Any momentum the Ravens had gained from their opening touchdown against the New York Jets nearly evaporated in a span of 15 seconds Sunday night.
That’s how long it took for Jets running back Joe McKnight to return a kickoff 107 yards just 3 minutes, 17 seconds into the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium.
The touchdown, which was the longest play in Jets history and the longest allowed by the Ravens in their history, was the first kickoff return against the Ravens since John Harbaugh became the head coach in 2008, but the third such kick return for a touchdown over that same span.
The play was especially deflating because it occurred after the Ravens had taken a 7-0 lead when free safety Ed Reed sacked and stripped quarterback Mark Sanchez and inside linebacker Jameel McClain returned the fumble six yards for the touchdown.
Asked if the sack-strip-touchdown set the tone defensively, Reed replied, “Yeah, but it was kind of taken away when they returned that kick. Honestly, I was like, ‘OK, I know this team is ready.’ Joe McKnight is a great returner, and we still had to kick off to him. But I knew those guys were well-prepared. Our special teams, we prepare daily. Those guys work really hard, man. So I knew they were going to show up, but I thought it was back to even at that point.”
On the return, New York’s blockers opened a lane for McKnight through the heart of the coverage team, and McKnight raced towards the left corner of the end zone, avoiding a last-second tackle by Ravens rookie Chykie Brown.
“Really, you’ve got to give them credit,” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. “They drew up a play, they double-teamed me, they double-teamed a couple other guys, and then it was just a good scheme, which [Jets special teams coordinator Mike] Westhoff is known for. And so we had our radar up the rest of the game. We never made up for it, but we stayed in there and stopped the bleeding. But you’ve got to give them credit. They did something tonight.”
New York had entered the contest ranked 11th in the NFL with a 24.4-yard average on kick returns, and the touchdown was the franchise’s 15th since 2001, which topped the league.
On Thursday, Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his respect for Westhoff.
“It seems when you turn their tape on every year, whether you’re playing them or not, you watch the Jets have big returns and big plays,” Rosburg said. “Mike uses those players very well. You can see that he has a mind that goes after a particular coverage, he’ll attack it and he’ll look for weak spots like we all do. He has great players to attack. He does a very good job in that regard.”