Updated, Sunday, 12:46 a.m. ET
Entering primetime tonight, the Jets had the better record and the better chance of getting into the AFC playoffs than Dallas, which was on life support in the NFC.
The Green & White struggled much of the night, committed more penalties than usual in the first half, and lost key players in MLB David Harris, WR Brandon Marshall and DE Muhammad Wilkerson for periods of the game. But they fought back in the fourth quarter with a Ryan Fitzpatrick TD toss to Eric Decker to take the lead, then Randy Bullock atoned for two earlier missed kicks with a go-ahead 40-yarder, and Marcus Williams came up with the win-sealing interception as the Jets beat back the Cowboys, 19-16.
Photos from Saturday Night's Showdown at AT&T Stadium
"It's good to string some games together," head coach Todd Bowles said after the Jets posted their first four-game winning streak since 2010 — and Fitzpatrick's first four-game streak as an NFL starting QB — to improve to 9-5. "It wasn't pretty today. All of 'em are not going to be pretty. But the good ones win the ugly games and we're becoming one of those teams."
"You win football games all different ways. It's coming out with more points — that's what really matters," said Fitzpatrick, who completed 26 of 39 passes for 299 yards. "We kind of had tough sledding for a while. There's going to be adversity. But this was a great sign for us. This is a winning football team."
Here are 10 observations on tonight's nailbiting Jets triumph to set up next week's AFC East showdown with the Patriots at MetLife:
1. Inauspicious Start
The Cowboys put the Jets defense on its heels on the game's opening drive with a 33-yard reverse to Lucky Whitehead the big play, but from first down at the Jets 15, the NFL's No. 1 red zone defense showed up, with Buster Skrine's breakup of Matt Cassel's third-down pass forcing the fired-up 'Pokes to settle for Dan Bailey's 27-yard field goal.
2. Gamblin' Todd
The Jets dodged a bullet after their opening 3-and-out and Ryan Quigley's 25-yard punt as Cassel's off-balance throw was snapped up by Darrelle Revis for his seventh takeaway and returned to the Cowboys 35. The offense marched to second-and-2 at the 4, but Chris Ivory, Fitzpatrick and Ivory again, on a Bowles fourth-down go-for-it call, were stopped short of the chains as the offense failed to score in the red zone for only the third time this season.
3. Decker Giveaway...Not
Then the Jets defense, No. 2 in the NFL in 3-and-out drives, forced its first of the night as Chris Jones punted from his end zone. But Marshall dropped a Fitzpatrick wobbler deep in Dallas territory, and then Decker appeared to resuscitate the Jets drive with another third-down conversion, except that at first it appeared Decker fumbled away as his knee was twisted while being taken to the turf by CB Byron Jones. But the officials ruled Decker didn't lose the ball till his knee touched down, then ref Craig Wrolstad upheld the call on Dallas coach Jason Garrett's challenge. That set up...
4. Jets First Strike
Bilal Powell's third touchdown in three games and his first TD run of the season, a 12-yard dash off the right side of Nick Mangold's sealing block. But in another sign that things wouldn't be coming easily for the Green & White on this night, Bullock missed the extra point. It was the Jets' first missed PAT since Mike Nugent shanked one at Tennessee in 2007, and thus ended a streak of 288 consecutive successful kicks.
5. Pace Mega-Sack/Dallas QB Switch
Dallas was forced into a second straight 3-and-out, this time primarily due to LB Calvin Pace's 19-yard sack of Cassel. That was the Jets' longest sack since DE Shaun Ellis' 23-yard takedown of Kurt Warner vs. Arizona in 2008. In a way, that sack led to Garrett's decision to bench Cassel for Kellen Moore, taking his first NFL snap after three-plus years on the 'Pokes' inactive list.
6. Moore Off the Canvas
The Jets saw "the best Dez we're going to see," as Bowles predicted during the week, especially with 1:17 left in the first half as Moore, rebounding from an ill-advised second pro pass intercepted by Marcus Gilchrist, led a two-minute drive to an all-out-blitz-beating toss to Dez Bryant, who slipped Darrelle Revis and staggered across the goal line for a 10-9 lead.
7. Sloppiness Costs a Halftime Lead
Fitzpatrick-to-Powell passes worked the ball down the field to where the Jets set up to take the lead with 3 seconds left in the half on Bullock's 40-yard field goal. Which they appeared to do, except that Leger Douzable was flagged for not being set at the snap. So Bullock tried from 45 ... and missed wide right.
8. Turnabout Is Fair Play?
Calvin Pryor rescued the Jets with an end zone interception of Moore, trying to find Bryant for a TD with Gilchrist trailing, and the visitors remained alive. But two plays later, Fitzpatrick threw his first interception in three-plus games and 147 passes. leading to Bailey's second field goal and a 13-9 lead. That was the score after three, making this the 10th game in 11 all-time meetings between the teams that the Jets trailed entering the fourth quarter.
But the Jets won two of those games, in '99 and '11. And in this one, too, said C Nick Mangold, "We dug down deep and found a way."
9. Another Fitz Comeback
Fitzpatrick was in his milieu. He led the offense 70 yards to his first TD pass of the game, a 3-yard flip to Decker cutting off of Marshall for an unmolested catch at the goal line for a 16-13 lead. The Cowboys, however, were also still fighting. They moved 51 yards to Bailey's 50-yarder for the tie.
But Fitzpatrick, the cut on the bridge of his nose from an early keeper still burning bright, found WR Kenbrell Thompkins alone down the right sideline for a 43-yarder into field goal range. And Bullock atoned fully for those early misses with the 40-yarder for what turned into his second game-winning kick in three weeks.
"I wish the rest of the game had gone a little bit better," Bullock said, "but I was glad I was able to come through for the team."
10. The Crowning Touch
The defense just had to keep the 'Boys out of Bailey's incredible range. They did it when Moore dropped back for a longball for Bryant that was deflected by Gilchrist into the waiting arms of Marcus Williams, who was playing for the first time since twisting his knee after a pick vs. Miami and now had his sixth INT of the season to nail down this very vital victory.