The Jets turned the clock back Sunday afternoon, bullying the heavily-favored Saints from start to finish and once again confounded the football-viewing public.
The team that was supposed to be an also-ran, left for dead at the bottom of an underwhelming AFC, had beaten another team they weren’t supposed to have a chance against. A defense that seven days ago gave up 35 points to Andy Dalton stopped another quarterback who was supposed to embarrass them.
They did it by executing a game plan that would've worked just as well in 1943 as it did on Sunday, dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and taking advantage of the Saints’ suddenly-slippery fingers to create turnovers. It was old-fashioned football, the kind Rex Ryan used to gush about when he was 100 pounds heavier.
Geno Smith wasn’t asked to do much more than caretake, while the running game dominated and the defensive line turned an All-Pro quarterback into a harried mess more often than not.
It was a script we’ve seen before.
In 2009, Ryan rode a dominant secondary and a powerful running attack all the way to the AFC Championship Game. While no one’s saying this year’s bunch is bound for such heights, the idea that the 2013 Jets can go toe-to-toe with almost any team is no longer fan fiction.
On Sunday, Rex’s 2009 “formula” was very much on display, even if it did have a 2013 twist. In place of a Darrelle Revis-led secondary, it was the Jets’ “Truck Series” defensive front setting up camp in New Orleans’ backfield. Instead of Thomas Jones turning back the clock, it was Marty Mornhinweg turning Chris Ivory loose.
The Jets have many things to be thankful for this season, but Ivory may very well be atop the list by season’s end.
Against his former team, Ivory was angry and agile, displaying more speed than anyone thought existed in his 6-foot, 222-pound frame. More importantly, Ivory provided the Jets something that no running back has done consistently for this team since Curtis Martin: Big plays.
Prior to Sunday afternoon, the Jets’ longest run this season was a 27-yard jaunt by Bilal Powell. Against the Saints alone, Ivory had runs of 27, 30 and 52 yards. With Geno and his walking-wounded receiving corps better suited for a complimentary role at present, Ivory stands as the Jets’ lone offensive player with game-breaking ability. The Jets must feed him the ball as much as possible in the coming week. If he can stay healthy – as big of a question mark as there is on this team -- Ivory’s fresh legs could carry this offense into December -- and potentially January.
January football. The idea seemed so foreign only months ago, but it suddenly appears very much in reach thanks in large part to a defensive line that finds new ways to impress every week. With Muhammad Wilkerson very clearly on his way to Hawaii and the return, for Sunday at least, of a play-making, disruptive Quinton Coples, this is a unit with no real ceiling.
Combine that with a strong running game, a manageable second-half schedule and a coach who is doing as good a job as anyone East, West, North and South of Andy Reid and you have a team that will be relevant in December.
Just another thing the Jets weren’t supposed to do.
Corey works for NBCSports.com as an editor and can be reached at @cgriffin415 on Twitter or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.