It’s a descension for Jets
Saints defense ruffles rookie QB
NEW ORLEANS - A new start with the Saints has put “the shake’’ back in 33-year-old Darren Sharper.
The NFL’s active leader in career interceptions added two more against rookie Mark Sanchez, returning one a club-record 99 yards for a touchdown to help unbeaten New Orleans hand the New York Jets their first loss of the season, 24-10, yesterday.
Sharper’s trademark shoulder-shaking celebrations are becoming a symbol of a defense that can now take credit for leading New Orleans to victory after taking the blame for the Saints’ failure to make the playoffs the past two seasons.
The 12-year veteran’s five interceptions - two of which he has returned for scores - have helped the Saints start 4-0 for the first time since 1993.
“Sharp’s been a great addition,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said. “The defense played outstanding once again.’’
The victory ensured the Saints, who have a bye week coming up, would still be unbeaten when they host the New York Giants Oct. 18. The Giants (4-0) host struggling Oakland next weekend.
The Jets-Saints matchup drew a lot of attention not only because it was the weekend’s only game between unbeaten teams, but also because it pitted a fearsome defense designed by Jets coach Rex Ryan against the Saints’ league-leading offense, driven by Brees’s prolific passing and the creative play-calling of coach Sean Payton.
New York (3-1) stopped the Saints twice on fourth-and-short and held Brees to 190 yards passing and no touchdowns. After averaging 40 points through their first three games, the Saints didn’t score an offensive touchdown until Pierre Thomas barreled in from a yard out with 6:07 left.
“It’s not about one side of the ball versus the other,’’ Payton said, seemingly annoyed by all the attention given to the matchup of his offense and Ryan’s defense. “All three phases are needed to win football games and I thought we did that today.’’
One week after rushing for 126 yards and two scores in a victory at Buffalo, Thomas was the Saints’ offensive leader again. He rushed for 86 yards and caught four short passes for 46 yards. The Saints rushed for 153 yards as a team.
“The Saints outplayed us today,’’ Ryan said. “They forced a lot of turnovers and scored with them. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They ran the ball pretty effectively against us as well.’’
In his first loss as a pro, Sanchez completed 14 of 27 passes for 138 yards and was sacked four times. That still might have been good enough if not for his four turnovers. Saints cornerback Randall Gay also intercepted Sanchez inside the final two minutes, allowing New Orleans to run out the clock.
“My mistakes killed us. They absolutely killed us,’’ Sanchez said. “The defense played well enough to win. That whole game is 10-10 without three interceptions and a fumble. You turn the ball over like that in this league, and you can’t win.’’
Sanchez had driven the Jets impressively to the Saints’ 15 early in the second quarter when Sharper anticipated a pass to the end zone, picking it off at the 1 and easily running it back to make it 10-0.
“When I caught it, I kind of stopped and just started running real slow because I wanted to see what was around me,’’ Sharper said. “Then I said, ‘Why don’t I turn on the speed a little bit to show people I can still run.’ ’’
Only two weeks earlier, Sharper had a 97-yard interception for a score at Philadelphia to tie the club record. Sharper now has 10 career TDs on interception returns, leaving him second all time in that category behind Rod Woodson (12).
New Orleans’s next big defensive play came from end Will Smith only moments after the Jets celebrated a defensive stand that stopped the Saints four times near the goal line. Smith sacked Sanchez in the end zone, forcing a fumble that Remi Ayodele recovered to make it 17-0.