No one on the outside was aware, but Jets defensive end Kony Ealy played Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Jaguars with a heavy heart.
Ealy’s sister died recently, the Jets announced in a tweet after the game. The 25-year-old was excused from practice Wednesday and Thursday to attend to personal matter that Todd Bowles opted to keep private.
Bowles awarded Ealy the game ball after the win. In one of the photos included in the Jets’ tweet, the sadness is evident on Ealy’s face.
“I’m doing this for my teammates,” Ealy said, “and I’m knowing they’re doing the same thing for me.”
Despite the emotions, Ealy was a force on the defensive line all afternoon, disrupting Blake Bortles by batting balls at the line. Ealy finished with four passes defended. Late in the third quarter, he charged into the backfield unblocked, got his hands to a Bortles pass and secured his second career interception.
Ealy – who the Jets claimed off waivers late in training camp after he was cut by the Patriots – would have scored on the play if not for a touchdown-saving tackle from Bortles, who completed just 15 of 35 passes for 140 yards and an interception. The pick set up a field goal that put the Jets ahead 20-10.
“We needed a turnover. Period,” Ealy said. “We always want to play up, and that’s our mentality on defense, and I just had an opportunity to make a play on the ball.”
After rising from the turf, Ealy chucked the ball into the stands behind the end zone in celebration before running off the field. Linebackers Demario Davis and Darron Lee pleaded with the fan to give the ball back – presumably understanding how important this game was to Ealy. But they were unsuccessful.
Ealy said after the game he did indeed get the ball back.
“We have guys on this team that are capable of making plays – offense defense and special teams,” Ealy said. “And we’re showing that.”
With Matt Forte sitting out because of turf toe, Bilal Powell and rookie Elijah McGuire led the Jets to their best rushing performance of the season – 256 yards on 31 carries.
McGuire and Powell also combined for 55 receiving yards, pushing their total yards from scrimmage over 300. Powell broke off a 75-yard TD run in the first quarter after he stumbled to the ground and wasn’t touched by any Jags defender. He then scrambled to his feet and sprinted to the end zone. McGuire used his speed and agility to glide 69 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
When asked what the feeling is like when he gets to the second level and sees green grass in front of him, McGuire said, “You can cancel Christmas.”
Powell gushed over his teammate after the game.
“He approaches the game like a true professional,” Powell said of McGuire. “You can’t really even tell that he’s a rookie, just by the way he approaches it. He’s just so explosive, man, so smart, so coachable, and you saw that day.”
CB Darryl Roberts left with a hamstring injury. LB Dylan Donohue injured his elbow in overtime. Neither returned to the game. Right tackle Brandon Shell (shoulder) was inactive.