You know all this talk about Gang Green toughness and fourth-quarter fortitude? It's not talk.
With the Jets looking non-competitive for most of the night and facing a seemingly insurmountable 23-point deficit, Vinny Testaverde shook off 45 minutes of passing lethargy to lead six scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, giving Gang Green a 40-37 victory over the stunned and amazed Miami Dolphins and undisputed possession of first place in the AFC East.
The comeback was capped by John Hall's 40-yard field goal 6:47 into the extra period and came around 1:20 a.m. EDT Tuesday morning. The kick crowned a drive started by Jets corner Marcus Coleman's third interception of the game and his second of OT.
But it was made possible by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to — incredibly — Jumbo Elliott, playing tight end in the Jets' goal-line offense. Jets faithful had to survive three Elliott juggles and a replay review before they got the touchdown and Hall's extra point that retied the game at 37-37 with 42 seconds to go. It was Testaverde's fifth scoring pass of the game and his fourth of the fourth quarter.
The comeback was the largest in Jets history, surpassing a 21-point second-quarter lead by the Broncos in Denver in a 31-28 win in 1978, and the largest fourth-quarter comeback in the NFL since St. Louis came from 25 down to beat Tampa Bay, 31-28, in 1987.
The victory lifted the Jets to 6-1 and, just as important, to 4-0 within the division. The Dolphins, who took a 30-7 lead with 12 seconds left in the third quarter on Lamar Smith's second touchdown run of the game, fell to 5-2.
Testaverde, who completed 15 of 28 passes and threw threw interceptions in the first 45 minutes, flung touchdowns of 30 yards to rookie wide receiver Laveranues Coles and 1 yard to first-year tight end Jermaine Wiggins — the first career touchdowns for both.
Then with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter, Hall hit a 34-yard line drive through the uprights for a field goal to cut their game-long deficit to 30-23.
The Jets defense, which bowed out of the anticipated struggle with Miami's vaunted "D" in yielding Jay Fiedler's 42-yard touchdown pass to Leslie Shepherd and Smith's 68-yard TD run in less than two minutes in the first quarter, continued its rejuvenation by stopping the Dolphins cold.
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A bad punt by Matt Turk set the Jets up at the Miami 38 with 4:20 to play. And 25 seconds later, Testaverde hit Chrebet past Miami corner corner Jerry Wilson with his second touchdown pass of the game, Hall kicked the extra point, and the score was somehow tied at 30 with 3:55 to play.
The Dolphins roared right back with Brock Marion's kickoff return to the Jets 46 and, on the very next play, Fiedler's second TD pass to Shepherd beat strong safety Victor Green and it was 37-30 with 3:33 to go.
The Jets held a 20-1 edge in fourth-quarter first downs — after being outgained, 299 yards to 99, in the first half. And their 30 points to send the game to OT was the largest point total in a quarter in franchise history.
How did Arnold Schwarzenegger know? At halftime in the ABC booth, the actor and former theme restaurateur told a nation of then-disappointed football watchers, "Wayne Chrebet is going to pull it off and the Jets are going to come from behind." Not long after, the Jets terminated the Dolphins.
The Jets showed the worst and best of their defense on the game's opening drive.
Runs by Lamar Smith and passes by Jay Fiedler, the Oceanside, N.Y., native, moved the ball from Miami's 28 into the Jets' red zone in 10 plays. Free safety Kevin Williams, who started again but rotated for the second straight game with Scott Frost, missed a tackle on a 13-yard run by Smith and was late in covering Oronde Gadsden, who took a 26-yard reception to the 1.
But from there the 'Fins went in reverse, thanks to Miami native Marvin Jones. The Jets linebacker hammered Smith twice, for no gain from the 1 and for a 3-yard loss on a third-down swing pass from the 6. The Dolphins settled for Olindo Mare's 28-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead midway through the opening period.
But the Jets moved not at all on their first series and then Miami struck suddenly on its second drive for a 10-0 edge.
Fiedler hit Gadsden for 27 yards, with Williams missing another tackle, and then split Williams and with a beautiful spiral to Shepherd for a 42-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the quarter.
The Jets had another three-and-out, and then Miami bettered its previous drive by one play. Smith took the first-play handoff, swept right, and behind a block on Green by fullback Rob Konrad, whom Jets linebacker Bryan Cox said "couldn't block his way out of a paper bag" — shook new free safety Frost for a 68-yard TD run for a 17-0 lead with 3:09 left in the quarter.
The Dolphins wound up the first quarter with 205 yards of offense — the most by any team, including the St. Louis Rams, in the opening period this season — and then added a few more yards on their first possession of the second period after Sam Madison picked off Testaverde's pass intended for Coles at the Jets 41.
Shortly after Smith's 16-yard run lifted him over 100 rushing yards for the game, Mare converted from 43 yards and the damage was up to 20-0.
The Jets' confusion and frustration boiled over a couple of times. On a third-down pass, Richie Anderson turned around and hesitated because he thought he was going to be hit. But no Dolphin was in front of him, until he was tackled a yard short of the first-down marker.
On the ensuing punt, you might say long-snapper Brad Banta snapped. He went downfield and at the end of Shepherd's punt return, knocked one Dolphin to the field and then another.
The Dolphins got to accept only one of the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and marched to one of their few missteps, Mare's 36-yard field goal miss.
Finally, the Jets struck with 53 seconds left in the first half. Two completions to Anderson and a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness call on Brian Walker for blasting a defenseless Coles on a broken-up pass led to Testaverde's third-down pass out of an empty backfield to Chrebet for a 10-yard TD, slicing the deficit to 20-7.
But Hall's kickoff out of bounds started Miami on a hurry-up drive to Mare's 44-yard field goal with 2 seconds to go in the half, and the lead was let back out to 23-7 to set up an interesting locker room session between Groh and his Jets.
Smith's run tied his career long, set with Seattle in 1995, was the longest by a Dolphin since 1997, and was the longest scoring run against the Jets since San Francisco's Garrison Hearst went 96 yards in overtime in the 1998 opener. ... The Jets trailed by 17 points in the first quarter for only the second time since 1992. The only other such deficit came in last year's "road" loss to the Giants.
This game story originally appeared in The Bergen Record on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2000.