On a balmy afternoon in November, the Jets got their wish Sunday. What they consider to be their postseason started with a dramatic victory that extended their season, that allowed them to continue dreaming, hoping, believing that they have a chance. The Jets do have a chance after , after summoning, then thwarting, the same sort of fourth-quarter comeback that crushed them 10 days earlier in Denver.
With 82 yards separating the Jets from agony or victory, Dustin Keller tapped Santonio Holmes on the shoulder. Keller told him that it was his time — Tone Time — to make a crucial play, to win the game. Holmes did not think much of it until he broke free in the right corner of the end zone with 61 seconds remaining to grab ’s fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 16-yarder that sent an expectant crowd and a green-clad sideline into hysteria.
“Our work isn’t over,” guard Matt Slauson said. “We have to keep on rolling.”
As the losses piled up, as their season tilted on the brink of collapse, the Jets lamented a singular refrain: never did they think that they would be in this tenuous a position, needing to win and win some more to save a season that began with the Super Bowl guaranteed.
Coach Rex Ryan warned them not to grow “emotionally attached” to the teams ahead of them in the or to the tiebreaker system that may yet undermine their season, regardless of how they finish.
The Jets (6-5) remained a game behind Cincinnati for the final wild-card berth — and tied with Tennessee and Denver — with five to play, and a seemingly favorable schedule that plops them in Washington next week. Even so, the Jets will probably have to finish ahead of the Bengals because they trail Cincinnati by a game and a half in conference record (6-3 to 5-5).
Afterward, linebacker Calvin Pace wore the what-now expression of a man who had just changed a flat tire in the rain. He acknowledged all of the positive things, like Sanchez’s second-half poise, a brilliant one-handed catch by on the final drive and a stout offensive line that did not allow a sack. He also lamented the Jets’ mistakes, of which there were many.
Another poor decision by Sanchez, a costly interception, led to a second-quarter touchdown by the Bills. The third special-teams turnover in three games produced a tying touchdown. The defense was “mediocre at best,” according to Pace. His words might have been more colorful had Stevie Johnson not dropped a pass at the Jets’ 20 on the Bills’ final drive and a final Ryan Fitzpatrick pass not been incomplete in the end zone on the last play.
That it was Johnson who erred hardly bothered the Jets; after his second-quarter touchdown, Johnson mimicked Burress by . His voice dripping with sarcasm, Jets guard Brandon Moore said, “That’s classy.”
Johnson said, “It was a bad decision.”
The decision might have reflected poor taste, and it cost the Bills dearly. A 15-yard penalty was assessed on the kickoff, pushing it farther back, and Buffalo botched it, giving the Jets the ball at the Bills’ 36. Four plays later, Sanchez found Burress for a 14-yard touchdown pass that evened the score at 14-14 heading into halftime.
Even a tie score seemed deflating against a Buffalo team that had been outscored by 80 points in its previous three games, and was playing with a reshuffled offensive line and without four starters over all, including running back Fred Jackson.
“Sometimes, you don’t have to make it so hard on yourself; sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with dominating teams,” Pace said, adding: “For whatever reason, it just seemed like we didn’t have enough fire until it got to the point where it was a dire situation. Why play like that if you don’t have to? I guess I expect more. I just expect more from us.”
As does Ryan — and several other players, though Pace was the most blunt — though he was not about to apologize, not after humiliating losses (to New England) and demoralizing defeats (to Denver) had threatened to sap the team’s confidence.
All week, Sanchez and the maligned offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer answered for the Jets’ ineptitude, for giving away nearly as many touchdowns on interceptions (two) as they had scored (three) in losing the previous two games.
Sanchez staggered in the first half despite throwing two touchdown passes, before completing 9 of 15 passes after halftime, including an 18-yarder to Keller in the third quarter that put the Jets ahead, 21-14.
The Bills scored the next 10 points, twice taking advantage of Antonio Cromartie. His muffed punt gave Buffalo the ball at the Jets 36, and on the next play, when he was isolated in man-to-man coverage, the former Jet Brad Smith punched a potential interception out of Cromartie’s hands and snatched the ball out of midair, fighting through a tackle to fall into the end zone.
Buffalo went ahead on a 53-yard field goal by Dave Rayner, and after the teams traded punts, the Jets took possession at the Bills 18 with 5 minutes 44 seconds remaining. In the huddle, players sensed calm.
“No jitters,” Keller said.
“As always,” Patrick Turner said.
It was Turner who made the drive’s first crucial catch, a 12-yarder on third-and-8, but it was Burress who outdid him on third-and-11, relying on what Revis called “Go-Go-Gadget arms.” One arm, actually, his right. Burress reached up and over Justin Rogers to grab the ball along the far sideline, maintaining possession for an 18-yard reception.
“He saved our season,” Pace said.
Their season saved, at least for another week, the Jets savored victory. They dressed quickly and left their locker room, off to see family and friends, to enjoy the comforts of home.