Last week’s hero, Craig McElroy, didn’t dress. Tim Tebow did, but didn’t play while making a return to his hometown. And, although starter Mark Sanchez was back in a familiar role, he wasn’t asked to do much.
None of that continued quarterback drama mattered however, as the New York Jets (6-7) went back to the basics of running the football well and playing sound defense to overcome their second scoreless opening half in as many weeks, while fending off a late rally by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11), to keep their playoff hopes alive with a 17-10 road victory on Sunday,
Winning consecutive games for the first time this season, the Jets also got a lot of help in the AFC North, where a pair of fellow wild-card contenders – Cincinnati (7-6) and Pittsburgh (7-6) – each suffered home field upsets.
Trailing 3-0 at halftime for a second consecutive week, after managing just 113 yards while punting four times and fumbling the ball away twice on six first-half possessions, New York scored on three of its first four drives in the second half to take a two-touchdown lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
A nine-play, 57-yard drive that featured seven rushes and two short passes during the Jets’ first possession of the third quarter was capped by a one-yard touchdown run by running back Shonn Greene (20 carries, 77 yards, one touchdown), which gave New York the lead for good, 7-3, with 9:11 left in the period.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, the Jets turned good field position off of a sack by defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (three tackles, one sack) into a short 19-yard drive for field goal by kicker Nick Folk, to extend their advantage to 10-3 with 2:53 to go in the quarter.
The Jaguars meanwhile, could do little against a stout New York defense, which despite allowing one long touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, forced four straight three-and-outs, and five overall, before cornerback Ellis Lankster (four tackles, one pass deflection, one interception) sealed the win with a pressured interception of quarterback Chad Henne (21-for-43, 185 yards, two interceptions, three sacks) on Jacksonville’s final drive.
Starting at almost the same spot as the drive that ended with Folk’s field goal, the Jets began their next trip at the Jaguars’ 46-yard line after a Jacksonville punt, and stayed exclusively on the drive with running back Bilal Powell (19 carries, 78 yards, one touchdown), who rushed seven straight times until he scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 12:20 left in the game to give the Jets a 17-3 lead.
Answering with their best drive of the game, the Jaguars went 86 yards on 11 plays in 5:14, with running back Montell Owens (14 carries, 91 yards, one touchdown) scoring on a nice 32-yard touchdown run to the left, to trim the Jets’ lead in half, 17-10, with 7:06 remaining.
Each team again went three-and-out before New York moved from deep in its own end to midfield, on a 37-yard pass from Sanchez (12-for-19, 111 yards, one sack) to tight end Jeff Cumberland (his only catch), but the Jets ultimately punted for a touchback.
Jacksonville mounted one last serious threat, moving to the New York 28-yard line, but again under a heavy pressure, Henne overthrew wide receiver Kevin Elliot (three catches, 38 yards), as Lankster made an easy pick with 15 seconds left.
That was the same way the Jaguars’ first drive ended, when a fierce pass rush induced Henne into floating a pass that resulted in a red zone interception by linebacker Bart Scott (one tackle, one interception).
Two Jacksonville possessions later, right after a sack and a fumble by Sanchez, the Jaguars drove 44 yards on seven plays for a 31-yard field goal by kicker Josh Scobee, to break a scoreless tie with 6:44 left in the first half.
Suddenly back in the AFC playoff picture with three weeks left if the regular season, the Jets will seek a third straight win next week, at Tennessee (4-9), on Monday Night Football. New York will know where it stands in the playoff race by then, as Cincinnati will play in Philadelphia on Thursday night and Pittsburgh will travel to Dallas for a game on Sunday afternoon.