Before Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys had a 241-0-1 franchise record when leading by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter— they had never lost a game with a two-touchdown edge and 15 minutes left in a game. That mark went back to the team's origins in 1960, but the New York Jets cared nothing for the sanctity of that record. And as you would expect of a Rex Ryan team, the Jets were the first opponent to come from that deficit to beat the Cowboys through a series of goofy, sloppy offensive plays by their opponent, great special teams, and transcendent defense. With Rex, it's rarely pretty -- it just nearly always works.
Of course, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks hung over everything Sunday night at MetLife stadium, and the Jets seemed to draw inspiration from the remembrance.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was outplayed by Cowboys signal-caller Tony Romo in some ways, but as usual, it was Romo's penchant for "creativity" at the wrong times that undid him. Up 24-10 on the second play of the fourth quarter after a Felix Jones touchdown run, Romo was then the leader of a team whose fortunes came apart at the seams.
First, Romo was sacked by tackle Mike Devito with 9:12 left in the game. He fumbled, and the ball was recovered by New York tackle Sione Pouha at the Jets' 2-yard line. The Jets had picked up another touchdown on Mark Sanchez's first regular-season touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, but another Cowboys score would have put the game out of reach.
Sanchez had his own issues, and he gave the ball back to the Cowboys with his own fumble with 6:52 left in the game. But the 'Boys couldn't extend the game-saving drive, and the punt they tried with 5:08 left in the game was blocked by running back Joe McKnight and returned by cornerback Isaiah Trufant for the touchdown that tied the game at 24.
The two teams exchanged drives again in what seemed to be an inevitable overtime stalemate. But with just under a minute left in the game, Romo got … "creative" again, and he did something very, very unwise — he threw in the area of cornerback Darrelle Revis when Revis had safety help over the top and could trap his receiver to the sideline. It was an easy interception, and it set up the field goal that decided the game.
"It was a trap play," Revis said. "The corner comes to trap the inside guy, [Romo] threw the fade, I saw the ball coming, I was underneath, and I picked it off."
Of course, it would make sense that even the field goal would have drama — the Cowboys once cut Jets kicker Nick Folk, and Folk was the one to nail the 50-yarder with 32 seconds left in the game. One aborted shotgun snap to Romo, and a botched series of laterals later, the Jets had the game in hand.
"We told our team before the game that whoever plays the hardest the longest will win," Rex Ryan said after the game. "You've always heard me talk about it — they're not in there until they're in there, and we saw that today. It looked bleak, there's no question about it — that's an explosive team, both on offense and defense. That stat about them being 241-0-1 when they have a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter … I mean, it just shows you the resolve of our football team. It was a team effort, there's no doubt about that. From the blocked punt, to Nick Folk nailing a 50-yard field goal, our offense just needed a little more time to throw the football — Mark did a great job and Plax was huge for us. You saw those captains — you saw how Sione gets the fumble around the goal line, and how Revis gets the pick.
"We lean on our captains, and they did a great job for us."
Revis agreed. "We showed a lot of heart, We were down, 24-10 at one point, and we just kept telling guys on the sideline to push it and push it so that we could get back up and get into the game and win it.
"It's the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, and we did it for New York City."
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- Tony Romo
- Mark Sanchez
- Darrelle Revis