Chris Ivory was one of many heroes for the Jets in their shocking 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, but he almost never got the chance to show off his skills.
If fans had turned the game off after the first quarter, it would have been completely understandable. The Saints outgained the Jets in total yards by a margin of 154-31 after the first 15 minutes. With the Jets coming off a 40-point loss the week before, it appeared as if a second-straight romp was in the making. Though it was no secret New Orleans entered the game allowing a league-worst 4.8 yards per rush, the Jets opted for a pass-heavy attack to start things off. As a result, the Saints dominated early on.
Ivory, the ex-Saints running back, rushed just twice in the first quarter. Following a 27-yard run midway through the quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until a few plays into the second period. Faced with a first-and-12 from his own two-yard line, Ivory took off for a 52-yard run and changed the course of the game.
It was no coincidence that once the Jets started to feed Ivory the ball more and became reliant on the running game, they outscored the Saints 23-13 the rest of the way. The shift in time of possession in Gang Green's favor allowed for the defense to not get into a track meet with the New Orleans offense. After not getting to him much in the first quarter, Muhammad Wilkerson and the rested Jets front seven were then able to swarm quarterback Drew Brees.
Though the pressure didn't result in many sacks on Brees due to his ability to get rid of the ball when in trouble, it forced him to make mistakes that he normally doesn't make. Brees had thrown just five interceptions all season yet threw two against the Jets. Had it not been for a few drops by the defense, that number might have even been higher.
Quinton Coples had been a forgotten man for much of the season but recorded a deflected pass and a game-high three hits on Brees. His ability to sniff out a reverse on fourth-and-inches with just under eight minutes left to play was a potential game-saver. Coples capped his terrific performance off by pressuring Brees on New Orleans' final offensive play from scrimmage and clinching the victory for the Jets.
Despite the pressure and the mistakes, Brees still torched the secondary for 382 yards passing. Cornerback Dee Milliner certainly played better than he has in recent weeks but the team was still beat in coverage one too many times. Tight end Jimmy Graham was a man against boys while other receivers were left wide open.
Gang Green's running game also allowed for Geno Smith to not have to get into a shootout with Brees. The team was already short on receivers and lost Jeremy Kerley in the second quarter due to an elbow injury, further limiting their passing attack. Unknowns Greg Salas and Zach Sudfeld weren't even on the roster a few weeks ago but stepped up in a big way and combined for four catches for 103 yards. Fellow newcomer Josh Cribbs had a big day returning kicks and even chipped in with a 25-yard pass.
The Jets racked up 198 yards on the ground and, aside from his fancy footwork on a three-yard touchdown run, made Smith an afterthought. On a day when he completed just eight of 19 passes for 115 yards, Smith's biggest contribution was that he didn't turn the ball over.
Not to be forgotten, it's almost taken for granted how important and automatic kicker Nick Folk has been. Folk accounted for 14 points and continued his perfect season, hitting four field goals on the day and making all 23 he's attempted this season.
Much like an awards show acceptance speech, there were simply too many people to mention by name and give credit to. Calvin Pace and the linebackers were fantastic while the offensive line played a huge role in opening up holes for Ivory to run through.
Having struggled to find consistency all year long, maybe the team has finally found their identity going forward. It took longer to discover than it probably should have, but a pounding running attack and good defense up front certainly was a winning formula just a few years ago when the team made back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game.
The Jets now enter the bye week savoring a big win. They won't play again until November 17 and the team will need all the rest they can get as they are dealing with a number of injuries at this point of the grueling season.
When Gang Green returns to action, there will once again be meaningful games ahead. After nine games, they miraculously find themselves in sole possession of the final playoff spot in the conference. The time off could prove to be very beneficial in correcting their issues in coverage and getting healthy for a postseason push.