The Jets kept alive their late-season plans of knocking down one wall and one opponent at a time, and at the same time passed a franchise victory milestone.
But it wasn't easy. Not at all.
The Green & White used a career-high four touchdown passes from Mark Sanchez, two going to tight end Dustin Keller and the game-winner to Santonio Holmes from 16 yards out with 1:01 to play, to put the Buffalo Bills in their rearview mirrors.
Then the Jets defense kept the Bills there, barely, allowing the visitors to drive to their 24 before Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three incompletions into the end zone, making the finish a lot closer than the Jets and their green-clad fans would have liked. Stevie Johnson has his hands on a couple of the late passes but couldn't pull them in.
So it was close, down in the dirt, ugly — but the Jets will take it. The win raises their record to 6-5, ending their two-game losing skid, and is the first win of a hoped-for five or six wins to close the season and propel them into the AFC playoff grid for the third straight season in head coach Rex Ryan's three years at the helm.
"One thing we can say is we finished," Ryan said. "It might not have been the prettiest thing, but we finished and I'll take that any day of the week."
"This was huge," said Keller. "If we let this game slip, who knows what the situation would have been?"
Their situation at home is that the Jets improved their record at MetLife Stadium to 5-1 this season. And simultaneously this win marked the 200th home victory in franchise history, including playoffs.
Further, it was Sanchez's eighth fourth-quarter comeback of his three-year career and his seventh in the Jets' last 25 games, including the postseason.
"It felt good," Sanchez said of his latest come-from-behind effort. "We'd been in that situation before. We rep it all the time in practice. The game's on line and we made the plays to come back."
The Bills, meanwhile, dropped to 5-6 with their fourth straight loss (a streak begun by the Jets at Buffalo earlier in November). But they were game all the way, fighting through injuries that landed several starters on injured reserve during the week to make this a very tight finish.
The Jets moved into their first lead of the game on what could be dubbed the DK drive. Keller made a beautiful 22-yard grab with fingertip control to the Bills 34, then crowned the series by fighting for the 18-yard touchdown, his second score of the game and Sanchez's career-high-tying third TD pass. That made it 21-14 with 3:50 left in the third quarter.
But after the defense forced a three-and-out and punt from Brian Moorman, Antonio Cromartie, the latest Jet to be dropped back in an attempt to make a punt-return play, muffed his fair-catch try on the short kick, with Leodis McKelvin recovering for the Bills.
One play later, Fitzpatrick found ex-Jet Brad Smith down the right sideline on Cromartie, Cro made the initial defense, but his bat knocked the ball in the air, and as he was falling, Smith was recovering to make the 36-yard scoring pass to retie things 1:39 later in the third frame.
The Jets finally got their fourth TD drive of the game in gear, motoring 82 yards on 12 plays in 4:43. Key plays were WR Patrick Turner's reeling in a 12-yard third-down conversion to the Bills 35, Plaxico Burress' magnificent one-hand, falling-down 18-yarder on third-and-11 at the 18, and finally the Sanchez rollout to find Holmes for only his second catch of the game, all alone at the right side of the end zone for the go-ahead points.
"I don't know if words do it justice," said Sanchez, whose passing line read 17-for-35 for 180 yards, four TDs, one INT and a 90.2 rating. "It was a big-time catch in a big-time situation."
"It was just a regular catch to me," Burress said. "The goal is to haul them all in and just try to find a way to get to them."
"It was huge," Ryan said of the Burress highlight-video grab, "because we're going to have to launch that field goal from 50 some yards. [Nick] Folk can make it but now that allows you to go for the win. Your big-time players make big plays at big moments and you look at that play. Very few guys in the league are going to make that catch."
Scuffling First Half to 14-14 Tie
Another sluggish Jets offensive start — one first down in their first two series — set the stage for a long drive by the visitors to the game's first TD. Fitzpatrick directed the Bills 13 plays, 90 yards and 8:47 of clock time to his 8-yard TD strike over the middle to WR David Nelson, Kyle Wilson trailing in coverage.
That was the opponents' longest drive by time this season. In fact, it was the foes' longest in the last 29 games, since the Ravens went 9:16 to a fumble in the 2010 season opener.
The Jets offense finally got untracked as the first quarter ended on Holmes' second carry of the game and season, a 23-yarder to the BUF-47 for the Jets' longest end-around since Smith, then wearing green, went 53 yards on Thanksgiving night a year ago vs. Cincinnati.
From there the Jets, with Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight carrying, knifed to the 3. Sanchez's first-down pass was a near-great TD snatch by Holmes in the end zone, but rookie CB Aaron Williams jostled the ball loose as the two fell to the turf. But on second down, Sanchez rolled to his left and found Keller all alone for the tying 3-yard score, the TE's third TD of the season and the 15th of his Jets career, including playoffs.
Further, the Jets improved their red zone TD percentage, already in the league's top four, to 62.5 percent on 20 TDs in 32 drives inside the opponents' 20.
After an exchange of downs, the Green & White took over at their 2 after a pinpoint sideline punt by Moorman. That set up a Sanchez interception by CB Drayton Florence, who returned the ball intended for Holmes to the Jets 20 with 3:31 to play in the half. The Bills quickly drove to Fitzpatrick's second TD pass, to WR Stevie Johnson matched up against Darrelle Revis at the goal line with 2:09 to play.
However, the Bills seemed intent on mocking the Jets' "Flyboys" celebration. Florence did it after his pick and Johnson, who right after the catch got up and appeared to mimic shooting himself in the thigh, then also stuck his arms out and fell over in the end zone. That drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, so the Bills had the 14-7 lead but then kicked off from their 20. Dave Rayner's punch kick hit Emanuel Cook on the front line and Cook hustled to cover the ball at the Bills 36.
Then at the end of a Greene catch, rookie NT Marcell Dareus was flagged for a blow to Sanchez's head, moving the ball to the 14.
The visitors' gift of 30 yards in penalties ultimately helped set the stage for Sanchez's second TD strike, to Plaxico Burress left free in the middle of the end zone for the tying score. It was Burress' eight touchdown grab of the season.
The Bills then went three-and-out for the third time in the half, with LB Aaron Maybin, one of today's game captains, coming up with his second sack of the game — and thus the first two-sack game of his career — against Fitzpatrick and his former team to increase his total to a team-leading five sacks on the year. But the Jets got no closer than the BUF-35 on their last play and the teams went into their locker rooms tied through the first 30 minutes of play.
Sanchez in his career has now thrown three game-winning TD passes in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime. All three have gone to Holmes (at Cleveland and vs. Houston last year, vs. Buffalo today). ... Sanchez was first QB to throw four TDs in a Jets game since Brett Favre vs. Arizona in 2008. ... Holmes had just 2-for-22 receiving but added two carries for 28 yards, that total in just one game setting a career high for the clutch WR. ... Sanchez went unsacked for the first time this season.
Greene finished with 78 yards on 13 carries at 6.0 per carry and added 12 receiving yards for a 90-yard game.... Keller wound up with four grabs for a team-leading 61 yards. ... Fitzpatrick's impressive passing line: 26-for-39, 264 yards, three TDs, no INTs, 111.5 rating. ... Johnson led all receivers with eight catches for 75 yards.
DT Mike DeVito left in the third quarter with a knee injury and didn't return. Ryan had no update on his status for next week's game at Washington. ... The Jets have beaten the Bills in six of their last seven meetings and three of four at home. ... Jets were outgained, 336 yards to 318, and out-possessed, 36:11-23:49. ... But Bills helped out with nine penalties for 85 yards to the Jets' 4-40.