In third quarter of Sunday’s game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, quarterback Blake Bortles looked to pass with defensive end Kony Ealy closing in on him.
Ealy tipped Bortles pass into the air, intercepted it and returned it 9 yards, giving the Jets first and goal.
To those who saw the 6-foot-5 Ealy play at Missouri, the interception was reminiscent of the one he had against Indiana in 2013, which he returned nearly 50 yards for a touchdown in a season where he anchored the Tigers defense and garnered all-conference honors.
Ealy, 25, is trying to have the same kind of effect in New York after what’s been a tough year for the former Tiger.
He had four pass deflections in the Jets’ 23-20 win, in addition to his interception, earning the game ball from Jets coach Todd Bowles. Ealy had the option to sit out the game after his older sister, Sierra Jones, died earlier in the week.
Since joining the Jets right before the season opener, Ealy has thrived on a defensive line that reminds him of his college years.
Ealy, from New Madrid, Mo., thrived in Columbia by playing with the likes of Shane Ray, Michael Sam, Markus Golden and Lucas Vincent. Ealy said playing alongside the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams with the Jets has made it easier for him to do his job.
“As far as the talent, this definitely reminds me of college but just two different levels,” he said. “This is a defense driven league. I think we really have a special group that we can go out there and compete.”
After being taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy showed flashes of being a standout player early on, tying a Super Bowl record with three sacks in Super Bowl 50, while also adding an interception and a forced fumble.
But he struggled to sustain the success the next two years and the Panthers traded Ealy in May to defending Super Bowl champion New England, which waived Ealy at the end of August.
“The scheme set and the things they were asking me to do I wasn’t used to,” he said on Sept. 14 after a Jets practice. “I don’t fit their scheme. Unless it was like third down rushing, but I don’t fit that scheme overall. They made the right choice as far as (waiving) me to a team that I could potentially get on that fits my natural ability to rush the passer. It was a good thing for both sides.”
The Jets have already been impressed with Ealy despite the fact that he got a late start on the playbook. As the season goes on, the expectations will continue to grow.
“We asked a lot of him in the short time we’ve had of him,” Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “As he gets acclimated we’ll get to where we expect him to make (big) plays.”
Other Mizzou-related NFL notes
▪ Broncos linebacker Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege grad, tweeted on Wednesday that the screws were removed from his injured wrist, which has kept him out since the summer. Ray is slated to return Oct. 30, when he comes home for a Monday night game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Before getting hurt, Ray was listed as a starter on Denver’s depth chart, opposite Von Miller.
▪ Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden is out for the season because of a torn ACL in his right knee. Golden had a breakout season in 2016, leading Arizona with 12 1/2 sacks. But he had no sacks through his first four games this year.
▪ The Buccaneers waived former Mizzou defensive lineman Jacquies Smith, who tore an ACL during the 2016 season opener and had a setback this summer. Smith had a breakout year for Tampa Bay in 2014 with 6 1/2 sacks. He made another seven in the 2015 season before an ankle injury. Smith previously played for the Dolphins, Jets and Bills.