The New York Jets eked out a nutty 18-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in the first week of NFL regular-season play.
The Jets, who trailed 17-15 with 34 seconds left in regulation, benefited from a catastrophic mistake from Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David. David's lapse in judgment materialized in the form of a late-hit on the Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith. It resulted in a 15-yard penalty that propelled the Jest offense into field-goal range. Nick Folk then booted a 48-yard field goal to move the Jets to an improbable 1-0 start to the season.
Here are the important takeaways from the Jets' unorthodox first win.
1. Geno Smith was Ready to Play
Smith won the Jets' starting quarterback job essentially by default. Neither he nor incumbent play-caller Mark Sanchez sparkled during the preseason. In fact, both candidates performed rather pathetically when under center for the Jets. However, when Sanchez injured his shoulder, the first-string honors fell in Smith's lap.
That having been said, Smith performed with noticeable composure in his first career start. The former West Virginia Mountaineer completed 24 of 38 passing attempts for 256 yards, and he found Kellen Winslow in the end zone for six.
Although, what was likely most encouraging to Jets fans was the confidence with which Smith operated the offense. He (generally) found the open man, and on several occasions, he recognized opportunities to tuck it and run—including a burst in the final drive that, with a little help from Lavonte David, gave the Jets a chance to win.
After the game Rex Ryan said, "We knew that he's a much better quarterback than he showed in that one preseason game," Ian O'Connor of EPSN New York reported.
2. Defense Looked Tough
The primary reason the Jets had an opportunity to win in the final seconds was because the New York defense did a tremendous job of containing the Tampa Bay offense, particularly Doug Martin.
Martin was limited to just 2.7 yards per carry thanks to the Jets defensive line.
Furthermore, the Jets surrendered only three points in the game's second half and held Tampa Bay signal-caller Josh Freeman to a 48 percent completion rate.
First-round draft pick Dee Milliner struggled, however, allowing three receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown. The Jets will need Milliner to adjust to the speed and physicality of the professional game more quickly as Gang Green faces increasingly potent offenses.
3. Running Backs Struggled
Quite simply, the Jets will have to get more production out of their backs if they want to be competitive this year.
Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory combined for a dismal 44 yards against the Bucs. Keep in mind, Geno Smith rushed for 47.
With a rookie quarterback, the Jets must develop a running game they can rely on when things get dicey. Either Powell or Ivory will need to step up, or else Smith won't have the benefit of facing defensive sets that honor the run.
4. Sanchez Warmed Up Lefty
When Sanchez took the field for pregame warm-ups Sunday, he did so as a southpaw. Rich Cimini of ESPN tweeted:
Mark Sanchez is warming up ... lefthanded. Obviously, he won't play Thursday night vs. Pats. Status beyond that still in doubt. #Jets— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 8, 2013
Clearly Sanchez has a serious injury to his throwing shoulder, and his return could be even further prolonged.
Thus, Smith will have a longer period of time to get comfortable with the offense. And he'll likely have more opportunity to face adversity, as he would have been yanked in favor of Sanchez at the first sign of trouble.
This could be a mixed blessing for the Jets who have been in desperate need of an excuse to try someone else under center.
5. It's Week 1
All said and done, the Jets barely beat the Bucs. In fact, if it weren't for a stroke of luck, or stupidity (depending on how you see it), the Jets would have lost 17-15 and fallen to 0-1.
The Jets will have a short Week 2 as they prepare for Tom Brady and the Patriots on Thursday night.
Traveling to Foxborough will certainly prove to be a stiffer test for Smith and company who will need more than a stroke of luck to come home with a victory.