Last Word Goes to Jets

NY JetsThe Jets sprinted through the tunnel at Gillette Stadium, arms extended, as if flying. They shouted. They screamed. They yapped the way they yapped throughout the past week, the way they yapped throughout this season, the way they plan to yap all the way to the Super Bowl next month.

The Jets do not love to talk so much as they live for it, live by it. All week, they trafficked in hyperbole and lobbed insults at New England, as if convincing themselves they stood a chance. But by Sunday night, after the Jets followed bark with bite, it seemed they knew what everyone else missed.

In a game few expected them to win, in the same stadium where the Patriots humiliated them by 42 points last month, the Jets bullied New England, battered Tom Brady and advanced to the A.F.C. championship game with a 28-21 triumph.

“Same old Jets,” Coach Rex Ryan said afterward, mocking the nickname that dogged the franchise until his arrival. “Going to the A.F.C. championship two years in a row.”

With a second-year coach in Ryan and a second-year quarterback in Mark Sanchez, the Jets advanced to their second straight conference title game. They travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers next Sunday, on the same field where they narrowly beat the Steelers last month.

Ryan had called the New England game the second-most important in Jets history, after their first — and only — championship, in Super Bowl III. Should the Jets win at Pittsburgh, they will return to that game for the first time since the 1968 season. Afterward, the Jets turned up the volume in their locker room, if that is possible, toward maximum. Linebacker Bart Scott held court for 10, 20, 30 minutes, surrounded by reporters. After the scrum concluded, he sat at his locker, still smarting, perhaps more angry than before the game.

Asked if he ever felt this emotional after a win, Scott, a nine-year veteran, said no. Asked why, he kept coming back to Ryan, to the fat jokes, to the tabloid headlines, to the news conference where receiver Wes Welker mocked Ryan’s wife and personal life.

Scott told Newsday on Friday that Welker’s days in a uniform were “numbered.” He did not back down Sunday. Instead, he unleashed another rant, with more than a few choice words mixed in.

“Nobody gave us a chance,” he said. “No chance. You act like we’re 6-10. You act like Rex is a buffoon. No one says anything about other coaches’ weight. You don’t hear people talk about Andy Reid like that. I wanted this game for Rex. I wanted it so you can give him respect. Shut up. Just shut up. Rex is a great coach, and he would have been if we won today or not.”

As the fourth quarter started, the Jets led, 14-11. They stood 15 minutes from the A.F.C. title game, 15 minutes from ending the season of their bitter rival, 15 minutes from silencing the packed Gillette Stadium for good.

Momentum, conventional wisdom and common sense pointed toward the Patriots. They had the league’s best quarterback (Brady), best coach (Bill Belichick) and, according to many pundits, best team. Brady had just led them down the field for a touchdown and 2-point conversion.

Yet it was Sanchez who took over the fourth quarter, who found receiver Jerricho Cotchery for 58 yards, who lobbed a perfect 7-yard fade that receiver Santonio Holmes caught in the corner of the end zone. Holmes landed his right knee inbounds, then his left foot, as an official’s arms extended toward the sky.

The Jets led, improbably, 21-11. All their bluster, threats and name-calling had been backed up.

It started with Sanchez, if not a weak link entering this game, then certainly a reason for concern. Early on, he sailed passes over receivers’ heads or past their outstretched hands. But he settled down and settled in, completing 16 of 25 passes for 194 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“Since the playoffs started, Mark has just exploded,” fullback Tony Richardson said. “The big stage doesn’t affect him. He was nothing short of amazing today.”

The same went for the Jets’ defense. Brady entered this rubber match — the Jets won the teams’ meeting in Week 2 — with 36 touchdown passes and only 4 interceptions, but linebacker David Harris ended Brady’s record streak of passes without an interception, and the Jets sacked him five times. Shaun Ellis, the longest-tenured Jet, recorded two of those sacks and spent much of the day in the Patriots’ backfield. He had the kind of game, his teammate Trevor Pryce said, “a player has once.”

“Not once a season,” Pryce said. “Once.”

The Jets followed a blueprint similar to the one they employed last week against Peyton Manning and Indianapolis, with new wrinkles for the Patriots. They mixed coverages, shifting often right before or right after the snap. Brady looked like a bobblehead at times, his head on a swivel, with nobody open.

“We expected that,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “That’s exactly how we drew it up. It felt good to shut 70,000 people up — all the people who flipped us off on our way in, who booed us at our hotel, who called us undisciplined, all talk.”

On Saturday night, Ryan ceded the team speech to Dennis Byrd, the former Jets defensive lineman who broke his neck in 1992, who walked again after being paralyzed, who stood in front of the Jets and told them he would give anything, all of his possessions, to play one more game. Receiver Braylon Edwards went straight to Twitter to describe his inspiration.

Apparently, that carried over. Edwards’s 37-yard catch set up Sanchez’s first touchdown toss. Edwards scored his own touchdown in the second quarter, carrying two defenders into the end zone to give the Jets a 14-3 halftime lead.

When Shonn Greene scored the Jets’ final touchdown, with less than two minutes to play, he placed the ball on the ground and pretended to sleep on it. Good night, he was saying in typical, boastful Jets fashion. Minutes later, LaDainian Tomlinson walked through the tunnel, tears welling in his eyes.

Soon after, Robert K. Kraft, the Patriots’ owner, entered the Jets’ locker room. He found Woody Johnson, his Jets counterpart, who had received a game ball in a fiery speech from Ryan. Kraft hugged Johnson, wished him luck. It was, at that moment, perhaps only for this season, as if a baton had been passed.

On Sunday, the A.F.C. East belonged to the Jets. All anyone had to do was ask them.

Posted by: Greg Bishop

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