EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Start spreading the news: The New York Jets aren't the team to beat in the NFL, and they're not the team to beat in the AFC, either.
But Baltimore may be, and I'll tell you why: Because the Ravens just beat the league's best defense with better defense.
Not only was that the difference in Baltimore's season-opening 10-9 victory Monday, it could be the difference in where these two clubs wind up this year. Yeah, I know, Tuesday morning quarterbacks are going to shred the Jets' Mark Sanchez for his opening-night pratfalls, and tell you how he ... and only he ... held his club back, but I'm not buying it.
Instead, I look at Monday's game from a difference perspective, and it goes like this: Forget about Sanchez. If the Jets' defense plays with as little poise and discipline as it did Monday it won't matter how ineffective Sanchez or Shonn Greene or Braylon Edwards or anyone on the other side of the ball is.
The Jets will never be cleared for take-off.
Look, I don't disagree about Sanchez. He stunk. And so did the offense. But that happens around here. In case you forgot, Sanchez was the league's 28th-ranked passer a year ago, with eight more interceptions (20) than touchdown passes (12). Yet the Jets overcame his shortcomings with the league's top-ranked running attack and its best defense and rode them to the conference championship game.
But the defense that last year choked off opponents choked itself Monday, committing stupid penalties, producing first downs for its opponent and failing to stop Baltimore on critical third downs. Moreover, it lost defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who was sidelined most of last year with a knee injury, to -- what else? -- another knee injury.
|The Ravens' success came from their ability to convert on third down. Solid play-making by WR Anquan Boldin also provided a bright spot. With sloppy tackling on defense, the Ravens profited as much from mistakes by the Jets as from their own production.|
|New York Jets|
|The Jets committed football's biggest atrocity, losing as a result of self-inflicted wounds. They totaled 14 penalties for 125 yards and couldn't convert on third down. Additionally, some tentative defensive play and poor blocking from the offensive line did not help the team's cause.|
|By Lisa Zimmerman|
Put it all together, and you have a mess.
Let the record show that while the Ravens had just 49 yards rushing, averaging 1.4 per carry, they also converted 11 of 19 third downs -- with six firsts the result of Jets' penalties. Did I say penalties? The Jets had 14, including 10 in the first half for 100 yards.
The most damaging was a pass interference call on rookie Kyle Wilson at the end of the second quarter that led to the game's only touchdown, but let's not be too harsh on Wilson. Teammate Antonio Cromartie, a veteran who should know better, produced four penalties by himself.
Moreover, the Jets' defense couldn't get off the field. So it produced three first-half turnovers. It also allowed Baltimore to hold the ball for 14 plays on one drive and 11 on another. Then there were two possessions of nine plays each and another of seven. When it was over, Baltimore had the ball for 38:32 and the Jets for 21:28, and, sorry, that is not Jets football.
"I was alarmed we couldn't get off the field more than I was alarmed that we did so little offensively," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Make that two of us.
The Ravens, meanwhile, were the club the Jets were not -- keeping their poise, overcoming mistakes and holding together when it mattered. Where they converted 11 third downs, the Jets converted one. Where they had 20 first downs, the Jets had six. Where they were penalized for 38 yards, the Jets were docked for 125. I think you get the idea.
But let's go one step further. Look how the game ended: It's fourth-and-10 for the Jets at their 31, and Sanchez hits tight end Dustin Keller with a perfectly thrown pass to the sidelines. Only one problem: Keller steps out of bounds after gaining nine yards.
"Our defense was lights out," said winning coach John Harbaugh. "That’s about as good a defensive effort as the Ravens have ever played … I thought we were disciplined. I thought we were poised. I thought we played with fundamental soundness."
|More on Ravens-Jets|
The implication, of course, is that the Jets did not, and, yeah, so it's only a game. Except the Jets spent the summer thumping their chests and telling the world they were the team to beat, basically because they had the best defense in the league. Only they don't. Baltimore does. At least it did Monday, and tell me what that means for Generation Rex.
I'll spare you the trouble. It means the curve just got steeper. Because while the Jets insist they're headed for the Super Bowl, they might want to win their division first. Last time I checked Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were the defending champions, and as long as Brady is there the Patriots usually win the AFC East. They did last season, and they didn't have the best defense in the league; the Jets did.
So what happens now? Stay tuned. New England is next on the Jets' schedule, and talk about having to make another statement. Only this time, it's on the field, not on HBO or in the local papers, because Baltimore just beat New York where it wasn't supposed to beat them -- and I'm not talking about the new Meadowlands Stadium. I'm talking about the defense.
"I think we showed who the No. 1 defense is," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Baltimore is where the defense started, and where it's going to end. They [the Jets] fought a hard fight, but the more prepared team won. I talked to [Ryan] and let him know the beast he created he has to deal with. You know Rex isn't going to back down. I love the man with all my heart, but he's got to deal with us this year."
|Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis gets the last laugh on Darrelle Revis and the Jets. (AP)|
"In the first half alone, I think we gave up five first downs on defense on holding calls, pass interference and all that kind of stuff," Ryan said. "That's not who we are or how we play. We pride ourselves on being one of the least penalized defenses in the league.
"Today was a joke. They just threw it up there -- shoot, I don't blame them. Hope for a completion or a penalty. We've got to do a better job than that, and I believe we will."
So do I. The Jets gained the attention of opponents last season by going deep into the playoffs, and they planned to get their attention again by drilling a Baltimore team a lot of people think is Super Bowl ready. Instead, they couldn't get the attention of their own players, and, yeah, I think that's a problem when Bill Belichick and the Patriots are in the on-deck circle.
"We had more desire to win," Suggs said. "We have high-caliber guys in this locker room, very tough guys, and you don't need to hype us up to play a football game. We're going to come to play every time. And that's what we did."
So we saw. I don't know what this means for the Jets, but I do know what it means for Baltimore -- the Ravens should be as good as we thought they'd be. They have the quarterback, the offensive weapons, the defense and the poise to cause trouble, and they just proved it.
Now, it's up to you, New York.
"You just come in and do what you got to do," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "The biggest thing is that anytime you go on the road and win that speaks for itself. You look around the league and home teams usually win, but we had to grind this win out. To win in this stadium, with that defense over there ... I mean, you have to take your hat off to our team to keep just fighting, no matter what.