New York back in AFC title game after beating New England on the road
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New York Jets sprinted through the tunnel at Gillette Stadium, arms extended, as if flying. They shouted. They screamed. They yapped the way they yapped throughout the past week, the way they yapped throughout this season, the way they plan to yap all the way to the Super Bowl next month.
The Jets do not love to talk so much as they live for it, live by it.
All week, they trafficked in hyperbole and lobbed insults at New England, as if convincing themselves they stood a chance. But by Sunday night, after the Jets followed bark with bite, it seemed they knew what everyone else missed.
In a game few expected them to win, in the same stadium where the Patriots humiliated them by 42 points last month, the Jets bullied New England, battered Tom Brady and advanced to the AFC Championship Game with a 28-21 triumph.
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“Same old Jets,” coach Rex Ryan said, mocking the nickname that dogged the franchise until his arrival. “Going to the AFC Championship two years in a row.”
Afterward, the Jets turned up the volume in their locker room, if that is indeed possible, toward maximum.
Asked if he ever felt this emotional after a victory, linebacker Bart Scott, a nine-year veteran, said no. Asked why, he kept coming back to Ryan, to the fat jokes, to the tabloid headlines, to the news conference where receiver Wes Welker mocked Ryan’s wife and personal life.
“Nobody gave us a chance,” he said. “No chance. You act like we’re 6-10. You act like Rex is a buffoon. No one says anything about other coaches’ weight. You don’t hear people talk about Andy Reid like that. I wanted this game for Rex. I wanted it so you can give him respect. Shut up. Just shut up. Rex is a great coach, and he would have been if we won today or not.”
As the fourth quarter started, the Jets led, 14-11. They stood 15 minutes from the AFC title game, 15 minutes from ending the season of their bitter rival, 15 minutes from silencing the packed Gillette Stadium for good.
It was quarterback Mark Sanchez, in just his second year as a pro, who took over the fourth quarter, who found receiver Jerricho Cotchery for 58 yards, who lobbed a perfect 7-yard fade that receiver Santonio Holmes caught in the corner of the end zone.
The Jets led, improbably, 21-11. All their bluster, threats and name-calling had been backed up.
It started with Sanchez, if not a weak link entering this game, then certainly a reason for concern. Early on, he sailed passes over receivers’ heads or past their outstretched hands. But he settled down and settled in, completing 16 of 25 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns.
“Since the playoffs started, Mark has just exploded,” fullback Tony Richardson said. “The big stage doesn’t affect him. He was nothing short of amazing today.”