By Jason Wirchin
ESPN Radio called it best: “The overtime winning attempt, the snap, the placement down, the kick on the way…towards the uprights…it is GOOD! Feely nails it and the Jets survive!” It was a night for the ages, a game of all games, a victory long overdue. Gang Green’s week 11, 34-31 nail biter win in Foxborough knocked New England from the division lead, pushing the 7-3 Jets into first place. Not without drama and plenty of hype, this rematch of divisional foes left Mangini’s bunch feeling more than satisfied heading into a showdown against Tennessee this weekend.
Losers of 11 of their last 12 versus New England, Favre and company came into Gillette Stadium hungry for a “W.” Tied for the number one spot in the AFC East, Gang Green had a chance to sit alone atop the division for the first time since November 2001. Right out of the gates, it looked as if this might be the case.
Favre tossed a 7 yard screen pass to Leon Washington, who ran it in for New York’s fist touchdown. After a Jay Feely field goal, Washington struck again with a 92-yard kickoff return for his second TD of the evening. With less than 5 minutes left in the second quarter, Favre hit Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone, giving the Jets a 24-6 advantage and an eventual 24-13 halftime lead.
Down more than two scores at the start of the third, Patriots coach Bill Belicheck admitted that his team had their work cut of for them. “We dug ourselves a hole,” he said. But these are the mighty Patriots – the 18-1 juggernaut from less a year ago – and, although plagued with a surplus of injuries, they know a thing or two about staging comebacks.
On the final play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Quarterback Matt Cassel connected with Ben Watson on a 10-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Jets’ lead to 24-21 after a successful two-point conversion. With just under 11 minutes remaining in the fourth, Gostkowski tied it with a field goal, his third of the night.
When the defending AFC champs visited the Meadowlands in September, the Jets’ ground game was shut down at the goal line. Running back Thomas Jones made sure of better results this time, barreling across the plane for a 1-yard touchdown run.
As the clock ticked to the one-minute mark, New England marched from their own 38 down to the Jets’ red zone without any timeouts. On fourth down, Cassel threw a risky sideline pass that Randy Moss caught as he slid out of bounds with one second on the clock. Fans held their collective breath as the play went under review, exulting when the referee signaled touchdown. Gostkowski’s extra point was good, and off we went into sudden death.
If any Jet felt apprehensive, it was undoubtedly the quarterback. “They were rolling on offense, our defense was tired,” Favre said, “I was nervous as heck.” His qualms were understandable, but short-lived. Winning the coin toss, Gang Green covered 64 yards in 14 plays in the only drive of overtime. After a 16-yard pass to Laveranues Coles and a 6-yard gain by Thomas Jones, Feely slammed home the game-winning field goal and sealed one of the greatest games between these two rivals.
As for local reactions to the outcome, plenty of Stony Brook students, current and past, voiced their opinions. Alumnus Eric Valesio made no hesitation to hide his emotions. “It was awesome,” he said, “I was sitting on the edge of my seat the entire game!”
Similarly, Senior Jason Shank said, “I’m happy the Jets won. I think Brett Favre is the reason for them doing so well.”
Of course, there were those who were not so optimistic. Sophomore Ross Barkan kept the win in perspective. “I’m excited the Jets won, but letting Matt Cassel throw for like 1,000 yards [he actually racked up 400] and barely defeating the Pats without Brady makes the victory seem somewhat shallow.”
As expected, there were also New England fans who couldn’t stand the thought of second-place. Junior Parker Ince said, “Obviously, the Jets got lucky; plain and simple.”
Lucky, maybe. In first place, definitely.