And they don't look as if they need him. Monday night, with Brett Favre and the desperate Minnesota Vikings in town looking to stretch the field with newly acquired deep threat Randy Moss, the Jets simply put their second-best cornerback on Moss, one-on-one all night, and Antonio Cromartie handled him.
"We knew they were going to run vertical after vertical after vertical, and with Darrelle's hamstring being what it is, we didn't want him to chase a guy 50 times who's running 50 'go' routes," Jets coach Rex Ryan said after his team's 29-20 victory. "So we put Cromartie out there and I thought Cromartie did an outstanding job."
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Of course he did, because these are the Jets, and they've built a team deep enough to withstand the inevitable injuries and assorted issues that derail teams throughout the NFL season. Cromartie's a talented enough corner to be the No. 1 on a lot of teams. The Jets got him because the Chargers were sick of him, they believed they could keep him motivated and focused, and putting him on Moss appears to have done the trick. He shut Moss down in the second half in Week 2 when Moss was with New England and Revis left that game with the hamstring injury, and other than a brilliant Favre throw and Moss catch late in the third quarter Monday, he shut him down again. One-on-one, all night.
"We knew exactly what they were trying to do with him," Cromartie said. "They were going to try to take shots down the field. Our biggest thing was trying to stay in front and make plays while the ball was in the air. I gave up a touchdown, but that's a play where you have to tip your hat to Brett Favre and Randy Moss. They're going to make a lot of history together."
How good are the Jets? Favre described them in his postgame news conference as "definitely the best team in the AFC," and he wasn't just blowing smoke. He'd just watched them win almost every one-on-one matchup on the field against his very talented team for three hours. Sure, there was Cromartie swatting away the deep throws to Moss, but there was also left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson manhandling Jared Allen and neutering the Vikings' pass rush. There was linebacker David Harris, a relative unknown mainly because he's a quiet guy in a sea of boisterous personalities, dominating the middle of the field. There was the running back duo of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, rolling up 155 rushing yards on a team that hadn't allowed 150 in more than 50 straight games. There was Braylon Edwards, changing roles a bit with Santonio Holmes back from his suspension, making big catches over the middle to help out uncharacteristically shaky quarterback Mark Sanchez.
"I really don't think I would have been able to sustain this thing last year," said Sanchez, who still hasn't thrown an interception this season. "I don't think we would have won this game last year. It's a testament to our leadership and our coaching this year."
How good are the Jets? Good enough to know that they weren't going to keep Favre and the Vikings' offense down all night, not even after limiting them to 51 total yards in the first half. The Jets don't just have talent -- they have the perspective to know the game isn't won until the gun goes off and the confidence to know they can win it even if one unit doesn't play it's absolute best. This is a team that went to the AFC Championship Game last year and loaded up with talent at key positions all summer. It's a team that would run through a titanium wall for its coach and doesn't believe there's a game or a matchup or a play they can't or shouldn't win.
"This year, you just have that feeling in the back of your mind that it's all going to be fine," Sanchez said. "We're going to get the ball back when we need it, score when we need to and we'll get out of here with a win. It might be an ugly win, but it's still a win."
Monday night, the Jets hung on. Sanchez wasn't great and they messed up the clock management just before the two-minute warning and the receivers dropped some passes and not everything was perfect. But they hung on and won and improved to 4-1 for the season.
"It's just about keeping our composure," said cornerback Dwight Lowery, whose interception of Favre and return for a touchdown sealed the victory late in the fourth quarter. "We did surrender some points, and there were some things we could have done better. But when it comes down to it, we make a play. We believe in each other."
So they're headed off to Denver next week for a showdown with a team whose entire defense is out with injuries, and they're going to be heavily favored to be 5-1 entering their bye week. How good are the Jets?
"We're right on schedule," Ryan said. "We want to have the best record in the National Football League at the end of the season, and we're 4-1 and we're right on pace."
How good? Oh yeah, they just might be good enough to pull that off.