It was a struggle all the way, often chippy, not very pretty, kind of like the city itself. But by the end of the day Detroit was all right with the Jets.
With their small band of former Detroit and Michigan residents and an almost-too-late reservoir of reserve to carry them from 10 points down with less than five minutes to play, the Jets found a way to drive out of the Motor City with a stirring 23-20 comeback victory over the fired-up Lions and their pumped-up fans at Ford Field this afternoon. The road warriors are now 4-0 away from home in 2010 and set a franchise record with seven consecutive regular-season road wins dating to last season.
Mark Sanchez's touchdown keeper with 2:46 left in regulation got the Jets within three, and then Nick Folk's 36-yard field goal tied it with no time on the clock. Then the Jets, taking the OT kickoff, with Sanchez hitting Santonio Holmes on a quick in-cut for a 52-yard pass play down the middle to the Lions 16, giving the QB his first 300-yard passing day — 323 yards, to be exact — of his career. Folk then nailed the 30-yarder to win it.
Combined with New England's loss at Cleveland, the Jets at 6-2 are back in a first-place tie with the Patriots for the AFC East lead and in fact back in a tie for the best record in the NFL. That's nothing to hang one's hard hat on and doesn't win any playoff berths, but at the end of the day it's better than the alternative.
"We just hung in there and didn't stop believing," said head coach Rex Ryan. "Detroit, I know they've got two wins and all that but they're a good football team, just like Cleveland's a good football team. But we were so resilient. We just kept hanging on, kept believing. We thought momentum was coming our way."
The players were in agreement about hanging in there but also in not wanting to continue playing as they have at Denver, vs. Green Bay and today and thus having to be so resilient.
In fact, Sanchez addressed the Jets in the Ford Field visitors locker room in, shall we say, salty language following the victory.
"He quieted everybody and stood up on a chair," said Keller. "He said, 'There's no reason these games need to be close like that. We can put up points and we can shut teams out.' I think today was a whole 'nother step for Mark. He even had a little deep tone, not that high-pitched voice of his."
The Jets waited until 4:26 remained before starting the comeback. Then they moved 56 yards on six plays to a 25-yard Sanchez completion to TE Dustin Keller down the middle and two plays later, Sanchez's 1-yard keeper made it 20-17 with 2:46 to play.
Then after stopping the Lions offense — which played its last two series with Drew Stanton replacing reinjured QB Matt Stafford — on three plays, they got the ball back for one last do-or-tie-or-die drive from their 22 with 1:40 to play.
It was definitely doable.
First Sanchez needed an 11-yard completion to Keller on third-and-9. Then some room for LaDainian Tomlinson to run on short passes over the middle, plus a 15-yard flag on LB Julian Peterson for a hit out of bounds on LT. Finally, Sanchez spiked the ball with four seconds left for a 36-yard game-tying field goal by Folk, who struck it well, sending the game into overtime tied at 20-20.
It looked promising for the Jets in the third quarter until they got hit with another of the many flags thrown by referee Al Riveron and his crew when Trevor Pryce was called for roughing kicker Jason Hanson on a short field goal try. The result was first-and-goal at the 1 and QB Matt Stafford immediately ran it to the pylon for the go-ahead touchdown. But Ndamukong Suh, pressed into emergency duty for Hanson, missed the PAT, and punter Nick Harris then had to kick off.
The Jets started moving the ball again but turned it over twice, once on an Edwards fumble after a reception, another on a Sanchez interception by Alphonso Smith, who was burned on a Sanchez-to-Edwards touchdown pass late in the first half.
The Lions seemed to put the game out of reach on a nine-play, 90-yard drive capped on Stafford's 2-yard TD flip to Nate Burleson in the end zone over Drew Coleman. Hanson returned to gingerly kick the PAT to make it 20-10 with 11:51 to play.
Helping to set the stage for this comeback was the return of Revis Island. Darrelle Revis opened the game with an outstanding PD on a deep ball for Calvin Johnson. And even though Stafford completed 20 of 36 for 240 yards, Johnson was held to one catch for 13 yards.
"I think this was my first game back of following the best receiver around everywhere, in the slot, outside, anywhere he goes," said Revis. "I felt good today, and I did what I needed to do to complete my job."
The day opened badly otherwise for the Jets defense on that opening drive as the Lions marched 80 yards on 11 plays. The Jets may have felt at home before the game but their first drives were shaky. The D gave up first downs on third-and-10, third-and-15 and third-and-9 on Brodney Pool's illegal contact, all leading to Stafford's 10-yard slant-pass TD to TE Brandon Pettigrew past Jim Leonhard for the first score 5:44 into the game.
The Jets' early offense was looking a lot like it did a week earlier against the Packers. But finally, midway through the second quarter, they started to move. Folk put a 31-yard field goal through to cut the Jets' deficit to 7-3 and end their scoring drought at 86:27. But their touchdown-less dryspell continued.
But not much longer. Facing third-and-9 from their 26, Sanchez got protection, loaded up and hit Braylon Edwards in stride past CB Alphonso Smith for the 74-yard score that gave the Jets their first three-point lead of the game at 10-7.
The Jets in general realized they showed a lot of heart but also dodged a major bullet, one week before they go to Cleveland to try to tame the Browns, who roughed up the Patriots, 34-14, as the Jets were coming back in Detroit.
"It was a little scary there for a while," said guard Brandon Moore, who won the battle against Suh, the Lions' rookie phenom D-tackle who was held to three solo tackles, no sacks and no tackles for loss. "This game showed we don't have quit, but we're professional athletes. That's a given. But to put ourselves in holes like this is unacceptable. There's a lack of discipline that's really getting in the way of us being a productive team."
But that's what the six days between games are far, to address such matters. But in the Jets' case, make that five days. They earned a "Victory Monday" after posting one of the greatest fourth-quarter comebacks in franchise history.
Sanchez's 300-yard game wasn't only his first as a pro but it was the Jets' first since the 2006 season. Chad Pennington had four 300-yard games that year, including exactly 300 in the playoff loss at New England. ... Sanchez's 74-yard pass to Edwards was the second-longest completion of his career and in fact his four longest completions have all gone to Edwards.
The last time the Jets went into OT was in Game 6 last year vs. Buffalo, a 13-10 loss. Their last OT win was the 34-31 triumph at New England in Game 10 of 2008. ... Riveron's crew threw 22 penalty flags on the day. The Jets had 99 yards of penalties marked off against them, the Lions had 102.
Jets game captains all had Detroit/Michigan ties: Bart Scott, Vernon Gholston, Eric Smith, Braylon Edwards and David Harris. Gholston got his first start of the season at DT, with Mike DeVito coming in as part of the DL rotation. ... Hanson played in his 295th game, tied for second-most in NFL history for most games played with one team.