Minutes after they clinched an improbable postseason berth with a 23-3 victory over Oakland on Sunday, the rookie running back could hardly contain himself.
“Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs—three times for ya,” Washington said with a big grin. “It feels good to say it.”
“Talk to me this week and `playoffs’ is going to be every other word,” wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said.
The Jets will play next weekend at New England.
New York came in knowing a win would clinch a postseason berth. Cheered by a sea of towel-waving fans throughout, New York (10-6) never trailed and took control in the second half. By the time Nugent kicked his third field goal with just under 12 minutes left, the crowd at Giants Stadium spent most of the fourth quarter partying in the stands—dancing, cheering and waving their white Jets towels.
“This is great for the team and the organization,” wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. “This is just good for the guys—all the hard work and effort that we put into this season. But again, this is a stepping stone.”
Coach Eric Mangini received a Gatorade shower just after the 2-minute warning, and a series of hugs by jubilant Jets players.
“I’m hoping for a few more of them,” Mangini said, wearing a black Jets cap to cover his soaked head.
Pennington, who played 16 games in a season for the first time in his career, urged the fans on, waving his right arm and prompting them to continue celebrating.
“To me, this is what this game is all about, playing for a championship,” the quarterback said.
The Raiders (2-14) got one consolation: When Detroit beat Dallas, it left them with the first overall pick in next April’s draft.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Oakland coach Art Shell said. “There’s a lot of evaluation that has to go on. We have to see where we are and where we’re headed. It’s been a very tough season.”
Entering the season, many believed New York would repeat last season’s 4-12 performance. After all, the Jets had a new head coach, a new general manager in Mike Tannenbaum, and a quarterback in Pennington who was coming off consecutive rotator cuff surgeries. They were also without star running back Curtis Martin all season because of what appears to be a career-ending knee injury.
With a disciplined and focused approach that started with long, hot days in training camp, Mangini made the most of his talent and got the players to believe in his system. The result was the ninth 10-win season in franchise history and their fourth spot in the playoffs in six seasons.
“We experienced a lot of injuries last year and a lot of bad things, but this year we were able to stay healthy,” Pennington said. “Kudos to my teammates for buying in to what coach Mangini wanted us to do. “
Pennington hit Baker with a 1-yard pass to put New York up 7-0 in the opening quarter. Pennington finished 22-of-30 for 157 yards and a TD.
The Jets took advantage of a mistake by the Raiders, who came in leading the NFL in turnovers. With Oakland facing a third-and-4, Aaron Brooks completed a 7-yard pass to Johnny Morant, but David Barrett knocked the ball loose and Hank Poteat recovered.
New York used a little trickery on the ensuing drive, with Pennington faking a handoff to Washington and giving the ball to receiver Brad Smith, who gained 20 yards. Three plays later, Smith went in motion before stopping behind center Nick Mangold, taking the snap and pushing ahead for 3 yards and a first down.
Three plays later, Pennington ran the play-action to perfection, hitting Baker in stride for a TD.
Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 35-yard field goal with 10:36 left in half. Nugent’s 35-yarder with 3 seconds left in the half made it 10-3.
New York put it away when it stopped Oakland on consecutive running plays— stuffing Justin Fargas on third-and-1 and Brooks on fourth-and-1. The Jets then capped a 10-play drive with Washington’s 15-yard scramble.
Shell’s job security has been in question.
“It would be very unfair and unjustified to use coach as a scapegoat,” Brooks said. “He did everything he needed to do as a head coach. I hold the players accountable.”
Brooks was 15-of-26 for 136 yards and an interception. … Oakland finished 0-8 on the road for the second time in four seasons. … The Raiders were held without an offensive touchdown for the eighth time, and finished with the fewest points (168) in franchise history.