And the battle is rejoined.
The Jets had set the table for an enjoyable evening at MetLife Stadium. The weather was pleasantly cool, clear and crisp. The four Ring of Honor inductees were pumped up to receive their own honors and for a success by their 2011 descendants. The winless Dolphins had come calling.
And as Rex Ryan said, "We needed a win in the worst way."
For the first quarter the current Jets were slow to come along for the ride. The offense scuffled, the defense — except for a 100-yard exception — was giving up gobs of yards between the 10s.
But as the first half wore on into the second half, the Jets grew stouter and stronger and their longtime friends and foes the Dolphins couldn't keep up. Sparked by Darrelle Revis' field-length interception-return TD in the opening period and Mark Sanchez's rebound to one rushing TD, one passing strike to Santonio Holmes and improved passing, the Jets put Miami in a 24-6 vice on Monday Night Football.
"It feels good, feels great," said Sanchez. "Just getting a win at home in front of our friends and family. It's good for this team. It's just what we needed. We're back on track."
"It took us a little time again," said Ryan, "but once we got going, we were hard to stop."
It wasn't perfect, but it was a perfectly acceptable outcome on this perfect night in October. The Jets ended their two-game losing streak to the Dolphins in the Meadowlands, they snapped their three-game slide overall, and they upped their home record to 3-0 and their overall record to 3-3, two games behind the Patriots and one game back of the Bills in the AFC East standings. It gives the Green & White a platform from which to attack San Diego at home next Sunday and then hit their bye week.
"This was key for us," said Revis, who came up with another pick in the fourth quarter for the third two-INT game of his career. "Losing, especially in this business, it's tough. It's hard during the week. It's hard coming to work. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. We wanted to get this win. We came in with a great game plan, guys stuck together, and we played well."
Meanwhile, the Dolphins, who came in off their bye with nothing to lose at 0-4, nevertheless still lost to fall to 0-5.
The Jets, despite having the worse of most stats except for the scoreboard stat after one half, opened their lead to 17-6 at the end of a 79-yard drive to the Miami 10 on Nick Folk's 28-yard field goal, making Folk 8-for-8 to start the season.
Then at the top of the final quarter, Sanchez and Holmes hooked up for one of those Tone poems of last year. The play covered 38 yards, with Holmes gaining the last 31 after the catch, moving laterally, then turning upfield and getting sprung by a brush block from Plaxico Burress. That gave the Jets the 24-6 lead with 11:50 to play.
"Mark got the ball to me quick and I didn't know where the defender was from that point on," said Holmes of his third TD catch of the season. "The rest that happened was the blocking downfield with Plax and [Jeremy] Kerley, and the rest was history."
The 'Fins wanted to at least make it more respectable as they moved into Jets territory while the gameclock passed 5:00 to play. But then David Harris applied a crushing, textbook, legal hit to QB Matt Moore as he misfired deep for WR Clyde Gates, with Revis snatching the underthrow for the easy pick and the third two-INT game of his career.
Win No. 3 was in hand.
"It was definitely much needed," said LB Calvin Pace, one of the top defensive contributors with his first full two-sack game since getting three sacks at Oakland in 2009. "We had to keep fighting. We knew Miami has come in here and given us a good fight every time. But Darrelle showed up and Cro [Antonio Cromartie] did a great job and that gave me time to get there a couple of times. It was a total team effort."
Sanchez finished 14-for-25 passing for 201 yards (after starting 3-for-7 for 14). RT Wayne Hunter did a fine job keeping his QB clean by helping to hold LB Cameron Wake sackless.
And the Jets, after being outgained in the first quarter, 173 yards to 10, came back to outgain 286-135 over the final three periods.
A lot of that was a muscular running game that picked up a so-so 104 yards but some of them at key times as the game continued.
"I think we realized what we're capable of," said Shonn Greene, who finished with 74 yards on 21 carries (60 on 14 in the second half). "We had a great week of practiced and we converted it over today."
And Greene said what was no doubt on his teammates' minds regarding Sunday's short-week home game against the 4-1 Chargers.
"Absolutely it is a tough game," he said. "But after this win, it gives us a lot more confidence.'
A Slow Thaw in the First Half
The Jets pulled out all the stops prior to the opening kickoff. WR Santonio Holmes and G Brandon Moore were the only two gameday captains who went out for the opening coin toss. When the Dolphins lost the toss, the Jets selected to receive the opening kickoff instead of deferring their choice till the second half for only the third time in Ryan's three seasons as head coach.
It didn't help the offense out of the starting gate as the Jets moved just 5 yards combined on two three-and-out drives. And since the second series ended with T.J. Conley punting out of his end zone, it didn't bode well as the Dolphins moved sharply down to the Jets 5.
But the drive fizzled on two incompletions by Moore, with the third-down toss for Brandon Marshall being rejected in the end zone by Revis, setting up Dan Carpenter's 23-yard field goal halfway through the opening frame.
The 'Fins were back knocking on the door after Carpenter's short kickoff ricocheted off of Garrett McIntyre's shin and was recovered by Austin Spitler at the Jets 18. But on third down from the 15, Moore made the mistake of targeting Marshall against Revis once too often. Marshall zigged in at the goal line but Moore threw a zag — and Revis was off to the races.
It was a 100-yard interception-return touchdown, equaling Aaron Glenn's 100-yard return at Miami in 2006 for the longest in franchise history and thus was the longest by a Jet at home in franchise history. And it was Revis' third INT-return TD in his career. Most important, it turned a limp Jets start and a 3-0 deficit into a 7-3 lead that roused the home crowd into activity.
"Great players make great plays," said LB Bart Scott of Revis.
"He made the play. It changed the game a little bit," understated Marshall, who finished with six catches on 13 targeted passes for 109 yards. "At the end of the day, they made more plays than us."
The defense, while coming up with big first-half plays, was giving up big first-quarter yardage — the 'Fins' 173 yards in the opening stanza were the most in a quarter by an opponent since Arizona's 199-yard fourth quarter in 2008 and the most in a first quarter since at least 1994.
Still, another drive inside the Jets 10 was stalled by Revis' coverage of Marshall and Carpenter made it 9-for-9 in his career vs. the Jets with a 21-yarder that cut the hosts' lead to 7-6 with 13:32 left in the half.
With 6:54 left in the half, the offense, which gained 19 yards in its first four series, all three-and-outs just as last week at New England, finally awoke. Sanchez hit rookie Jeremy Kerley with a 14-yard crossing pattern for the O's first first down and first third-down conversion of the night. Then came a 27-yarder off a double fake handoff to TE Dustin Keller, then a 20-yarder to Santonio Holmes, then a 9-yard shovel to LaDainian Tomlinson.
Finally on third-and-4 at the 5, O-coordinator Brian Schottenheimer emptied the backfield — and Sanchez kept up the middle, veering to his right and diving into the end zone with 1:14 left.
The Jets were plus-2 in turnover margin, losing a fumble but picking up three takeaways. ... Pace took the Jets' sack lead with his 2nd and 3rd sacks of the season, even getting the strip sack of Moore, but the 'Fins recovered and punted.
LB Aaron Maybin caught RB Reggie Bush from behind in the final minute of the half to force a fumble, then got his second FF of the game and his second strip sack and third FF of the last three games when he sacked Moore late in the game. Both loose balls made it out of bounds. ... Marquice Cole recovered a fumble forced by Jim Leonhard.
In all the Jets forced five fumbles. The last time they did that was in 2008, vs. Arizona and at San Francisco. ... Rookie DT Kenrick made his pro debut and wound up three tackles, including a 2-yard tackle for loss of Reggie Bush before he left the game with a neck injury.
Outstanding kicking. T.J. Conley had a 48.5 gross and a 39.4 net on eight punts with three inside-the-20s. Folk, besides his field goal and PATs, put all five of his kickoffs in the end zone with one touchback and two I-20 starts for the 'Fins.