Ravens deliver a few hard knocks in anemic Jets' stadium debut
The Ravens avoided Darrelle Revis but were aggressive within the passing game
The Jets could be staring at a 0-2 start with the Pats coming to town next week
QB Mark Sanchez has struggled to enthuse the Jets' fickle fan base early in Year 2
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Things we learned watching the Ravens deliver a few hard knocks of their own with a gutty 10-9 victory over the over-hyped Jets ...
1. The John Harbaugh-coached Ravens proved to me once again they're a tough-minded and resilient team that doesn't care who they play and where they play them. Spoiling the Cowboys' party in the final game at Texas Stadium on a Saturday night in primetime? No problem. Raining on the big-talking Jets' parade in their first-ever game at New Meadowlands Stadium? No sweat. Winning on the road in the NFL playoffs? Been there, done that. Thrice in the last two years.
"They've got to stop inviting us to homecoming, Ray,'' a Ravens team official said to Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the winning locker room.
"Every time somebody invites us, it goes the opposite way,'' Lewis replied, laughing like only the recently vindicated can laugh.
Don't pay too much attention to the razor-thin score in this one. The scoreboard read Ravens 10, Jets 9, but it wasn't really that close, and the game never felt like it wasn't in Baltimore's control. Not with the Ravens dominating New York in first downs (20-6), total yards (282-176), total plays (75-44), yards passing (248-74) and time of possession (38:32 to 21:28).
"They won the important downs,'' said a less-than-chatty Jets head coach Rex Ryan, perfectly summing up Baltimore's performance in the season opener for both teams. "It'sa long season. We weren't at our best today, but that's a credit to the Ravens.''
Maybe it's because they don't play in a big market like New York, but the Ravens haven't received the kind of credit they've deserved for winning a total of 23 games in the previous two seasons. But trust me, that's about to change. Knocking off the high-flying, offseason-headline-stealing Jets was an excellent beginning. But there's plenty more glory to come for the team I expect to be holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft in Dallas on the first Sunday in February.
2. After this egg-laying, my guess is the words "Super Bowl'' won't be tossed around inside the walls of the Jets' complex for a while. Especially with 1-0 New England headed to town for Sunday's critical AFC East showdown. Ryan's team was fairly well exposed by the Ravens on national TV, and I almost don't know where to begin pointing out their failures. But we'll start with the following:
A ridiculous 1 of 11 showing on third down (9 percent) by the Jets offense, with six total first downs, 176 total yards, and only 60 yards of net passing. It's remarkable that New York was even in this game with production' like that. The Jets had just two gains of more than nine yards before the final play of the third quarter, and quarterback Mark Sanchez did not complete a double-digit-yard pass until hitting Jerricho Cotchery on a 13-yarder as the third quarter ended.
The stat of the night for the Jets was their 14 penalties for 125 yards. In the first half alone, New York committed 10 penalties for 100 yards, with five resulting in Ravens first downs. The six Baltimore first downs by penalty were the most in Ravens franchise history.
"Obviously, it starts with the defensive penalties,'' Ryan said of his team's troubles against Baltimore. "We gave them five first downs in the first half alone. That's not who we are. Today was a joke. We've got to be physical, but we've got to be smart. We can't have those penalties. Baltimore kept the football and kept drives alive, and we helped them keep drives alive.''
New York's defense played well at times, but the Ravens were still 11 of 19 on third downs (58 percent) and held an almost 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. Last year, the Jets were merely the best defense in the league on third down, holding opponents to just a 32 percent success rate.
Ryan has a lot of work to do this week putting the pieces back together. You're not going to win many games with an offense incapable of threatening the defense, and with the exception of LaDainian Tomlinson -- 11 carries for 62 yards (5.6), two catches for 16 yards -- none of the Jets playmakers played worth a darn.
3. Tell me again how devastating the Jets secondary will be in pass coverage with cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson joining the other-worldly Darrelle Revis, because I didn't see it against Baltimore. Holdout or no holdout, Revis was his usual impenetrable self, and the Ravens barely tested him. But Cromartie and Wilson were involved in far too many big plays, and only one went New York's way -- a second-quarter Cromartie interception return for 66 yards.
The Ravens picked on and picked apart Cromartie and Wilson, as Baltimore receivers Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh took turns pulling down big catches. Both Cromartie and Wilson committed two key penalties in the first half (pass interference and holding call), then both added a defensive holding penalty in the third quarter for good measure.
"We've got to play a little more disciplined and we've got to be better with our hands and feet,'' Cromartie said. "It was more individual mistakes. But we've got to get better.''
Added Revis: "It's disappointing for us as a team. We wanted this game really badly.'' But badly was exactly how the New York secondary fared.
4. You can already see the big impact Anquan Boldin is going to make on the Ravens offense. The ex-Cardinals receiver was the centerpiece acquisition of Baltimore's offseason, and so far, so good. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has quickly learned who to look for on the biggest downs. Boldin wound up with a game-high seven catches for 110 yards, amassing 36 yards more than the entire corps of Jets pass-catchers.
"It's not just about me,'' Boldin said. "We have a group of receivers that are going to be tough to defend. I don't think there is any team in this league can match up with our three receivers. We have three number one receivers on the field.''
Ravens tight end Todd Heap had six catches for 72 yards, including a diving 35-yard grab in the fourth quarter that helped put the game away for Baltimore. But it was Boldin who Flacco sought out the most, targeting him 10 times, and connecting with him on five passes for 89 yards in the second half. The biggest was a 13-yard catch by Boldin on 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens' 27, which kept a critical clock-eating Baltimore drive alive with just less than 10 minutes left in the game. Boldin also had catches of 38 and 27 yards earlier on the night.
5. The secondary is supposed to be the Ravens' weak link, but there was no sign of trouble by that unit against the Jets. Baltimore's pass defense held up just fine, and next week the Ravens are expecting to get cornerback Lardarius Webb back into the lineup, after completing his rehab from offseason surgery.
Baltimore kept Sanchez bottled up all night long, and the Jets' 2009 first-round pick finished with a paltry 10 completions for 74 yards, a pair of sacks and a 56.4 quarterback rating. After the Jets' preseason struggles, you have to start to question when Sanchez will begin to lose confidence?
"He wasn't the only one,'' Ryan said, when asked about Sanchez's rough game. "He did misfire on a few passes, but quite honestly, he's not the only guy that needs to improve. There's a bunch of us that need to improve, and I believe we will.''
6. Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins could wind up being the biggest loss of the night for New York. Jenkins left the game in the first quarter after suffering what appeared to be a serious left knee injury -- the same knee he blew out last year and missed all but six games. Ryan said afterward the team didn't know the severity of the injury, but Jenkins did not re-enter after walking off on his own power.
"Obviously, it's a huge loss,'' Ryan said. "There are very few Kris Jenkins out there. I have no idea what the extent of the injury is, so I'm hopeful that it's not serious. But clearly, it was enough for him not to return to the game. We're definitely hoping that he'll be okay.''
Other than Revis, Jenkins might be the Jets' defensive MVP, given his pivotal role in the middle of the 3-4 defense. He's a run-stuffer extraordinaire and his presence seems to lift the entire defense. New York did have an exceptional game in run defense, even after Jenkins exited. Baltimore's Ray Rice-led running game gained just 49 yards on 35 attempts, a 1.4 yard average. The longest rushing gain went for seven yards, by Rice (21 for 43 yards)
7. The Jets' dismal night was summed up nicely by tight end Dustin Keller's brain cramp on their final snap of the evening. Facing 4th and 10 from the Jets' 31 with 41 seconds remaining, Sanchez found Keller on a crossing route, but Keller stepped out of bounds a foot shy of a first down, effectively ending the game for New York.
That's the kind of killer mental mistake Ryan's team was known for against the Ravens.
"When I caught the ball, I thought I was right at the spot and could just go out of bounds ahead of the first down mark,'' Keller said. "But that wasn't the case. I thought I was right at the sticks for a first down. But no excuses, I just didn't get it done.''
Neither did the entire Jets team. From running back Shonn Greene's disappearing act (18 yards rushing on five carries, two fumbles and a dropped pass), to Braylon Edwards' running into the Ravens kicker and keeping Baltimore's lone touchdown drive alive, the Jets were in the wrong place at the wrong time for most of what was supposed to be their celebratory stadium-opening night. Instead, the Jets embarrassed themselves and endured more than their share of first-week hard knocks.
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