WHAT IT MEANS: Seven months after their crushing loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, the Jets began another Super Bowl quest Monday night. Rex Ryan’s cast of characters hasn’t changed much since then, and despite a 20-16 loss to the Texans, there were enough positives to make it a successful preseason opener. The Jets should have pulled it out, but rookie WR Michael Campbell dropped a potential touchdown pass in the final minute.
ON THE MARK: After some spotty practice performances, QB Mark Sanchez (6-for-7, 43 yards) stepped up in prime time and was on point with every pass. His lone incompletion was a drop by backup TE Matt Mulligan. With two starters missing from the offensive line, the Jets kept it conservative, calling only quick throws for Sanchez. But give him credit for his accuracy; that’s an area he’s working to improve. Sanchez was pulled after one quarter, and no, he didn’t want to fight Ryan to get back on the field.
KEY INJURY: The Jets lost backup C Rob Turner (lower leg) to a potentially serious injury. This injury won’t grab big headlines, but it’s costly because of Turner’s versatility. He can play center, guard and tight end, and blocks in the wedge on kickoff returns. Turner, who started for the injured Nick Mangold, was carted off in the first quarter and replaced by third-stringer Robby Felix. Luckily for the Jets, Mangold should be back to practice this week.
THIN LINE: Just the other day, Ryan boasted that the Jets’ top seven offensive linemen are the best in the league. It’s not looking that way now. Not only is Turner out, but second-year OLM Vladimir Ducasse was awful.
Ducasse, who started for injured RG Brandon Moore, allowed a sack at right guard and another at right tackle. The first sack came on the play on which Turner was injured; Ducasse’s failure to hold off DE J.J. Watt put Turner in a vulnerable position. Ducasse also got some work at left guard, where -- hooray -- he didn’t allow a sack.
If Turner’s injury is long term, the Jets will have to sign an experienced backup center. It’s a thin market. In fact, the best available center might be former Giant Shaun O’Hara.
THE PLAXICO VOID: The biggest story of the game -- Plaxico Burress -- wasn’t at the game. He was home, nursing an ankle injury and schmoozing with ESPN’s Mike Tirico in a phone interview during the fourth quarter. (In case you’re wondering, Burress reiterated that he expects to practice fully Wednesday.) Without Burress, the other new receiver, Derrick Mason, was in a prominent role. Mason caught all three passes thrown to him for 21 yards -- a solid debut, considering his lack of practice time with Sanchez.
THE ROOKIES: It was a nice start for the Jets’ draft class, especially NT Kenrick Ellis (one batted pass), QB Greg McElroy (208 yards passing) and WR/KR Jeremy Kerley (32.5-yard average on kickoff returns). DE Muhammad Wilkerson started the game but didn’t have any wow moments -- although he did have an offside penalty. RB Bilal Powell (nine carries, 25 yards) also played well and could push Joe McKnight for the No. 3 tailback job. McKnight left with a possible concussion.
KID QB: With backup QB Mark Brunell (finger) sitting out, McElroy played the second, third and fourth quarters, leading the offense to three field goals and a touchdown (2-yard scoring pass to Patrick Turner). McElroy lost a fumble on a strip sack, but he kept his composure and demonstrated some of the attributes that led the Jets to draft him in the seventh round -- smarts, poise and accuracy. Too bad he doesn’t have a gun.
WHAT A COMEBACK: Eight months removed from breaking his shin in a freak practice collision, S Jim Leonhard was back on the field, back in the Jets’ starting lineup. It was a welcome sight for the defense, which relies on Leonhard to make calls on the field.
INJURY WATCH: LB Bart Scott hurt his left ankle/leg on the first play of the game. The replay looked bad, but he returned on the second series. He watched most of the second half with a huge wrap on his leg. Stay tuned.
INACTIVES: QB Mark Brunell, WR Plaxico Burress, C Nick Mangold, RG Brandon Moore, LB Brandon Long, G Trevor Canfield. The Texans played without RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson, their offensive stars.