It may have been Week 1 of the NFL season, but for the Jets, this one had a super feeling to it. In truth, it had the “Super” kind of feeling that the Jets hope to be reveling in 22 weeks from now in Indianapolis, Ind. at Super Bowl XLVI.
There were plenty of heart-thumping, gut-wrenching and spine-tingling moments from the Jets on Sunday night in their dramatic 27-24 comeback win over Dallas. Even the most optimistic of Jets fans, if there is such a thing after more than four decades of ineptitude and losing, had to be displeased with their team for 55 minutes of their performance against Dallas. Sloppy play, blown assignments on defense, big gains conceded and next to nothing from the ground game marked a performance that seemed destined for an 0-1 start.
No one would have been surprised if the Jets had lost this game. It would have been just another footnote in a sometimes humiliating team history.
Then, out of nowhere, the Jets showed the kind of character and backbone that makes Super Bowl teams — the kind of moxie that can lead to wins in January and, hopefully, February.
“It wasn’t pretty, but that’s the beauty of the NFL, it doesn’t always have to be pretty,” safety Jim Leonhard told Metro. “Of course, we’d like it prettier, we’d like it a bit easier and prettier and there’s things to work on, but we got the win and sometimes that’s good enough.”
The comeback may be good enough to kick start a season built on lofty expectations the Jets have placed on their own shoulders. Head coach Rex Ryan has made it a habit to guarantee that his team has the stuff of championships running through their collective veins. But the effect has trickled down into the locker room when even the low-key LaDainian Tomlinson says that anything less than a Super Bowl this year “would be a disappointment.”
And in a game like Sunday night, where the Jets were down by two touchdowns with 14:50 left in the fourth quarter, the confident swagger of their coach displayed itself in the comeback win.
First, there was Plaxico Burress finally making a mark on the game with a 26-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut the Dallas lead to 24-17. Then as Dallas looked certain to score on the following possession, the Jets defense stood tall on the goal line, stripping quarterback Tony Romo of the ball. They followed that with a big special teams play as little-used Joe McKnight blocked a Mat McBriar punt and Isaiah Trufant, who was on the practice squad just two days ago, picked up the bouncing ball and took it to the end zone.
A team forever tagged as “The Same Old Jets” would have found a way to lose this one. Instead, Ryan’s team responded, with Darrelle Revis reading a Romo pass destined for Dez Bryant and returning it 20 yards to the Dallas 34-yard line with just 59 seconds left. Four plays later, Nick Folk kicked the game-winning field from 50 yards — a clutch moment for a player plagued with inconsistencies last year.
“What really started to surface is the character of the team,” nose tackle Sione Pouha said. “The fact that this team can prevail really mirrors the character of this team.”
It was a game they shouldn’t have won.
The vaunted Jets secondary conceded 342 yards and two passing touchdowns, including six receptions for 110 yards to tight end Jason Whitten and 90 yards and 71 yards to wide receivers Miles Austin and Bryant respectively. Advertising themselves as still an offense predicated on the rushing game, the Jets “Ground and Pound” was far from sound, with the running back tandem of Shonn Greene and Tomlinson managing just 42 yards on 15 carries.
There was nothing on paper that pointed to a Jets win, but what beats in the heart of this team can’t be summed up by a scorecard or a game summary.
“We really respond to Rex, we really do. He guarantees wins, he guarantees championships,” right guard Brandon Moore said. “But we believe it when he says it, and we want to back it up. We’ve done this before, we know how to come back in games like this.”
Moore of course is referencing last year’s midseason miracle run in Weeks 9 through 11, when New York had last gasp wins in Detroit, Cleveland and then at home against the Texans.
Coming into Sunday night, the Cowboys as a franchise were 240-0-1 when leading by two touchdowns or more in the fourth quarter. The Jets point to their backbone when they state that Dallas is now 240-1-1.
“It was a dogfight. We told our team whoever plays the longest, the hardest, wins this game,” Ryan said. “This may be the best team effort I can remember, that I’ve been a part of.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for Jets coverage all season long.