EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets may have won Sunday afternoon, a 37-10 drubbing of the hapless Kansas City Chiefs, but in the process of improving to 8-5 they may have lost the "quarterback" of their defense.
While trying to extend the yardage of his second-quarter interception of Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko, Jim Leonhard injured his right knee while being tackled by wide receiver Steve Breaston, the intended target on the play. Breaston wrapped Leonhard up around his ankles and the knee injury, reported to be a torn ligament, occurred as the Jets safety tried to wiggle free to gain more yardage.
The extent of the injury was not known immediately after the game but Leonhard was down on the field for several minutes following the injury as he received medical attention. As he limped off the field, he applied no pressure to the right leg while being supported on both sides by members of the Jets medical team. He was not in the locker room post-game.
"I don't have an update right now," head coach Rex Ryan said. "Hopefully, it's not that bad, but again, I'm not sure."
When asked by Yahoo! Sports, the Jets would not confirm any updates other than Ryan's statements from the press conference.
Now in his third year with the team, Leonhard was one of the first Jets players to join head coach Rex Ryan in New York, with the safety leaving a top-ranked Baltimore Ravens defense where Ryan had been coordinator. He has returned punts for the Jets this year when rookie Jeremy Kerley produced several mishaps in the role and Ryan has called him the "quarterback of our secondary" because he's often responsible for communicating plays and coverage assignments.
The interception was Leonhard's first of the season.
"Jimmy did a great job returning punts, and then he makes a great play on the interception then, he has the injury. I'm hopeful it's not that bad, but it's never good when you need help coming off," Ryan said. "We'll see what it is. I don't know the extent of it right now."
Last season prior to Week 13's Monday night blowout loss to the New England Patriots, Leonhard suffered another knee injury when he collided with a practice squad player in drills. Leonhard was lost for the season and his impact was felt immediately in that Patriots game where quarterback Tom Brady threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
On Sunday as the Jets romped over the Chiefs, Leonhard's role was capably filled in by Eric Smith and Brodney Pool. However, his loss will surely be felt more in a game where the opposing quarterback can do better than complete just 50 percent of his passes — as Palko did against the Jets.
"It's just part of the game. Everybody is ready to go at all times. Brodney [Pool] came in. I filled in when he was hurt. We sent some linebackers in to play the linebacker spot," Smith said. "We have a lot of depth. We have guys that know what they're doing. If people go down, we can fill in."
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer