FLORHAM PARK, NJ – In the melting pot of a dead-end game, New York Jets linebacker CJ Mosley did something he wasn’t supposed to do. He changed the game on the line of scrimmage – a no-no in head coach Robert Saleh’s system.
On the Jets sideline, stunned coaches barked at linebacker coach Mike Rutenberg: “Rutey, what is he doing?”
Mosley knew exactly what he was doing and it worked wonderfully, as teammate Quinnen Williams sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the Jets’ 27-24 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans. It was old Mosley, a wise veteran showing leadership through difficult times. After two years away from football, he is having the best time of his life, galvanizing a young defense.
“It shows he’s like a cheat code,” Saleh said of Mosley’s unauthorized audible. “His mind is playing on a different level, he’s playing a different game. He knew exactly what we needed to get into and he made the right decision.”
It was a third and 6, with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter. As Mosley explained to ESPN, the Jets were planning to push. Tannehill recognized this and verified a maximum protection scheme, while gesturing for a receiver to form a group.
Mosley’s guts told him it didn’t feel right, so he made the one-sided decision to change the game. He waved to linebackers and defensive backs, giving them another call. As it turned out they lost seven and rushed just four, with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins providing immediate pressure and Williams cleaning up.
“In my mind, I’m like, ‘Alright, we’ve already been beaten on this look a few times in the game,” Mosley said. “Luckily all my guys we had time to change the defense. DBs and linebackers did a great job communicating the call at all levels.
“Fortunately, it worked. We took a bet. Something you just have to be instinctive when you see something.”
It was a change of momentum. On the ensuing punt, Braxton Berrios interrupted an 18-yard return to provide an excellent field position. On the first down, quarterback Zach Wilson threw a 53-yard touchdown to wide receiver Corey Davis, giving the Jets a 24-17 lead. Those 61 seconds – the sack, the return, the touchdown – were a perfect example of complementary football, something they hope to build on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
After the victory in Tennessee, Saleh managed to smile. He said Mosley “did something we’ve never had a linebacker do in our system,” which doesn’t allow audibles because it’s designed to have flexibility built in. Saleh was willing to forgive and forget, given the outcome.
“You know me, with my infatuation with the man: I think he’s phenomenal,” Saleh said.
Mosley thinks he’s having the best start of his career, and that says a lot because he’s made the Pro Bowl in four of his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. His career went south when he went north. After signing with the Jets as a coveted free agent, he missed 14 games in 2019 with a serious groin injury that required surgery and he retired in 2020 due to COVID-19 issues.
He entered this season having never played a full game for the Jets. Instead of pushing the cruise control button and collecting his $ 43 million in collateral, Mosley has reinvented himself, losing more than 15 pounds in the offseason. While critics said he was washed up, he was racing for version 2.0 of his career.
On the eve of the season opener, at the team’s hotel in Charlotte, NC, Mosley heard something that gave him chills.
JETS! JETS, JETS, JETS!
The fans in the lobby and on the street were loud.
“Our hotel was in the process of rocking,” he said. “I could hear them singing the ‘Jets’ while we were in bed on Saturday night.”
Mosley has quickly established itself as the heart and soul of the defense, which is made up mostly of rookies, sophomores and rejects. He had 13 tackles and a sack against the Titans, making it three straight games with double-digit tackles – a career first. He leads the team with 37. He is one of the main reasons the defense is performing too well; the Jets are ranked 13th in yards allowed and 14th in points allowed.
“He’s the defensive leader,” said second-year cornerback Javelin Guidry. “He’s smart, intellectual and makes sure everyone is right. He’s just a baseball player, a great baseball player.”
Rankins said of Mosley: “He’s as locked up as I’ve ever seen a player.”
Mosley is not an outspoken leader, but he is more vocal than usual because he knows he is surrounded by so many young people and inexperience. It’s not a new role for him. In Alabama, he led the defense, which meant he was allowed to call in audibles. It was the same deal with the Ravens.
The Jets do things differently, so no audibles. Mosley said Sunday was his first (and only) audible in the first four games.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “It comes from the coaches who trust me, me who trust what I see and I who believe that coaches allow me to do something like this.”
Except that it is not allowed to do so. Saleh said he was not considering changing his system even though he acknowledged Mosley made an “executive decision” and put the defense on the right call.
For Mosley, the thrill was seeing the reaction of his teammates, the celebration on the sidelines. His time away from football made him appreciate the little things, even mundane tasks such as training and meetings. When asked if he was having fun, Mosley laughed.
“I am,” he said. “I definitely am.
“My main goal when I’m here every day is to do everything the right way,” Mosley said. “I’ve played football my whole life so not much has changed in that regard. It’s about sharing my knowledge and giving everything I have for my team.”
Even when he’s not supposed to. Wink wink.