you’re batting a pass, then you’re in front of the quarterback,” Belichick said. “I mean, you’re not behind him. I mean, look, I don’t think they’re putting him in the game to bat down passes. Maybe I’m missing the boat here. I don’t know.”
Although Ealy missed last week’s victory over the Browns with a shoulder injury, he expects to play Sunday.
“At the end of the day, you go through things in life,” Ealy said of getting cut by the Patriots. “Nothing surprises you in life. You have to be ready when the moment comes, whether it’s good or bad. It’s not about them. It’s always about us.”
Ealy had to deal with the loss of his sister, Latoya Brown, prior to the Week 4 game against the Jaguars. After Ealy missed two days of practice, he returned and performed well. He recorded only one tackle but had an interception besides the four pass breakups.
He was given the game ball in an emotional moment for him and the team. Now he takes on the Patriots in a battle for first place in the AFC East. It might develop into another emotional day.
“I’m going to come out here and play hard,’’ Ealy said. “That’s what I’m going to do regardless of where I’m at. I’m going to play hard because I have a family to feed and I have a lot of teammates that I think about and they think about me as far as we feed each other.
“I do it for those purposes. It’s never because of revenge.”