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Injuries hit Jets during win over Falcons


The Sports Xchange

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The results of preseason games don’t count, but the injuries sure do.

The New York Jets’ first win of the exhibition season — a 30-22 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night at MetLife Stadium — was a costly one.

At least six players were knocked out of the game, including three who suffered concussions: Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, running back Daryl Richardson and safety Durell Eskridge. Wide receiver Shaquille Evans (back), tackle Ben Ijalana (knee) and cornerback Dashaun Phillips (ribs) were also injured.

The injuries to Kerley, Evans and Eskridge could complicate final roster decisions at wide receiver and safety.

The Jets’ new regime of head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan has given much more than lip service to the concept of competition. As a result, Evans, a 2014 draftee who missed all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury, and Kerley, who was the Jets’ leading receiver in 2012 and 2013, are among a gaggle of wideouts vying for the No. 3 job behind Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall.

The wide receiver position has been particularly hard hit by injuries this summer — T.J. Graham (hamstring) and Chris Owusu (concussion) have also missed time while rookie Devin Smith is out until the regular season with broken ribs and a punctured lung — which could open the door for the once-overlooked likes of Quincy Enunwa and DeVier Posey.

The injury to Kerley, who missed one game after suffering a concussion in 2013, could also make it difficult to trade him to upgrade another part of the roster. While Kerley seems to be out of favor with Bowles and Maccagnan, his reliability in the slot, experience as a punt returner and affordable contract (his four-year deal, which begins this season, contains only $5.4 million guaranteed) would likely make him a popular target on the market.

Eskridge, an unsigned rookie free agent out of Syracuse, was opening eyes in the first three weeks of training camp and beginning to look like the leading candidate for the final reserve job at the Jets’ thinnest position. Now, Maccagnan may need to look to the bargain bin following final cuts in order to find a fifth safety behind starters Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist and backups Jaiquawn Jarrett and Rontez Miles.

The knee injury suffered by Ijalana, meanwhile, likely ended his bid for a backup job along the offensive line. ESPNNewYork reported Sunday that Ijalana won’t need surgery, but will likely be out two to three weeks.

Likewise, Richardson’s hope for a roster spot may have disappeared Friday. He was already running behind incumbents Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, both of whom are assured of making the team, as well as fellow ex-Ram Zac Stacy. The Jets will likely only keep three halfbacks.

–Bowles’ attempts to get the Jets to behave in a more disciplined style — on and off the field — remains a work in progress.

The Jets evoked memories of the Rex Ryan era Friday night, when they racked up a whopping 17 penalties in the win over the Falcons.

“You aren’t going to win ballgames having 17 penalties,” Bowles said. “The effort was great. Penalties were terrible. That was way more than I imagined.

“We’ve got to clean that up.”

To be fair to Bowles, Ryan left him quite a mess.

Ryan’s first team committed the ninth-fewest penalties in the NFL in 2009 (87). They were even more disciplined the next season, when the Jets were flagged for a league-low 74 penalties. What else did those two teams have in common? They both reached the AFC Championship Game

But the Jets finished among the top half of NFL teams in penalties assessed in 2011 (tied for 10th-most with 110), 2012 (eighth-most with 109) and 2013 (tied for 12th with 108). Twenty of those 2013 penalties came in one game, a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 22 in which the Jets became the first team in more than 60 years to commit at least 20 penalties in a victory.

“The amazing thing is that we won the game,” Ryan said the next day.

The penalty-prone Jets went a combined 26-38 the last four seasons.

“They have to be cleaned up,” Bowles said Friday. “Because we won’t win like that.”

–If Friday is any indication, the Jets are in good hands with rookie defensive end Leonard Williams starting in place of Richardson for however long Richardson is suspended.

Williams, whom the Jets took with the sixth overall pick in the draft, collected 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss. His sack of Falcons quarterback T.J. Yates for a safety accounted for the Jets’ first points and turned momentum in favor of New York. Beginning with the safety, the Jets outscored Atlanta 30-8 the rest of the way.

“I thought it woke the guys up a little bit,” Bowles said. “He’s playing with a lot of energy. And I think after that, guys started playing.”

It was just a preseason game, of course, but it is growing increasingly difficult for the Jets to contain their excitement at the potential possessed by Williams.

“He’s so young, he doesn’t realize the potential that he actually has,” Jets guard Willie Colon said of the 21-year-old Williams. “He has that Richard Seymour-type body, that prototype. Sky’s the limit for the kid.”

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