Jets vs. Falcons: Takeaways from New York's 30-28 Win over Atlanta
The New York Jets have managed to escape with a win, once again, riding another late drive from rookie quarterback Geno Smith to set up Nick Folk's game-winning field goal.
Outside of a few odd bounces from the first quarter, this was, overall, the most well-played game the Jets have had all season with quality performances on both sides.
Here are the takeaways from Monday night's win.
Geno Smith Has Nerves of Steel
If there is anything that we have learned from Geno Smith this year, it's that he does not lose his composure—no matter what the situation is.
Whether it was his Week 1 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or this week's latest drama-filled comeback, Smith, who was playing against Texas and Baylor a year ago, was not rattled coming into the loud Georgia Dome to steal a victory.
For a player who was rumored to have questionable character headed into this season, per a scouting report by ProFootballWeekly.com's Nolan Nawrocki, Smith has been the exact opposite of a player with a poor mental makeup.
It has only been five games and a lot can change over the next 12 weeks, but the Jets seem to have drafted a player with a good head on his shoulders.
Turnover Problems Are Being Addressed
The Jets would actually have a good chance of being undefeated if they were not so prone to turning the ball over so much.
Coming into this game, the Jets had 12 turnovers with 11 of them coming from Smith alone. They left Atlanta with those same numbers.
From holding the ball properly while running, to throwing accurate passes where no defender could reach them, Smith took excellent care of the ball all night. He made one errant pass in distress, but he was flawless in his decision-making.
Had Smith turned the ball over even once, the Jets may have easily lost this game. His ball security, more so than anything else, was the biggest difference between this week's win and last week's blowout loss.
Muhammad Wilkerson Is Dominant
Jets fans have known about Muhammad Wilkerson's ability for a while now, but Wilkerson has transformed himself into more of a household name after showing off his dominance in prime time.
Wilkerson finished with seven tackles, a strip-sack and two tackles for a loss—as an interior defensive lineman. He made a mess of Peter Konz all night long.
Through four games, Wilkerson has not been quite as dominant as he was a year ago, but he is clearly back to form after what he showed on Monday night. If he plays like that every week, you would be hard-pressed to find a defensive line that is more difficult to play against than the Jets.
Offensive Line Is Better in Protection Than Run Blocking
One of the biggest reasons as to why Smith was so effective was because he was given so much time in the pocket, thanks to great protection form his offensive line (outside of a few sacks). As the game wore on, the Falcons were forced to blitz to compensate for their lack of a pass rush.
The fact that the Jets were effective with a rookie starting in his first game (Brian Winters at left guard) makes it even more impressive.
However, as great as it was in protection on most passing attempts, the line was not nearly as effective moving forward as it was moving backward.
The Jets were able to generate a few big runs, but they were more of a result of the running backs making room on their own than having huge holes to run through. A few Geno Smith scrambles inflated their 5.4-yard average for the game.
The Jets still generally have to be pleased with the performance of their line, but there is room for improvement in the run game.
Darrin Walls Can Start
Darrin Walls had a bit of a rough outing in his first game as a starter last week, replacing the injured Dee Milliner. He was targeted early and often, getting called for penalties and allowing uncontested touchdowns.
Walls defended two passes (one of them could have gone for a pick-six) and made a great stop on a receiver screen late in the fourth quarter.
The Jets have to be disappointed with the return they are getting on their investment in Milliner so far, but the incredible value Walls has provided has made up for it.
David Harris Is Back to His Old Self
David Harris was already having a terrific season, so far—he was Pro Football Focus' top-rated 3-4 inside linebacker through three weeks—but he proved that his first four weeks were no fluke after his performance on Monday night.
Harris was all over the field, sniffing out running plays and hitting any tight end or receiver who crossed into his zone. He finished with an eye-popping 14 tackles, nine of which were solo.
Harris had an inexplicably poor season last year, but he has obviously been able to overcome whatever mysterious injury or illness that was holding him back. With Harris playing like his old self, paired with the up-and-coming Demario Davis, the Jets have themselves quite a inside linebacker tandem to work with.
Jeff Cumberland Is a Viable Weapon
After being virtually invisible for the first four games, Jeff Cumberland is starting to make defenses pay for electing to pay attention to the other weapons on the Jets.
Cumberland showed a pulse at the end of last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans, catching the team's only touchdown. He built on his big play with a three-catch, 79-yard performance that generated two huge plays for the Jets that included a touchdown.
If Cumberland can continue to make defenses pay, he will start to command more attention, causing things to open up for players like Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley and Kellen Winslow.
The Jets Have Earned Respect
This has been a rough year for the Jets, taking a daily beating in the newspapers for the perceived "circus" atmosphere in Florham Park. Before the season, ESPN named them the single-worst team in the NFL.
The Jets earned some respect after their 2-2 start, but no one was quite ready to take them seriously until they came up big against a quality opponent (on the road, no less) on the national stage.
Now, sitting at 3-2 after beating the mighty Atlanta Falcons in their own building, there are a lot of critics who owe Rex Ryan and his team an apology for grossly underestimating their ability.
The Jets are not just winning because of a few late-game throws from Geno Smith. They are proving to the football world that they have a lot more talent than anyone thought, even if most of those players are not on any fantasy football rosters.
While it is still early in the season and plenty could go wrong between now and the end of December, the Jets have proved that they are not just content to play out a rebuilding year—they intend on being relevant late into the season and in the playoff picture.
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