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During Winning Streak, Jets’ Defense Finds Identity

#1 User is offline   CJBallar01 Icon

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 11:40 AM

During Winning Streak, Jets’ Defense Finds Identity

NASHVILLE — As Jets linebacker Calvin Pace rushed around the edge of the Tennessee Titans’ offensive line and bore down on quarterback Kerry Collins, he saw the ball in Collins’s right hand. Two thoughts popped into Pace’s head.

“Like ‘Lord, please keep holding it, please keep holding it.’ Or ‘Don’t step up,’ ” Pace said.

Collins kept holding it, and Pace swiped the ball from Collins, causing a fumble — which the Titans recovered — on the third-and-15 play and knocking Tennessee back to the Jets’ 31.

The Titans settled for a field goal, making the score 20-6 with 12 minutes 50 seconds to play. On the Jets’ next possession, Leon Washington sprinted 61 yards for a touchdown, and the game was all but out of reach.

Pace’s sack was only the seventh on a Titans quarterback this year, a league low. Sacks on Collins this season have been almost as much a rarity as Titans losses. But the Jets’ defense, bolstered in the off-season by additions like Pace and tackle Kris Jenkins, has come together during the team’s five-game winning streak.

For the third time in four games, the Jets held an opponent to less than 300 total yards; the Titans gained 281.

The Jets stuffed Tennessee’s two-pronged rushing attack, led by the speedy rookie Chris Johnson and the bruising LenDale White, allowing 45 yards combined. Forced to throw, Collins was limited to 243 yards on 21-of-39 passing.

“Everybody is just being accountable for their job and being unselfish,” the Jets rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Guys are looking over to their other teammate and saying, I don’t want to let that guy down.”

Revis’s sentiment was never more apparent than on a turnover created by Jets safety Abram Elam in the third quarter.

With Tennessee on its 24-yard line, Johnson ran left around the offensive line for 11 yards, but Elam met Johnson at the 35-yard line and knocked the ball loose. Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas fell on it.

Eight plays later, quarterback Brett Favre hit wide receiver Laveranues Coles on a 2-yard pass over the middle in the end zone, putting the Jets ahead, 20-3.

Elam said: “I was working on something that we do every day in practice: trying to attack the ball and strip it out. We knew in the second half, Tennessee outscored their opponents, and we just wanted to come out and match their intensity and continue to come out and make plays.”

In some ways, Elam’s progress has mirrored that of the Jets’ defense. He began the year without much of an identity on the team, mainly as a backup to the starter Eric Smith. But with Smith out with lingering effects from a head injury, sustained in the fourth week of the season, Elam has gained more consistency with each game.

In the Jets’ overtime victory against the New England Patriots, Elam made eight tackles. On Sunday, he had a season-high nine.

“The more and more opportunities I get, the more experience I get,” Elam said.

Along with the two big plays in the second half, the Jets’ defense could have easily unraveled after consecutive offensive turnovers in the first half.

After a Washington fumble off a shovel pass by Favre put the Titans on their 21, Tennessee did not move beyond its 48.

Then on the Jets’ next possession, Favre was picked off by Titans safety Cortland Finnegan on the Jets’ 42.

Johnson ran for 7 yards, and Collins threw two consecutive incomplete passes. The last one was batted down at the line by Jenkins. The Titans were forced to punt.

“I mean, as a defense we don’t pay attention to what the offense does,” Jenkins said. “If they score points, then that’s good. If they have turnovers, then that is what it is. But when we go out there, we have to play through whatever the situation is, and we have to go out there and play like the defense plays. That’s all.”
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