How do you spell clutch? It’s obvious by now, that it’s J-E-T-S.
Blowing a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead at home and needing a touchdown with under a minute left might be demoralizing for most NFL teams.
But, when the New York Jets (8-2) were in that position against the Houston Texans (4-6) at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday, the Jets had the Texans right where they wanted them.
Given the events of recent weeks, it was just a matter of time before quarterback Mark Sanchez would find wide receiver Santonio Holmes to save the day for the Jets yet again.
Sure enough, the two connected on a 6-yard touchdown pass with just ten seconds left, to stun the Texans, 30-27.
It was Holmes who drew a pass interference call on a desperation fourth down heave from Sanchez to key a comeback win in Denver in Week 6. Two games later, Sanchez hit Holmes for 52 yards on the second play of overtime to set up a game-winning, overtime field goal in Detroit. Last week, Holmes beat the clock on a 37-yard touchdown catch from Sanchez with 16 seconds left in an overtime win in Cleveland.
“I swear it’s like Groundhog Day,” Sanchez told reporters after the game.
For more than three quarters, it appeared that the Jets would break that trend finally win in easy fashion.
Punt returner Jim Leonard returned a punt 30 yards to start the Jets’ first possession in great field position, at the Texans’ 29 yard-line, which set up a 37-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk, which gave the Jets an early 3-0 lead.
Houston was then able to take its first lead on an 11-play, 67-yard drive that began late in the first quarter. Running back Arian Foster (22 carries, game-high 84 yards, 2 TD) finished the march with a 2-yard touchdown run, to put the Texans up, 7-3, with 10:17 left in the first half.
New York answered though, scoring on both of its second-quarter possessions. Sanchez (22-38, 315 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks) completed passes of 21, 26, and 27 yards on a 10-play, 78-yard drive that he finished with a 4-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Braylon Edwards (4 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD) which gave the Jets a 10-7 lead, with 5:18 left in the half.
A quick three-and-out and a short 31-yard punt ensued for Houston, setting the Jets up on the Texans’ 48 yard-line. From there, New York moved 33 yards on eight plays to grab a 13-7 halftime lead on a 33-yard field goal by Folk.
The Jets then went 30 yards on ten plays to start the third quarter, but Folk missed a 53-yard field goal.
New York scored on its next possession however, going 92 yards on nine plays, in 4:06, taking a 20-7 lead on a 41-yard strike from Sanchez to Holmes (7 catches, 126 yards, 2 TD).
Two possessions later, Foster fumbled with 1:19 left in the third quarter, and the Jets took over at the Texans’ 17 yard-line. That led to a 30-yard field goal by Folk which gave New York a seemingly comfortable 23-7 lead with 14:51 left in the game.
But, Houston stormed back as the Jets’ offense turned the ball over twice, while their defense, ranked first in the NFL last year, and which entered the game ranked fifth this year, fell apart down the stretch once again this season.
Quarterback Matt Schaub (19-33, 254, 1 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack) completed passes of 31, 14, and 13 yards to quickly move the Texans into Jets’ territory. Four plays later, kicker Neil Rackers made a 38-yard field goal to trim New York’s lead to 23-10 with 12:21 left in the game.
The Jets then moved 38 yards to the Texans’ 41 yard-line, but running back Shonn Green (15 carries, 42 yards) fumbled and Houston received the ball at the New York 43 yard-line.
The Texans got back in the game on the next play, as Schaub threw a 43-yard touchdown to tight Joel Dressen (a 6th-round pick by the Jets in 2005), who burned his former team to draw Houston to within 23-17, with 9:14 remaining.
Shortly thereafter, the Texans took the lead following a Jets’ punt. Schaub completed passes of 35 and 20 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Foster that gave Houston its first lead, 24-23, with 2:18 to go.
Two plays later, Sanchez threw his only interception of the game, which gave Houston the ball at the New York 10 yard-line.
That time, the Jets’ defense was able to hold, but Rackers made a 22-yard field goal with just 55 seconds left, to put the Texans up 27-23, and force New York to need a touchdown to win.
No problem, for the 2010 Jets, according to tight end Dustin Keller (2 catches, 7 yards). “We don’t think we’re ever out of it at all,” Keller said. “We tick ourselves off when we put ourselves in those situations, but we know that we’re always capable of coming back in any game in any situation.”
Starting from the Jets’ 28 yard-line with 49 seconds remaining, Sanchez completed passes of five and 19 yards to running back LaDainian Tomlinson (12 carries for 36 yards, 7 catches for 71 yards), who during the game, passed former Jet great Curtis Martin for seventh place on the NFL’s career yards from scrimmage list, with 17,452 combined rushing and receiving yards.
After an incompletion, Sanchez then threw a great ball to Edwards for a 42-yard gain up the right sideline, to the Texans’ 6 yard-line.
That set up the Jets’ latest miracle finish of 2010 on the next play, as Sanchez calmly found Holmes in the far left corner of the end zone for the winning score, giving New York its third straight win while handing Houston its fourth consecutive loss.
“We’re cutting it awfully close,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think anybody has any finger nails left if they’re a Jets fan.”
On one hand, credit the Jets for continually pulling games out of the fire to remain in the lead for the AFC’s top playoff seed. That’s what championship teams do, but the reality of the Jets’ season thus far, is that the comebacks might be deluding.
The flip side is that championship teams also beat up on teams with losing records, and each of the Jets’ four dramatic comebacks have come against losing teams, none of which the Jets should have struggled to beat.
A true championship caliber team might be winning those games the way the Jets had beaten the Texans through three quarters, rather than with the aid of last-minute escapes each time.
For now, Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan doesn’t seem to mind how his team plays as long as the Jets keep winning. “I want to apologize to all the Jets fans for affecting the heart here, a little bit,” he said. But, we’ll take the win. If I have to apologize for it every week from here on out, I will, all the way to the Super Bowl.”
Perhaps, next week, he won’t have to, should the Jets easily put away the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8) – New York’s 2009 playoff foe, but now, losers of seven straight – when the two teams meet at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Thanksgiving night, at 8:20pm EST.