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Clutch defense powers Jets’ upset over Eagles

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Clutch defense powers Jets’ upset over Eagles

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets lost star quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the fourth play of the season, and now they’re taking it out on the elite quarterbacks they encounter on their schedule.

Their latest victim was Jalen Hurts, whom the Jets intercepted three times — twice in the fourth quarter — to spark a 20-14 upset of the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. It was the Jets’ first-ever win over the Eagles after 12 losses, dating to 1973.

“These first six weeks, we played a gauntlet of quarterbacks and I know we haven’t gotten all wins, but we’ve embarrassed all of them,” coach Robert Saleh said after perhaps the biggest win of his 40-game tenure.

Maybe Saleh forgot about Dak Prescott, who ripped them for 255 yards and two touchdowns. But against Patrick Mahomes, Hurts and Josh Allen, who finished 1-2-3, respectively, in the 2022 NFL MVP voting, the Jets recorded eight interceptions with only three touchdown passes. They lost a 3-point game to Mahomes, but they delivered big play after big play in taking down Allen and Hurts.

“Our mindset is to scare — I mean, not scare people. Our mindset is to overpower people with our speed and our violence,” said linebacker Quincy Williams, who had one of the team’s four takeaways — a fumble recovery. “So that’s the biggest thing. So that’s our identity — violence.”

And clutch plays.

After the two-minute warning, safety Tony Adams set up the game-winning touchdown by intercepting Hurts on a third-and-9 pass from the Eagles’ 46 — his first career interception. Hurts threw into double coverage. Tight end Dallas Goedert was covered by Williams and Adams read it perfectly, returning it 45 yards to the Eagles’ 8-yard line. Breece Hall scored on the next play to give the Jets a 20-14 lead after a successful two-point pass.

Adams, cornerback Bryce Hall and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams each had an interception on a day in which the Jets played without three of their top four cornerbacks — Sauce Gardner (concussion), D.J. Reed (concussion) and Brandin Echols (hamstring). By the end of the game, they also didn’t have nickel back Michael Carter II (hamstring).

“I had a game winning interception before in college, but it was nothing like this,” said Adams, who made the roster in 2022 as an undrafted free agent. “To do it with these guys and this locker room — after all we went through, after the late news this week — it’s an honor. It’s an honor to [handle] business with these guys.”

Playing with backups and practice-squad call-ups, the Jets shut out the Eagles in the second half. In fact, the Eagles were held scoreless on their final seven drives, tied for their most consecutive drives without a point under coach Nick Sirianni.

It’s what the Jets do. They’re strong closers; they’ve allowed only 31 second-half points this season. This was their seventh win under Saleh (since 2021) after trailing by 10 or more points, tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the most such wins over that span.

“It’s a big win. They’re NFC Champs,” Saleh said. “We took the world champs [Kansas City] to the wire. We beat Buffalo. Probably let one slip away with the Patriots (a 15-10 loss). It is what it is. The Dallas game (31-10 loss) is what it is. I think we’ll always be in these games. I think we can go toe-to-toe with anybody.”

The Jets were staggered after Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1, losing to Dallas and New England. At 1-2, with tension rising in the locker room and the pressure building on quarterback Zach Wilkson, the Jets played well in losing effort to Kansas City, then responded with back-to-back wins over Denver and Philadelphia.

“We wanted to be the best in the world and, in order to be the best you have to play against the best and beat them,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said.

Defensive end John Franklin-Myers said, “You’ve seen what we can do on a week-in, week-out basis. How can you count us out?”

The Jets fell behind, 14-3, sputtering in the red zone — an 0-for-3 to start the game, extending their red-zone drought to eight straight drives without a touchdown until Hall’s score. They rallied back with Greg Zuerlein’s second, third and fourth field goals and a defense that cranked up the pressure on Hurts. He was pressured on a season-high 40% of his dropbacks despite only a handful of blitzes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

In the process, the Jets ended a most unusual streak — the longest winless drought against a single opponent. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson said he wasn’t aware of that until after the game.

“That’s crazy, I didn’t know that,” he said. “Jets Nation, you all deserve this.”

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