EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the first three-quarters of the season, the often inept New York Jets offense frequently negated the efforts of a playoff-caliber defense.
But on Sunday, it was the offense -- led by much maligned rookie quarterback Geno Smith -- that rescued the defense and kept the Jets' slim postseason hopes alive.
Smith bounced back from the first benching of his career by accounting for 269 total yards and two touchdowns -- one passing and one rushing -- and the Jets raced out to a 17-point halftime lead before trading scores with Oakland in the second half of a 37-27 win over the Raiders at MetLife Stadium.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Jets (6-7), who remained a game behind Baltimore and Miami in the race for the second wild card in the AFC. The Jets are at a tiebreaker disadvantage because of head-to-head losses to the Ravens and Dolphins as well as a 3-7 conference record.
"We needed that in the worst way, to say the least," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "Going through three tough games that we lost, this is a big win for us."
It was earned in unorthodox fashion by the Jets, who were outscored 79-20 during the losing streak, and Smith, who had no touchdowns and eight interceptions in his previous five games and was benched at halftime of a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday.
Smith appeared as if he might be headed for another quick hook when he was picked off in Jets' territory on New York's second possession. But Smith steadied himself and finished 16-of-25 for 219 yards and one touchdown pass -- his first since Oct. 20 -- while rushing for a career-high 50 yards on six carries.
"That's the mark of this young man -- he's resilient and he's shown that he can bounce back," Ryan said. "It was an excellent performance on his part and really the team in general."
Smith also benefited from another solid game from running back Chris Ivory (18 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown) as well as the presence of his top two wideouts, Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, as well as tight end Kellen Winslow. The trio, which hadn't played together since Sept. 29, combined for 157 yards on 10 catches, including a 25-yard touchdown reception by Kerley.
"We're playmakers and it's our job to go make plays for him," Winslow said.
Smith and the Jets were particularly impressive in the second half, when Oakland scored on all four of its possessions but could get no closer than 10 points because the Jets scored on their first three series.
The Jets struggled defensively in the second half, when Oakland running back Marcel Reece raced untouched into the end zone on a 63-yard touchdown and wide receiver Rod Streater caught a 48-yard touchdown pass when the ball sailed over the intended receiver, tight end Jeron Mastrud, as a trio of Jets collided with him.
But the defense and special teams helped the Jets take a 20-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Jets didn't allow a first down following Smith's interception, which didn't result in any points for Oakland when kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed a 52-yard field goal. A second-quarter interception by safety Ed Reed set up a field goal, and safety Antonio Allen extended the Jets' lead to 20-3 when he blocked a punt by Marquette King and recovered it in the end zone.
"We didn't start out fast -- we gave up points, we turned the ball over, we had a blocked kick, missed a field goal, all those things to put ourselves in a hole," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said.
What the Jets said:
"This team wants it in the worst way. Will we get it? I don't know. But I know how bad we want it. How bad a taste we had in our mouth, the performance we had in front of our fans the week before." -- Head coach Rex Ryan after the Jets bounced back from a 20-point home loss to Miami
What the Raiders said:
"We worked too hard to have the outcome be like this. We need 'Ws.' This game is about winning, It's about production. Stats don't matter. The numbers don't matter unless you win and we didn't do it."--Raiders running back Marcel Reece, who rushed for a career-high 123 yards and a touchdown
What we learned about the Jets
1. Rex Ryan -- and/or general manager John Idzik -- made the right decision sticking with Geno Smith. Though the Jets remained in the playoff race Sunday with a 37-27 win over Oakland, their tiebreaker disadvantages -- which include losses to Baltimore and Miami, the co-leaders for the final wild card spot, as well as a 3-7 conference record -- means the final month of the season needs to be used to evaluate Smith, who was benched at halftime of a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday.
Smith, whose poise was often questioned at West Virginia, displayed impressive resiliency in bouncing back Sunday, when he overcame an early interception to finish 16-of-25 for 229 yards and a touchdown. Smith also rushed for a career-high 50 yards and a touchdown on six carries and extended two touchdown drives with third-down scrambles for first downs.
"I think Geno did a great job of showing up and leaving everything in the past," Jets offensive lineman Willie Colon said. "I think he showed up running the huddle. He trusted his instincts and he made big plays. That's what we need from him."
Raw backup Matt Simms simply doesn't have the potential upside or skill set of Smith, so it behooves the Jets to find out what they do or don't have in Smith before planning for 2014 and beyond.
2. Speaking of evaluating players, Antonio Allen proved again on Sunday that Ryan made a big mistake when he inserted Ed Reed -- a Ryan favorite from their days in Baltimore but a player who is a shell of his Hall of Fame self -- into the lineup at Allen's expense following the signing of Reed. In Reed's first three games with the Jets, he played 194 snaps while Allen -- the former starter at free safety -- played just 24 snaps. The Jets went 0-3 as Reed was burned for multiple touchdowns.
Ryan remedied his mistake Sunday, when Reed played only in passing downs and Allen provided another hint of his big-play ability when he blocked an Oakland punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Jets a 20-3 halftime lead. The Jets have just two touchdowns on defense and special teams this year, both by Allen, who returned a Tom Brady interception for a score on Oct. 20.
"It feels good to make a play on special teams," Allen said. "I've been trying to get out there and make (plays with) whatever happens with my playing time. So it's big for me and big for the team."
Allen should continue to wrest the free safety job away from Reed, who had an interception that led to a field goal in the first half. But Reed was also one of three Jets players to collide with Raiders tight end Jeron Mastrud as the ball sailed over their heads and into the hands of the wide-open Rod Streater, who raced into the end zone for a touchdown.
What we learned about the Raiders
1. Jack-of-all-trades Marcel Reece continues to excel in whatever role the Raiders ask him to perform. Reece, the Raiders' fullback, had 495 all-purpose yards in a four-game cameo as a featured back last November, but during the offseason, the Raiders turned back to injury-prone Darren McFadden as their feature back and signed Rashad Jennings as his backup.
Reece had just 45 touches in the Raiders' first 12 games, but with both McFadden and Jennings inactive on Sunday, he slid right back into the workhorse back role. Reece, a wide receiver in college, rushed for a career-high 123 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and added two catches for 38 yards. He became the first opposing player to run for 100 yards against the Jets' league-best run defense this season and his 63-yard run was the longest surrendered by the Jets this year.
2. The Raiders are well out of their comfort zone on the East coast. The 37-27 loss to the Jets extended the Raiders' losing streak to 10 games in the Eastern Time Zone, a stretch in which opponents outscored Oakland 345-193. Oakland last beat an East coast team on the road in the 2008 finale, when the Raiders edged Tampa Bay, 31-24. Coach Dennis Allen hoped the Raiders' recent experience at MetLife Stadium -- where the Raiders led the Giants at halftime before falling, 24-20, on Nov. 3 -- would yield benefits against the Jets. But the Jets turned a Matt McGloin interception into a field goal and blocked a punt for a touchdown on their way to taking a 20-3 lead at halftime on Sunday.
"I don't think it was an issue with the travel," Allen said. "We were out here a couple weeks ago and we were able to start fast. We just didn't do it in this game. We just didn't execute as well as we needed to early in the football game."