By Brad Carroll
True, it was only the Cleveland Browns. And yes, the defense got to face backup quarterback Johnny Manziel for most of the game. But the New York Jets' season-opening blowout victory at home was the perfect start to the Todd Bowles era.
For a wide-ranging amount of reasons, the Jets had to make easy work of the Browns Sunday, one of the league's bottom dwellers. The Jets had to first prove they aren't among the league's worst teams, which many so-called experts have put them in that category. They had to show the defense was much-improved from a year ago, especially with so many new, star additions, which they did, save for a few early scares. The offense had to prove it could put up points, and they did, with 31 coming off a balanced run-pass attack. And they had to win impressively enough to not have anyone talk about what former coach Rex Ryan was doing with the Buffalo Bills at the same time, completely shutting down Andrew Luck and the high-powered Indianapolis Colts offense in a big victory.
The Jets accomplished all of those goals and now head to Indianapolis Monday night with a ton of confidence after both their own victory, and what Ryan did to those Colts Sunday afternoon. Coming into the season, many penciled the Jets in for a loss in that game. Now, it's not such a guarantee anymore.
The Bills helped immeasurably with that new thought-process, but the Jets did their share with an impressive showing on offense Sunday against the Browns. In particular the play of the wide receivers, highligted by Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who could be the best receiver pair for the Jets since the days of Wesley Walker and Al Toon. It's only the first game, but Marshall especially proved he's going to have a huge impact on this offense and team as a whole.
Marshall was a play-maker on offense, catching six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown that came off a fade route in the end zone, something the Jets never seemingly can complete. He did it against one the best cornerbacks in football, too, as he consistently beat Joe Haden. Decker had his moments as well, scoring a touchdown. But Marshall stole the show.
As good as he was on offense, Marshall was even better in the short time he was on the field as a defender, right after Ryan Fitzpatrick threw what could have been a killer interception. The pick came on a target to Marshall, who not only didn't give up on making the tackle, but striped the ball and recovered it in one motion, giving the ball back to the Jets and taking momentum back immediately with it.
It was the biggest play of the game, and could have been the difference between what became an easy victory instead of a season-destroying loss. The Jets were already down 7-0 in the second quarter, with the Browns receiving an immediate spark from Johnny Football, who entered the game for the injured Josh McCown, and threw a 54-yard touchdown pass just a couple minutes prior to the interception. After the pick, for those few moments, the air was immediately let out of MetLife Stadium, while the Browns started to believe they were about to take control of the game. Marshall changed that with one amazing play.
Not surprisingly, the Jets scored a touchdown two plays later to tie the game at seven. After allowing a field goal, the Jets scored 24 straight points to turn what was becoming a battle into a laugher.
Ryan Fitzpatrick did his part, throwing for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Best yet, Fitzpatrick looked for open receivers downfield, rather than the dinking and dunking offense that was the norm with Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. Fitzpatrick wasn't great, but on this day, he was much better than Smith.
The Jets were supposed to be led by their defense, but they had several rough moments against the Browns. Antonio Cromartie, who got great news Monday when he was diagnosed with a sprained knee as opposed to a feared ACL tear, and is deemed week-to-week, was burned on that Manziel 54-yard touchdown pass. Darrelle Revis wasn't his typical shutdown corner self, allowing many completions underneath. The Browns quarterbacks combined to throw for 217 yards and another 58 rushing. But in the second half, it was all Jets, with the Browns offense doing little to nothing. On the day, the Cleveland running backs gained just 46 yards on 20 carries.
Bowles needed a big defensive effort, especially with Jets fans being spoiled by how good Ryan's defenses have always been, and they eventually got what they were searching for. What Bowles' defense accomplished that Ryan's never could was create turnovers. The Jets had four takeaways, one interception by Marcus Williams, who could see a greater role with Cromartie possibly missing time, and three fumble recoveries, by Revis, Marshall and Quinton Coples. The Jets also committed just four penalties, another contrast to Ryan's teams.
The comparisons between Bowles and Ryan will always be unfair, and will die down rather quickly, but it was impossible to overlook Sunday.
The one obvious difference was Ryan never had a player like Marshall. Bowles is the beneficiary of not having the soul-draining John Idzik running the show, and the Jets suddenly have the look of a playoff team. It's only one week, and the opponent wasn't anything special, but there's no doubt this Jets offense is better than it's been since Year 2 of the Mark Sanchez era, and possibly since Vinny Testaverde was the quarterback.
Those are big comparissons, but that's what Marshall has done, changing the entire culture of the Jets offense in just one week.
Now it's time to take another step on the national stage of Monday Night Football next week against the Colts and truly prove the Jets are a playoff contender.