It took 60 minutes and some great game plans and some great individual plays for the Jets to construct their slump-busting 23-20 road win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Yet in some ways it was the hour or so after the clock hit 0:00 at SoFi Stadium that meant the most to the Green & White.
How was that locker room, Adam Gase?
"It's lively in there," the Jets head coach said after coming to the virtual podium to speak with reporters after the Jets won for the first time in 14 games, in the process posting the largest win-differential margin in a victory (minus-9 in comparing 0-13 to the Rams' 9-4) in franchise history. "It's loud. It's a lot of excited guys. We've got a long flight back, so that'll make that a lot more enjoyable."
"Man, it feels good. It's a great feeling," said RB Frank Gore, one of the short-yardage, chain-moving stars of the Jets' stunner. "I'm happy we got the win, just because of how hard we work every day. Every week we come in as a team. Like I tell you all, come and watch us. We don't look like an 0-13 team. Young boys — I won't call 'em boys, they're young men — come in and work hard every day. Finally we got one."
"It's just special to get this win," said Sam Darnold, an LA kid himself returning to his old stomping grounds if just for a few memorable days, "and celebrate with all my teammates."
Many factors came together to allow the Jets to fly cross-country for the second time in a week and punch the Rams in the proverbial mouth. They got off to great starts, not only in the first quarter but in the third quarter as Sam Darnold was efficient in completing 22 of 31 passes for 207 yards, two sacks (and none by All-NFL DE Aaron Donald) and no turnovers.
Then there was Gore, who had a "modest" day of 59 yards on 23 carries, plus 6 yards on one tiny little catch. But the yardage included four first downs, three third down conversions and one little fourth-and-a-foot number in which he followed blocks by LT Mekhi Becton and TEs Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco across the goal line for the touchdown that opened the largest lead of the day, 20-3, with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
And that one reception? It came with 2:17 left, got the game's final first down, came after the Rams called their final timeout. After the two-minute stoppage, the Rams could not stop the clock as Darnold kneeled three times in his first victory formations of the season.
"It was a pretty simple design," Darnold said of the pass play on third-and-6 from the LA-48. "When Frank got to the middle, there was no one around him. He was waving his arms. I was like, 'All right, Frank, I see you.' He caught the ball and just backed his way to getting a first down. He didn't even turn his shoulders."
Many other stars emerged — on defense, there was DL Quinnen Williams, who out-Donald-ed Donald before leaving for the concussion protocol late in the third quarter, S Marcus Maye with the perhaps game-winning pass breakup, Neville Hewitt with 10 hard tackles.
And let's not forget new Jet J.T. Hassell's early punt block, or punter Braden Mann's late open-field tackle of PR Nsimba Webster at the Jets 43, leading to Maye's PD.
"There was a lot of green grass," Gase said of how far Webster might've gone if Mann whiffed. "That was an unbelievable tackle by him."
But the element that every player and Gase talked about in addition to the Xs and Os and explosion plays and no turnovers was the collective spirit of the Jets, all season and especially 3,000 miles from home as they came together to shock the NFL .
"The group of guys we have in that locker room," Maye said, "no matter what the situation is, no matter where we are, if we have a task at hand, we're going to do whatever we've got to do to get it done. ... We keep it simple, put our cleats in the dirt and go and play. And that's what we did. We communicated, we played well up front. It was a group effort to try to get a win."
"It's the greatest feeling in sports, to be able to ice the game out and know we had it," Darnold said of the kneeldowns, which triggered the celebratory locker room minutes later. "Just that drive alone, we knew we couldn't give it back to them. To be able to execute and see it come all to fruition, I think that was the biggest thing for us. And it was an amazing feeling."
"Everybody's excited," Maye said. "Everybody's proud of each other."
Gore admitted he wasn't feeling himself at Seattle last week, fresh out of the concussion protocol himself. He told his coaches, "I owe you."
And he paid a big dividend south of Los Angeles.
"I'm happy," Gore said, adding his young whipper-snapper teammates "keep me going. Once I see those guys take the field, practicing, running around, hyped up, I tell myself, I can't show these guys no weakness. I've got to come to play every day.
"I'm happy we got the win. It was tough, but we finally got one," Gore concluded, no doubt thinking of the five-hour flight ahead back to North Jersey and bringing home with them not a 40-3 loss still sticking in their craw but a 23-20 win over one of the NFL's upper-echelon teams. "We're going to enjoy this."
See Best Images from the 23-20 Victory in Los Angeles