EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Rex Ryan stood in front of his offense Saturday night and issued an early season challenge.
Let's see what you can do, he told his New York Jets players at the team hotel, if we win the coin toss and put the offense on the field first this time around.
Well, Mark Sanchez & Co. got off to a fast start and broke a 16-game skid in which they failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter, and Antonio Cromartie had two of the Jets' four interceptions of Luke McCown to cruise past the Jacksonville Jaguars 32-3 on Sunday.
"That was huge," Sanchez said of the quick start. "We answered the call and now we just need to stay consistent, and that's on me."
The Jets (2-0) won the toss, elected to receive — a rarity under the defensive-minded Ryan — and efficiently moved the ball down the field before scoring on a 17-yard catch by Santonio Holmes.
"There was one streak we wanted to break and that's it, the first-quarter struggling offensively," Ryan said. "That's really a team deal and a team start. It was great to see them respond. When we tighten things up, not making communications mistakes, we're tough to beat."
First-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson had his first NFL sack for a safety early in the game, helping set the tone for a long day for McCown and the Jaguars (1-1). The Jets' defense also felt challenged after Ryan opted to not give anyone on the unit a game ball following the season-opening victory over Dallas.
"As a defense, as a whole, we want to cause havoc on our opponent as much as possible," Cromartie said. "That's what our defense is built on."
Eric Smith and Josh Mauga also intercepted McCown, who was replaced by rookie Blaine Gabbert early in the fourth quarter after posting a dismal 1.8 quarterback rating while playing without injured tight end Marcedes Lewis. McCown was 6 for 19 for 59 yards, while Gabbert, the team's first-round pick, was 5 of 6 for 52 yards.
"It was a tough one," said McCown, making his second start since replacing David Garrard. "The good thing is that it only counts for one game. We're 1-1 and we have to go back to work to get better."
The Jets improved to 5-1 while wearing their navy New York Titans throwback jerseys, and are 2-0 for the second time in three years under Ryan. It was a crucial win for the Jets despite it being so early since they face three straight road games.
It's uncertain if they will be without All-Pro center Nick Mangold, who left with an ankle injury late in the first quarter and didn't return. Ryan said X-rays were negative, but that Mangold would undergo an MRI exam Monday.
"I don't expect it to be anything too crazy," said Mangold, who was on crutches and his foot in a boot after the game.
Plaxico Burress, in his second game with the Jets after serving 20 months in prison on a gun charge, had no catches and saw just two balls come his way.
"Four months ago, I was still hoping to play football again," Burress said. "I have nothing to complain about."
Sanchez, who was rested for most of the fourth quarter, finished 17 of 24 for 182 yards with touchdowns to Holmes and Dustin Keller, and two interceptions. Keller had six catches for 101 yards, and Shonn Greene ran for 49 yards and a score.
"For us to not score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter in 16 games before today, that's just crazy," Keller said. "Especially with all the weapons we have."
New York was up 9-0 less than 5 minutes in, helped by its impressive opening drive.
LaDainian Tomlinson had a 7-yard catch on third-and-4, and after a 2-yard run by Greene, Sanchez got plenty of time from his offensive line and connected with Keller for 33 yards.
On the next play, Sanchez found Holmes, who brought down a high pass for a touchdown. Holmes had been questionable with an ailing knee and quadriceps muscle.
The Jaguars' first possession was a sign of things to come as Sione Pouha deflected McCown's first pass, and on third down, Wilkerson beat Jaguars rookie left guard Will Rackley and flung McCown to the turf for a safety. The play was upheld after a review by officials.
"It was awesome," Wilkerson said.
"They got off to a fast start," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "We'd like to be able to punt out of there and play defense. I thought we settled down and played decent defense for a large part of the afternoon. It was not an ideal way to start the ballgame, to take a safety and go down 9-0."
Josh Scobee made it 9-3 with 3:02 left in the first quarter with a 55-yard field goal that was helped by Marquice Cole's interference penalty that set the Jaguars with great field position. But that was all the scoring for Jacksonville.
"It was a day the Jets had their way, forced us to turn the ball over," Del Rio said. "They deserved to win today and they won handily."
After Smith intercepted McCown and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Eugene Monroe gave the Jets the ball in good field position, Nick Folk's 45-yarder made it 15-3 with 26 seconds left before the half.
Keller's 11-yard touchdown catch put New York ahead 22-3 with 3:50 left in the third quarter, capping another impressive drive. It was helped when Sanchez ran for 7 yards and former Jets defensive back Dwight Lowery was called for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty as he hit the New York quarterback as he was heading out of bounds.
"If he was out of bounds, then I wouldn't be upset," Del Rio said. "When he is in the field of play and he has not slid, and we don't hit him high or low, then he's fair game."
After nice 18-yard scoop catch by Holmes and a 2-yard run by Greene, Keller grabbed a pass that barely made it past the outstretched arms of Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny.
A few moments later, Cromartie picked off McCown and returned it 26 yards to the Jaguars 1. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but a review showed the ball was out of bounds before Cromartie got it over the pylon. Greene then bulldozed his way into the end zone from a yard out to make it 29-3.
On the Jaguars' next play from scrimmage, Mauga got the Jets' fourth interception of the game and helped set up New York's final score.
"There's always room for improvement and to be more consistent," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "We started off very fast, set a great tempo and took it from there."
Notes: Sanchez took a hard hit from Matt Roth on his last pass of the game and was checked out on the sideline, but said he was fine. ... Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew had 88 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 19 yards. ... A week after having no penalties, New York was called for seven. ... The Jaguars played without starting cornerback Derek Cox (chest) and defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee).