First-and-10. At the Jets 4. Tie game — with Buffalo of all teams. Seven minutes, 53 seconds left on the game clock.
All the Jets needed was to score a touchdown, or at the very least a field goal. And then leave so little time on the clock that the dangerous Bills couldn't do anything against the Jets defense.
It appeared impossible. Not because of the 5-3 Jets but because of the 6-1 Bills. Exciting, surreal, inspirational ... but not doable.
At least not to some outside MetLife Stadium and One Jets Drive. But eminently doable to everyone inside those buildings.
"It shows we don't care what anybody else says," QB Zach Wilson said after the Jets' 20-17 rocking of the Bills. "We expected to win this game as a team. We understand they're a great team and what they're all about. But we understand what we're all about, too. We knew it was going to be close, but we knew we could finish in crunch time."
"Just the time-consuming drives to keep those guys off the field, especially that last drive that led to points," head coach Robert Saleh marveled. "Running the ball and imposing our will in the fourth quarter. Couldn't be more proud of the fight."
And that's just what the Jets offense did in their half of this end-game scenario that produced one of the biggest wins of this NFL season and of any Jets regular season.
It began with the run game, which suddenly was a powerful force against the Bills run defense that admittedly was without starter Matt Milano but was still one of the NFL's immovable objects, fourth in the league in rush yards/game, tied for fifth in yards/carry.
And here came the Jets. Recent trade acquisition James Robinson got it started with darts through the middle of the line for 9, 7 and 16 yards. The Jets were out of the hole. But still those goalposts were awfully far away, 64 yards now instead of 96.
Then Michael Carter took the rock for some more rushing magic: 17 yards around left end, 15 off left guard. Now the Jets were in field goal range at Buffalo's 23.
"All credit to God, all credit to the guys up front," Carter said after ripping for 76 yards on 12 carries, including the Jets' first TD in the second quarter, plus a 10-yard reception. "We just hit the holes when they were there, and we hit them with bad intention."
And just to get closer and burn some more time off the clock that the Bills couldn't use, after eight consecutive rushing plays to open the drive, on third-and-5 at the 18, Wilson threw his first pass of the series. And Denzel Mims, after several close calls, caught his first pass of the game. It went for 12 yards to the 6.
"It means a lot," Mims said of having the ball coming to him in that situation. "It lets me know that they trust me. When it comes down to a crucial moment, they hand it to me, so it makes me happy. All I can do is just come in every day and work and hope I get my opportunity. It came today and I'm grateful for it."
See the best images from the 20-17 win against the Bills.
A TD at that point would've been very sweet, but Wilson and his offense were playing short and careful all game. The QB's only takeaway was a strip sack from behind by vaunted Buffalo pass rusher Von Miller, but the Jets got the ball right back on Sauce Gardner's interception followed by Wilson's deception screen to Robinson for the 7-yard score to take a brief 17-14 lead.
So Wilson tried to bull his way in on a left-side keeper but got only to the 2. Then he took a third-down sack and Zuerlein came on for the go-ahead and ultimately \ game-winning 28-yard field goal. The kick drove straight down Paterson Plank Road for the 20-17 lead.
There was still 1:43 to play. But the Jets offense had imposed its will on this game with their 12 plays for 86 yards in 6:10, with 10 of the plays rushes for 77 yards. Soon it was the Green & White defense's turn to put its final stamp on this matchup. And soon after that it was time to celebrate. But not like the Jets had won a playoff game or clinched a title. As Saleh said, work still has to be done there. But the work is under way.
"We don't flinch — I think we're too young to flinch," Saleh said of his Jets' third game-winning-drive situation in this half of the 2022 season and their 6-3 record that apparently is not a mirage. "I haven't been part of the past, but for all the people who've been through all of it, I think, yeah, it's awesome for them.
"But at the same time, it's one game. We've got the bye week, and then we've got a trip to New England waiting for us."