Same old Jets?
Or was it the same old Romo?
Rex Ryan’s Jets won a game Sunday night they had no business winning, seizing the initiative but also taking advantage of the gifts handed them by the Dallas Cowboys, their quarterback in particular.
A blocked punt, a goal-line fumble, a TD reception by a man who hadn’t caught a pass since 2008 owing to a bad case of incarceration, and an interception thrown directly to the one man you never throw near — and that was just the fourth quarter.
It was the first game Dallas had ever lost in which they had a lead of fourteen or more points in the fourth quarter. Their record in those circumstances is now 241-1-1.
The Jets reached the AFC championship game last year following a season in which they had four improbable victories on late scores – at Denver (winning touchdown set up by a 46-yard pass interference penalty), at Detroit (rallied from ten points down with three minutes to play, won in overtime), at Cleveland (winning touchdown came on a 36-yard pass with six seconds left in overtime), and against Houston (led 23-7 in the fourth quarter, turned the ball over twice, trailed 27-23 in the last minute, then went 72 yards in 45 seconds to win 30-27).
No team could get that lucky again, could it?
The Cowboys had a bit of their own good fortune on their second touchdown midway through the third quarter. Tony Romo threw deep to Miles Austin; Antonio Cromartie closed on the ball as the pass neared the goal line, and got inside position as the two leaped for the football. Cromartie had the interception, but as the two tumbled into the end zone Austin had his hands on the ball as well for a simultaneous catch, which goes to the offense.
The Bad Mark Sanchez threw a near pick-six over the middle at the end of the third quarter; the ensuing Dallas touchdown put them up 24-10 with 14:50 to play. Then the Good Mark Sanchez showed up, moving the Jets smartly 84 yards in seven plays, capped by a 26-yard pass to Plaxico Burress at the pylon. It was the second of four receptions for Burress, who took advantage of an injury to Mike Jenkins on the TD that made it a one-score game.
Dallas struck back with a 64-yard catch and run by Jason Witten, chased down and knocked out of bounds by Jim Leonhard at the Jets 3. On third-and-goal at the 2, Romo went back to his right, couldn’t find anyone open, pulled the ball in and ran through a seam towards the goal line, only to fumble as he was brought down at the three. Sione Pouha recovered for the Jets.
Sanchez the Bad fumbled the ball back to the Cowboys six plays later, but the Jets’ defense held, setting up fourth and 22 on the Dallas 41. Punter Mat McBriar took the snap; the Dallas line blocked left and right, leaving a lane up the middle for Joe McKnight, the second-year running back out of USC and one of the fastest men on the Jets, to come racing through, putting his hand on the ball just as it came off McBriar’s foot. It bounced backwards, high, to where Isaiah Trufant could grab it and run in for the touchdown and the tie.
The teams seemed headed for overtime after an exchange of punts, but with less than a minute remaining, Romo locked on Dez Bryant, not noticing the safety moving over to provide deep help to cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis cut inside on the throw, the ball went directly to him, and he ran it 20 yards to the Dallas 34. It was Revis’s first interception since the 2009 season; most teams find it simpler to treat his territory as a no-fly zone.
Three plays, and then a 50-yard Nick Folk field goal gave the Jets their first lead of the game with 32 seconds left. Romo hit Austin for a 22-yard gain, but tight end Witten had set too obvious a pick to free Austin from the coverage; the offensive pass interference penalty backed Dallas up to its ten. On the next-to-last play, Romo was stepping up to the line to give some last-second instructions when he suddenly found the football hitting his chest; someone had blown the snap count, the ball bounced back to Romo, but he threw it out of bounds to preserve one last chance at a cost of five precious seconds.
For the Jets, it was another wacky late-game victory. For the Cowboys, it was another series of critical mistakes by their quarterback, who has a knack for coming up small when the plays get big. The numbers say Romo is an elite quarterback, but performances like this one keep raising questions.
One game down, fifteen to go. Both sets of fans have to wonder if they can survive many more like this one.