One night after SyFy's Twilight Zone marathon, the Jets added another other-wordly chapter.
This was one of those feel-good TZ episodes, even though many things still just felt Green & White weird. Mark Sanchez started but didn't throw a pass. Mark Brunell threw two touchdown passes and Kellen Clemens ran for a TD. Joe McKnight broke out with 158 rushing yards — most by a Jets rookie since 1964 — and 198 all-purpose yards. Marquice Cole had his first two pro interceptions and scored his first touchdown. Even though first- and second-year men were all over the field, Calvin Pace was all over the field.
What is not in the twilight at all is that Rex Ryan played many players but still nailed down the thing he said he wanted most — the Jets' 11th win of the regular season — and got the entire team mentally and physically set for a return to Indianapolis in the AFC Wild Card Round on Saturday night (NBC, 8:00 p.m. ET) with their 38-7 rout of the Buffalo Bills at New Meadowlands Stadium.
"This football team's ready," Ryan declared in his postgame remarks. "We have no excuses, not one excuse. We're going to Indy or wherever and our goals are intact. We want to win a Super Bowl and we want to do it right now."
The win didn't do anything for the Jets' postseason position. With Pittsburgh crushing the Browns at Cleveland, they are locked in at the sixth seed. But with the Chiefs losing at home to the Raiders, the outcomes of the Indianapolis-Tennessee and Jacksonville-Houston 4:15 p.m. games are needed to determine if the Jets will be going to KC or Indy to start their 14th postseason appearance.
When Peyton Manning and the Colts pulled out a 23-20 win over the Titans early this evening, the Jets knew where they were headed — back to Lucas Oil Stadium, where they took a 17-6 lead only to lose 30-17 to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
"It's crazy, man, crazy how this game works," said Pace. "We played them there two times last year. We know them. It's going to be crazy. We've just got to go in and get a win."
But that 11th win, no matter in what world it was achieved, still counts for a lot. The 2010 Jets have followed in the footsteps of the 1968, '85 and '98 teams as the only ones in franchise history to record at least 11 regular-season wins.
"That's hard to get, hard to accomplish," Ryan said of the Jets' eleventh heaven. "We're fresh, we're healthy heading in there.
The second-half action featured Mark Brunell, who came on after the Jets' first offensive drive for Mark Sanchez, spreading the wealth around. Brunell, who found Santonio Holmes for a 17-yard TD strike in the first half, threw an out route for McKnight that CB Jairus Byrd jumped all over for a 37-yard interception-return touchdown that cut the hosts' lead to 17-7 and put this outcome just a little bit in jeopardy.
Then Brunell took it back out of jeopardy by airing one out for Braylon Edwards in the third quarter, with Edwards leaping, catching and taking it past Leodis McKelvin for 52 yards and reestablishing the 17-point lead.
"It was good to get out there and compete a little bit," said Brunell, the 40-year-old, 18th-year QB who hadn't had two TD passes in a game in more than four seasons. "The defense played great. The offense was pretty efficient. Some young guys stepped up and really allowed us to put some points on the board."
The onslaught continued into the fourth quarter when interceptions by Pace and Cole set up the Jets' last two touchdowns. Kellen Clemens took over from Brunell for his first QB action of the season and led a scoring drive to his own 10-yard keeper, then rookie fullback-turned-halfback-for-a-day John Conner scored his first pro TD on a 16-yard keeper with 6:45 to play.
"When you haven't done it in a while, just being able to get back out there with the guys and just throw it around a little bit, even just handing it off, it's the little stuff that you miss," said Clemens. "Rex didn't have to do that. A lot of coaches in that situation don't put their third quarterback in, so I really appreciate Rex doing that."
Throughout, McKnight ran wide, ran inside, sped and powered his way to the kind of game that many were hoping he had in him even though he never got the chance until today, with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene deactivated, to show it.
"Oh, yeah, it feels good," McKnight said. "I was just coming out to play ball, not to prove anybody wrong. But while I was out here, I figured why not do it?"
Meanwhile, the defense, no matter who was on the field, had an emphatic answer for the visitors. Four different Jets had takeaways in the fourth quarter. The visitors were held to 162 yards, 37 rushing yards and six first downs — one shy of the franchise record.
And Jason Taylor, with a zero-yard sack of Bills QB Brian Brohm, on the first play of the fourth quarter, caught the Giants' Lawrence Taylor and the Chargers' Leslie O'Neal for eighth place on the NFL's career sack list with 131.5.
"When I came into the league, it obviously wasn't a goal," Taylor said of catching L.Taylor, "but as I got closer to it, it means something to me. He's a great player, an all-time great, probably the greatest to play. To be in the same area code ... I'm not the same kind of player. He always did it in a different way and was probably the greatest to ever play. But it's cool."
The fans at this final game of the first year in the new home of the Jets enjoyed the odd yet festive show, capped at the end by a Jets "victory lap" around the field to thank those in attendance. And Jets Nation everywhere will have six or seven days to get ready as all the frontline Jets return and start out on the road that they hope ends in Dallas in a month.
McKnight's 158 rushing yards were the third-most in a game by a Jets rookie and the most since Matt Snell went for 164 vs. Oakland and 180 vs. the Houston Oilers on back-to-back weekends in October 1964. ... The Jets finished with 276 rushing yards to the Bills' 37. The plus-239 rushing yard difference is the largest in franchise history.
The Jets finished with a yardage advantage of 388-162, led in first downs, 17-6, and had a 6-1 takeaway edge. The last time the Jets had a plus-5 turnover margin in a game was vs. St. Louis at the old Meadowlands stadium in 2008. ... The Jets' 24 points after turnovers today was also the most since that Rams game, when they scored 27 after five turnovers.
Dwight Lowery had the first two INT-return TDs this year, the first in Game 5 at NMS vs. Minnesota and the second last week at Chicago. Lowery got his fourth takeaway of the season when he recovered the first-quarter fumble forced by Cook and his fifth when he intercepted Bills backup QB Levi Brown's fluttering long ball in the fourth frame.
Steve Weatherford came into the game with an NFL-leading 38 inside-the-20 punts. He added to that with four I-20's on his first four punts, thus tying the league record with 42 I-20's held by Andy Lee of San Francisco in 2007 and tied by former Jet Ben Graham with Arizona last season.