Three weeks ago, the last time the Jets played at home, their marvelous rookie cornerback, Sauce Gardner, blew up Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on the first play from scrimmage and set the tone for a 40-17 Jets blowout.
While Gardner was forcing Bridgewater into an intentional-grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety and knocking him out of the game with a concussion and an elbow injury with the hit, the stadium was about half full. Thousands of fans with tickets were still out in the parking lots tailgating and never saw the play that changed the game.
The Jets are back home Sunday to play their hated AFC East rivals, the Patriots, who’ve been their daddies for years, having beaten them in the past 12 meetings. And the Jets have a request of their fans: Fill MetLife Stadium before kickoff and get loud.
There are few NFL fan bases more passionate than those who follow the Jets. Curiously, however, many of their fans routinely file into their seats throughout the first quarter at home games, making it look like the NFL version of a Dodgers baseball game.
The Jets have noticed this, gathered the data and, to their credit, are being proactive in trying to change the laissez-faire culture.
Timed with the New England matchup, the most important home game they’ve had in years, the Jets have initiated the effort to get fans into their seats early on Sunday.
The campaign, unofficially named, “Get in before it begins,’’ will include fireworks outside MetLife Stadium at noon as a message for fans to wrap up their tailgating and head inside. There, too, will be staff members roaming the parking lots with bullhorns encouraging fans to get to their seats early, as well as radio announcements.
That is not merely for optics. The Jets have reached out for advice to a professor at Drew University, Dan Leidl, who has a PhD in sports psychology and who specializes in performance psychology. They believe in the positive effect a rabid home crowd can have on their players’ performance.
“It’s a big deal to have fans in the building right from the get-go,’’ Jets head coach Robert Saleh told The Post on Friday. “Football is an emotional game, and you feed off the energy of the crowd. All of it is real. And the fans are a big part of it because of the energy they can bring on game day.’’
Saleh said he wants the fans “to be part of the equation in terms of unlocking all that energy and juice and excitement.’’
“That’s why fans are called the ‘12th man,’ ’’ Salah said. “Don’t take for granted as a fan what you can give to a player on any particular game day.’’
Saleh and his players have noticed, in other stadiums where they have played, that there barely are any empty seats in the house by kickoff. Last week at Denver, the place was packed early. It was the same the previous week in Green Bay, where Packers football is religion. A couple weeks before that road trip, the Jets were in Pittsburgh, where the fans wave their “Terrible Towels’’ in unison.
“It’s definitely something you notice,’’ Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins told The Post. “I look back to Pittsburgh, where you walk in and all you see is ‘Terrible Towels’ being waved. That’s an energy, a feel, something that the home team feeds off of.’’
Asked what his message is to Jets fans, Rankins said: “The message is, we need you for 60 minutes. From the moment the coin toss is done, we need that energy, we need to feel it, we need to feel that vibe, the feel of that environment to be heightened. And, we want New England to feel it as well. We need the opponent to feel like they’re in the most hostile environment they’ve ever played a football game in.’’
C.J. Mosley has sensed a seismic shift as the Jets have built momentum with the 5-2 record and four consecutive wins they will bring to the game Sunday.
“I remember last year for the first couple of games, there were definitely more visiting fans for the other team in our stadium and that always pissed me off,’’ the linebacker told The Post. “When you think about home-field advantage, that doesn’t come from the player and the team. That comes from the fans and the environment of the stadium — people being in the stands, being loud and being rowdy. It’s definitely a real thing.’’
Leidl, the Drew professor to whom the Jets reached out, said there’s a distinct correlation between fan support and athletes’ performance.
“A high performer is going to perform at a high level whether someone’s watching or not,’’ he said. “Bruce Springsteen is going to sound great in his garage when there’s two or three people there, but when he’s playing in front of 80,000 people at MetLife Stadium, that’s a different dynamic. That’s when it’s energizing and electric and that’s when memories happen.
“High performers hear the noise, the cheering, they feel the energy. Presumably as a fan, you are investing to see a high performer do something that very few people can do, and you can have an impact in that performance. You can help fuel the athlete.’’
As Saleh has built a new, winning culture with this young team, Jets fans have come back. That should make for a wild atmosphere Sunday.
“We’re here to win games and intimidate people,’’ Mosley said. “We need everybody in the seats, because we’re trying to rock it out at ‘JetLife’ Stadium.’’
An issue for Jets fans may be the difficult egress into the parking lots and into the stadium because of how poorly the current system works, with parking and game tickets all digital on phones. It is more time-consuming for attendants to scan people in.
One thing the Jets have done for the players is create a creative tunnel experience for them for introductions that includes music and a light show that fires them up. The problem is, once they’ve gotten all jacked up in the tunnel, get announced and run onto the field, the stadium is still nearly empty, which is a total buzzkill.
“I kind of feel like the fans don’t realize how much they mean to us,’’ Gardner told The Post. “They probably don’t realize how big of a role they play in our games and our success. They play a huge part. Getting fans into the stadium early at the home games will make a huge difference.’’
Gardner, like Mosley, can’t wait for the pregame introductions and the histrionics that take place in the tunnel.
“Man, the smoke, the music, the lights, that gets us riled up, pushing each other and hyping each other up,’’ he said. “That gets us going. To have the fans in their seats for that would just take us over the edge.’’