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Sauce Gardner set tone for Jets with big hit on Teddy Bridgewater: ‘Gonna send you’

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Sauce Gardner set tone for Jets with big hit on Teddy Bridgewater: ‘Gonna send you’

By Mark Cannizzaro

The national anthem had just finished and kickoff for the Jets game against the Dolphins was moments away.

That’s when Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich approached Sauce Gardner on the sideline and told him that he was going to call his number on the first defensive play from scrimmage.

“Coach ‘Brich,’ he told me, ‘I’m gonna send you,’’ Gardner said after the Jets smoked the Dolphins 40-17 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

The Jets’ 22-year-old rookie cornerback, the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, set the tone for the unlikely lopsided result when he blitzed Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from the left side, forced him into an intentional-grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead just 2:42 into the game.

In the process, Gardner’s hit knocked Bridgewater out of the game with head and elbow injuries, leaving the Dolphins in the hands of third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson — who had never played an NFL down — for the rest of the game.

As it was, Bridgewater was playing in the place of Dolphins starter Tua Tagovailoa, who was out with a concussion.

So, Sauce poured it on.

“That’s how they used me in college,’’ Gardner said of his first blitz as a pro. “I had a few sacks and sack-forced fumbles. It made me feel like I was still in college. I was just glad I was able to make that play. It was a great play call and I appreciate [Ulbrich] for letting me be able to make it.’’

A864EC41-1E8F-4F96-A22F-5E9B116D0C0B.thumb.webp.6476bea4a8566cdbcaa659393807ae53.webpJets cornerback Sauce Gardner sacks Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for a safety. Getty Images

So did the rest of the Jets, who every day become more blown away by how good, how polished, how mature and how confident Gardner has been since he entered the building for the first time last April.

This game was no one-play wonder for Gardner, either. He also made his first NFL interception, a second-quarter pick that set up a Zach Wilson touchdown and a 19-7 Jets lead at the time.

Gardner called the interception a “blessing,’’ saying, “I said in the locker room earlier this week I think I’m the only one [on the team] that doesn’t have one. I think God heard me. He answered my prayers.’’

The pick was significant for an off-the-field reason as well. Jets veterans, led by linebacker C.J. Mosley, had playfully chided Gardener since training camp that he was going to have to earn being referred to by his nickname by picking off a pass.

Until then, Gardner was going to have to be referred to inside the locker room as “Ahmad,’’ his given first name.

“Now he’s certified,’’ Mosley told The Post with a laugh inside the winning locker room.

“He’s officially ‘Sauce’ Gardner now,’’ veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said.

“Yeah, he’s not just ‘Ahmad’ anymore, now he’s ‘Sauce,’ ” safety Will Parks told The Post. “Sauce is on his way to being a legendary player. We see it every day in practice.’’

How good is he?

Jets corner Sauce Gardner (1) celebrates his interception with CJ Mosely on Oct. 9, 2022. Bill Kostroun

“You ever see good, good, good?’’ Parks said. “He’s real good. Revis 5.0 in the making.’’

Parks, of course, was referring to former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who’ll be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor later this season.

“You see the way [Gardner] plays and you think about all the great corners, you think about Revis when he was here,’’ Mosley said. “Everyone knew Revis was confident, he knew what he had and everybody else did, too, but he didn’t have to brag about it or flaunt it. He just went out there and worked and did his job.

“I would say Sauce is a little bit more flashy than Revis was on the football field and off it. But when it comes down to lining up and being ready and being focused, he’s all that and above.’’

Jets head coach Robert Saleh, when speaking after the game about rookie running back Breece Hall, who had 197 all-purpose yards and a TD in the game, referred to the team needing “home run hitters.’’

Gardner is a player who figures to be hitting home runs for the Jets for a long time. That’s why Saleh and Ulbrich wanted to send him on that first Miami play from scrimmage.

“It did what we all knew it was going to do,’’ Saleh said after the game. “We felt like we could get an explosive play out of it.’’

Mission accomplished.

“You set the tone for this whole game,’’ D.J. Reed, the Jets’ other starting cornerback, told Gardner on the sideline after that play.

“With him getting that safety and that pick setting up a touchdown, he basically got us nine points,’’ Reed told The Post. “I told him, ‘You’re making game-changing plays. You’re making a statement this game.’ ’’

From the first defensive play onward on Sunday.

And for many more Sundays to come.

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