New York Jets' punter alters history with one tackle, dismisses naysayers

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Braden Mann’s career as a linebacker ended when he fractured his back as a high school freshman. Refusing to quit football, he switched his focus to punting, but never lost that linebacker's mentality.

It's a mentality that preserved a Week 15 victory for the New York Jets and might have changed the course of NFL history.

"I haven't looked at it that way, but I guess I could see where people would think that," Mann said Wednesday in a phone interview with ESPN.

With the Jets clinging to a 23-20 lead on Sunday, the 5-foot-11, 198-pound punter made a fantastic open-field tackle on Los Angeles Rams punt returner Nsimba Webster at the Jets' 43-yard line with 5:33 left in the fourth quarter. If it weren't for Mann, Webster would have scored and ...

The Jets still would be the favorite to land Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Yes, a lot happened between Mann's tackle and the end of the game, but his touchdown-saving play is the one garnering the most attention. Without it, there's a reasonable chance the Jets would have dropped to 0-14, maintaining the No. 1 position in the 2021 NFL draft. Now they're behind the Jacksonville Jaguars, meaning they probably missed their shot at Lawrence.

The ripple effects from the tackle might be felt for years and years.

The Jets' fan base was furious with the win. Not surprisingly, Mann received some angry responses on social media.

"I got a few messages like that," he said. "But whoever says something like that, I don't think they ever tried to compete at something like this. For us, we get paid to play. We get paid to win."

Mann called it a "sweet" moment, saying he was overwhelmed with positive texts and calls from friends. His Jets teammates, too, were thrilled. He ignored the negativity from the Twitter tough guys.

"I couldn't care less about the social media reaction, to be honest with you," the rookie from Texas A&M said.

Mann wanted to be clear about one thing: He doesn't believe he saved the game. As he explained, the defense delivered a fourth-down stop on a beautiful pass breakup by Jets safety Marcus Maye. From there, the offense milked the final four minutes of the clock, with running back Frank Gore picking up two first downs.

"It was a whole-team thing," Mann said.

True, but running backs get first downs all the time, just like safeties break up passes. But a punter making a clutch tackle? That doesn't happen all the time.

"I don't know, I just made a lucky adjustment and ended up putting my head in there and tripping him up," Mann said.

The Jets weren't surprised. Mann has four solo tackles, tied for second on the special-teams unit. During his linebacker days, he learned how to use leverage and the sideline to his advantage. Jets coach Adam Gase said he's never been around a punter who could tackle like Mann.

"We joke with the defensive guys that if we need to learn how to tackle, we'll just bring him over to the defensive side," Gase said. "If we have a couple missed tackles, we give them some crap about it."

At Texas A&M, Mann lost twice to Clemson and Lawrence. He also has followed him on TV this fall. So, yes, he's aware of the hype.

"Obviously, he's a great talent," Mann said. "I can see why everybody thinks he's going to be No. 1."