It wasn’t the start the Jets wanted to the game, but it was the start to the season they needed as the Jets made a miraculous comeback in a 27-24 win over the Cowboys. A 50-yard field goal by Nick Folk with 27 seconds left in the game gave the Jets the win in their season opener, played against the backdrop of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
A special teams game-changing moment and a defensive play by the team’s biggest star sparked the Jets after what was generally a lethargic display on both sides of the ball. A Darrelle Revis interception and 20-yard return with 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter set up Folk’s game-winning field goal.
With Dallas holding a 24-17 lead and the Jets looking likely to start the season 0-1, second-year running back Joe McKnight squirmed through the Cowboys’ line to get his hand on a Mat McBriar punt. Isaiah Trufant, who was on the Jets practice squad on Friday before being signed to the 53-man roster on Saturday afternoon, picked up the ball and raced into the end zone to tie the game.
From the game’s opening go, it looked like a long night for the home team.
The Cowboys lassoed the Jets early, taking a lead off the opening drive as quarterback Tony Romo picked apart the highly-touted Jets secondary. Sprinkling in a little ground game via running back Felix Jones, it was Romo going 5-for-6 for 61 yards, highlighted by the Cowboys quarterback hitting wide receiver Dez Bryant on a simple out pattern that the wide receiver turned into a 42-yard gain. Fittingly, six plays later, Romo threaded a tight ball to Bryant in the corner of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead and take the volume out of the MetLife Stadium crowd.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was so ineffective in his coverage on Bryant— conceding the big gain on that opening drive and getting manhandled on the touchdown pass — that Darrelle Revis was switched to Bryant for the next Cowboys possession. Bryant did manage a 26-yard reception on that next drive, but after that was held relatively quiet by Revis.
The Jets offense had no answers as they started sluggishly — being held to three-and-outs on three of their five possessions in the first half. But it took a Dan Bailey 34-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 10-0 with 3:19 left in the second quarter to finally awaken the Jets from their slumber.
It was two-minute offense time for the Jets as Sanchez marched New York down the field, utilizing short passes and lots of sideline routes to keep the chains moving and effectively stopping the clock. Sanchez showed precision he hadn’t previously in the first half, going 87 yards in nine plays while using just 2:39 of the clock. The Jets finally broke out of their doldrums when Sanchez hit tight end Dustin Keller on a simple run-and-stop for a four-yard touchdown pass to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 10-7 before halftime.
Any Jets momentum was wiped away by the Cowboys offense on their first possession of the third quarter.
After another Jets three-and-out, the Cowboys took over on their own 27-yard line and began a drive that would showcase a little run, a reverse and plenty of short passes before again targeting Cromartie for a big play. On second-and-10, Romo had time in the pocket to find Miles Austin running along the sideline, engaged in single coverage on Cromartie. Heaving a high pass, Austin and Cromartie both came down with Romo’s ball in the end zone, but it was the Cowboys wide receiver who wrestled away possession and a 17-7 lead for the visitors.
A Nick Folk 34-yard field goal in the third quarter made it a 17-10 game. The Jets seemed to build some momentum after that, forcing the Cowboys to punt and getting the ball back on their own 10-yard line. On the first play of the possession, Sanchez found Plaxico Burress over the middle for an 18-yard grab, the wide receiver’s first catch in a Jets uniform. On the next play, however, it all fell apart.
Locking in on Dustin Keller, Sanchez was intercepted by Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, who returned the ball 37 yards to the Jets one-yard line. Two plays later, Felix Jones took the ball wide left to rumble into the end zone untouched in the early moments of the fourth quarter and giving Dallas what looked like a safe 24-10 lead.
A Plaxico Burress 27-yard touchdown reception with 11:56 left in the fourth quarter made it a 24-17 advantage for the Cowboys as the Jets once again thrived in their high-tempo, two-minute offense. The Cowboys looked likely to respond on their next drive to ice the game as a Jason Whitten 64-yard reception got the ball down to the Jets four-yard line. But after a Jones run produced just one yard and Romo missed Austin in the end zone, defensive end Mike DeVito stripped Romo on a quarterback keeper, giving the Jets the chance they needed for their fourth quarter comeback.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.