After each game, we're going to highlight three defensive and three offensive players and look in detail at their performance. We'll wrap up today with the offense:
After a slow start to the season, Jermaine Kearse stepped up with nine catches for 94 yards, tying his career-high from the Chiefs win last season. These came on just 10 targets.
Kearse was clutch, mostly operating on slant routes, as five of his passes generated first downs, including three third down conversions. This was one that didn't come on a slant pattern:
On the play, Kearse did well to drive the defender back so he could get to the marker. On another third down conversion, he caught the ball at the marker but his momentum was bringing him back towards the line of scrimmage, so he did well to get his momentum going back upfield and fall forward at the marker.
Perhaps Kearse's biggest play of the day came as the Jets had 2nd-and-20 close to their own goal line in the fourth quarter with the Jets ahead 33-27. In the past, drives would have stalled here and punting back to the Colts would have given them a chance to take a fourth quarter lead. However, Darnold hit Kearse in stride on a slant pattern and he was able to dive ahead for 21. He had another third down conversion later on the same drive.
In addition to his first down conversions, Kearse made useful contributions by catching some short passes in the flat. Darnold used to take a lot of checkdowns like this when at USC so they are useful to keep him in rhythm, keep his completion percentage up and keep the Jets in manageable situations on second and third downs. There's obviously also the chance that a broken tackle or double move could lead to a bigger play.
Kearse brings more to the table than just his reliable pass catching. He's also a good off-field leader and has contributed some good blocking this season. He had one nice block in this game, but unfortunately it was on the play where Quincy Enunwa fumbled the ball away.
Now that Enunwa is out, the Jets will hope that Kearse can play like this every week.
Chris Herndon entered this game with just five catches for 47 yards. However, he's already shown that he could potentially be a downfield threat with one big play called back due to a penalty and another where he was open for a big gain but dropped the ball.
Herndon delivered on that promise in this game with a 24-yard catch and a 32-yard touchdown. These were the two longest plays of the game for the Jets.
The touchdown had more to do with clever play design than Herndon's abilities, although he did a nice job of taking the pass into the end zone.
His other catch underlined his playmaking abilities, as Sam Darnold threw a jump ball and Herndon went up and over Malik Hooker to come down with the reception:
Herndon didn't contribute much other than those two plays. He wasn't otherwise targeted and remains inconsistent as a blocker. In this game he whiffed on his block on a jet sweep that got blown up and allowed his man to beat him inside to register a sack on a play where the protection wasn't set up ideally.
On special teams Herndon did actually make one decent block this week, which is rare because he's been struggling badly on the kick blocking unit. He missed his block on two other returns though.
Brian Winters has also been pretty inconsistent this year, but Sunday was probably his most consistent game of the season so far.
Here was probably his best moment, as he controls his block perfectly to seal his man to the outside. James Carpenter does the same thing on the other side to free up Spencer Long to take out the linebacker:
Focus can still be an issue for Winters though, as he followed that play up by getting blown up into the backfield on the next snap.
Winters had a few other negative plays, but the running game was basically successful from a standpoint of keeping the clock moving and breaking a couple of nice runs to pad out the final numbers. The Jets ended up with 107 yards, but that included 73 after halftime. Their two running backs combined for 99 yards on 29 carries.
Winters has been solid in pass protection over the last three weeks, giving up just two pressures in total. However, the one he surrendered in this game was costly as Jabaal Sheard blew him up to pressure Darnold into his only interception of the game. Darnold told reporters on Monday that his elbow was hit on the play.
The Jets' pass protection was otherwise on point and Winters played his part in that. Hopefully, his improvements are a sign that the line is gaining some cohesiveness. However, Long has been struggling in the past few games, so the Jets will need him to be more consistent too if they're to continue trending in the right direction as a group.
PREVIOUSLY: 3-on-D: Attaochu, Shepherd, Roberts