Sauce Gardner, NY Jets, Mark Andrews, Lost In The Sauce
Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, Getty Images

The Jets have had some strong and unexpected plays that played a crucial part in their 2-2 start

If you asked most New York Jets fans whether they would take a 2-2 start before the 2022 season, the majority would have responded, “Heck yeah!”

After all, an opening four-game slate of the competitive AFC North was considered daunting at best. The defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals, uber-talented rosters of the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns (even sans Deshaun Watson), and the always-stellar Pittsburgh Steelers looked like 1-3 or 0-4 waiting to happen.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Jets are at .500 through four games. Since the end of the first quarter against Miami will mark the quarter-way point through the regular season, it’s fair enough to round down and consider this the quarter-point.

Hitting such milestones practically requires a Top Plays list. Instead of hitting a Top 10 list, I’m going to split it into two Top 5s: one top five for the top plays in terms of skill level, and another top five for Win Probability Added.

Since the latter will tend to skew towards scoring plays, but scoring plays are not exclusively the best plays in a football game, I think it’s worth dividing the two sections.

Top 5 Plays by Win Probability Added (WPA)

5. Lamarcus Joyner picks off Kenny Pickett to seal the Jets’ victory over the Steelers (WPA: 15.0%)

Last week’s game against the Steelers came down to a Hail Mary. Jets fans are always wary of calling a game over before it’s actually over, as they’ve been burned too many times over the years. Seeing the ball nestle securely in Lamarcus Joyner‘s hands allowed the Jets to exhale after an exhilarating fourth-quarter comeback. It also concluded a terrific game from Joyner after his early-season woes.

4. Michael Carter II picks off Kenny Pickett to set up Jets’ game-winning drive (15.2%)

It cannot be overstated how important this interception was for the Jets. The Steelers had a 2nd-and-15 from the Jets’ 36 and were steadily marching into field goal range. This was starting to look like Cleveland’s touchdown drive that made the score 30-17 and seemingly put the game out of reach.

However, the Jets collapsed the pocket on Pickett, led by Jacob Martin, forcing him into an ill-advised throw to Pat Freiermuth. The ball sailed high off Freiermuth’s hands as Sauce Gardner fought to deflect it, and Michael Carter II dove for the interception.

This gave the Jets the ball at their own 35 with 3:34 remaining in the game and a chance to tie or take the lead.

3. Braden Mann’s onside kick is recovered by Justin Hardee (17.6%)

The Jets had a prayer after a blown coverage led to Corey Davis’s 66-yard touchdown reception with 1:22 remaining against the Browns. However, only around 14% of onside kicks have been successful over the pass number of years, which made the chances of victory remote. After setting up as if to kick to his right, Braden Mann shifted directions and got off a bouncer to his left.

Will Parks did a fantastic job of keeping the ball in bounds but could not come up with the ball. This led to a scramble that Justin Hardee won by pouncing on the ball. As Robert Saleh and several Jets players said after the game, this play led them to believe that they had life.

2. Joe Flacco throws game-winning TD pass to Garrett Wilson (31.2%)

Obviously, completing the comeback with 22 seconds remaining in the game was going to create a huge momentum shift. The Jets had been down 30-24 and needed a touchdown to win. On third-and-10 from the Cleveland 15, Joe Flacco fired a perfectly-timed strike to Garrett Wilson at the goal line, and the Jets tied the game. The successful extra point from Greg Zuerlein put the finishing touch on an epic rally.

1. Ashtyn Davis seals the comeback win with an INT (32.6%)

Despite the phenomenal comeback, Cleveland still had slim hopes. After a 20-yard run by Jacoby Brissett, they needed one more mid-range throw to get into field goal range to potentially win the game. Although Amari Cooper appeared to have leverage on D.J. Reed, Ashtyn Davis read Brissett’s eyes and picked the pass off to seal the Jets’ first victory of 2022.

Top 5 Plays by Skill Level

5. D.J. Reed picks off Lamar Jackson

Although this play was mostly meaningless at the time, the individual skill level vaults the play into the Top 5. With 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Jets trailing 24-3, D.J. Reed elevated for an athletic interception of Lamar Jackson. His midfield celebration ticked off some fans until they learned that it was a tribute to his father, whose passing he had learned about shortly before the game.

4. Zach Wilson completes a crucial pass to Corey Davis

This play is highly underrated by many Jets fans. As Michael Nania broke down, Zach Wilson‘s last throw of the game was his best. Once he goes across the entire field in his progressions, he sees Corey Davis about to break into open space. Sensing the oncoming pressure, Wilson calmly unloads a bullet low-and-away to Davis’s back shoulder, but still in stride where it’s a perfectly catchable ball. You can’t get much better than that. Davis makes a sliding catch.

Some Jets fans were saying that the play would have been called incomplete on review. Our contention is that he retained control all the way, even when the ball hit the ground. But regardless, Wilson did a great job hurrying to the line to get the next play off so that the booth review did not happen.

3. Lamarcus Joyner breaks up a deep pass from Mitch Trubisky

Let’s hail the best safety play of this Jets season. The game could’ve turned very early if not for this play. Joyner was isolated in a one-on-one matchup with George Pickens, a mismatch if you’ve ever seen one. Pickens is an exciting rookie for the Steelers and had a 100-yard game. Trubisky’s ball placement was not bad, but Joyner undercut the route and got his hand in perfect position to deflect the ball out of harm’s way. Joyner played this coverage with the aplomb of Sauce Gardner in terms of positioning and ball location.

2. Mark Andrews is lost in the Sauce

Speaking of the Jets’ No. 4 overall pick, Sauce Gardner has been everything the Jets could have imagined when they selected him at the top of the draft. We could have chosen a number of plays, but his most noticeable was his first pass breakup in the NFL.

The assignment of tight end Mark Andrews in his first game was a formidable one, and Sauce went one-on-one with Andrews a number of times. With 4:35 remaining in the second quarter, the Ravens had the ball at the Jets 20 with a first-and-10, looking to expand on a 3-0 lead.

Lamar Jackson dropped back to pass and hurled a deep ball to Andrews in the end zone. Sauce tracked Andrews all the way, locating the ball as Andrews got his hands up and breaking up the play. With experience, Sauce might get his head turned around and pick the pass off, but it was airtight coverage against an explosive tight end.

1. Garrett Wilson shakes and bakes for a near first down

It’s incredible that a play on which Garrett Wilson engendered criticism from his head coach is also the Jets’ best individual effort play of 2022 so far. The Jets had the ball with a third-and-10 from their own 25 at 3:06 of the first quarter against Baltimore. Joe Flacco was under duress but managed to fling the ball to Wilson, who had to come back to the line of scrimmage to catch it. Turning around to meet a Ravens defender with not too much space near the boundary, Wilson made three Ravens defenders miss to pick up almost all 10 yards that the Jets needed.

Robert Saleh said afterward that Wilson could have gotten the first down if he had run straight ahead after making the second defender miss. Watching the replay, that is probably the case. Still, it was an incredible individual effort by the rookie on his first career catch. After Wilson only played a few snaps in the first half, the Jets realized their mistake and increased his snap total in the second half. Wilson has not looked back.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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