The New York Jets built a 17-point fourth quarter lead over the Miami Dolphins and then hung on for a 20-17 win, evening their record at 3-3 and securing their first home win under head coach Eric Mangini. Miami had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but veteran kicker Olindo Mare came up short on a 51-yard attempt.
"I thought it was a group win," said Mangini. "It's important to be able to win at home; it's important to be able to win against a division opponent."
With yards tough to come by and space seemingly at a premium, Chad Pennington connected with Laveranues Coles on two long second half touchdowns that turned a slim three-point advantage into a 17-point gap.
The first Coles score went for 58 yards as Pennington faked out the Dolphins, looking to his right while his favorite target put on a nasty double move to beat reserve defensive back Eddie Jackson.
"He did a great job on the deep ball, just sticking the guy and the guy bit on the slant," Pennington said of Coles. "He was wide open on that one."
When Pennington's eyes moved back to the left, there was #87 waiting alone. It marked only the fourth time in Coles' career that he had a reception of more than 50 yards.
"He was outstanding again," Mangini said of Coles. "You see his toughness. You see his ability to make plays whether it's short, whether it's deep. Whenever he is called upon, he responds."
Up 13-3, Jets linebacker Victor Hobson then recovered a Sammy Morris fumble inside Dolphins' territory. Six plays later, Pennington got himself a free play after drawing Vonnie Holliday offside. Pennington, scrambling to his right, threw a jump ball to Coles in the end zone. Coles simply leaped up over a defensive back and hauled in his second touchdown of the day.
"The guy turned his back. I just felt like, 'Hey, put the ball in the air for 87 and he'll make something happen,'" Pennington said.
Suddenly, a Jets team that had gone 106 plays without a touchdown had scored two in seven snaps. More importantly, the Jets were up 20-3 with 13:15 remaining.
Miami head coach Nick Saban would not let his troops quit though. Quarterback Joey Harrington got red hot in the two-minute offense, leading two long touchdown drives which resulted in a short scoring pass to Chris Chambers and a one-yard dive from Ronnie Brown. Harrington threw for 210 yards in the final period, but the Dolphins dropped to 1-5 on the season. They advanced to the Jets' 32-yard line before Mare's final kick.
"We found a way to win. We're happy," said linebacker Eric Barton. "We have to go back to the drawing board, see what we did wrong and fix it and see what we can do next week."
"It was up and down and back and fourth," Mangini added. "That's the way most Miami, Jets games go, so we didn't want to disappoint."
When the Jets and the Dolphins get together, you can expect a physical, emotional affair. Sunday's first half featured plenty of big hits from both teams along with strong defensive play and not a lot of scoring. In fact, the two teams combined for three points, the second lowest scoring first half in the historic series.
The Jets finally got points on the board in the opening quarter. Mike Nugent's 33-yard field goal gave the Green & White a 3-0 lead and halted what had been a season long scoreless streak in quarter one.
Then the home team's outlook appeared even brighter following a fortuitous bounce. The usually sure handed Chris Chambers couldn't corral a strike from Harrington and Andre Dyson was "Johnny on the Spot." Dyson's first quarter thievery was his third interception of the season and it was also the Jets 1st takeaway in 10 quarters.
Harrington had nobody to blame but himself for his second interception. Feeling pressure from Bryan Thomas, Harrington forced a ball in the direction of tight end Randy McMichael. But lying in the weeds was Hobson who effortlessly grabbed the third interception of his career. Pennington and the offense were unable to score points off the takeaways and the Jets clung to a 3-0 lead.
"I saw it in the corner of my eye, but I really didn't believe he was going to throw the ball," Hobson said. "I was just happy he threw it."
Bob Sutton's defensive unit continued to hold the Dolphins off into quarter two, stuffing running back Ronnie Brown on a 4th and 1 play at the Jets' 29-yard line. The Jets got a good interior push and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and friends kept Brown from advancing behind the line of scrimmage. It was a fantastic hold for the Jets because the Dolphins had begun their drive at the New York 38-yard line after a special teams penalty had nullified a 66-yard punt by Ben Graham. Graham's next effort went for just 35 yards.
The Jets held the Dolphins scoreless in the opening 30 minutes, turning away Miami each of the three times it got beyond midfield. Defensive end Bryan Thomas, who registered six stops before heading to intermission, had a great tackle of Sammy Morris on a third and short.
Nugent increased the lead to six in the third quarter on yet another 33-yard kick. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, again using a variety of shifts and formations, called upon rookie runner Leon Washington for a spark. Washington delivered, running six times for 42 yards on the 65-yard drive.
Mare finally got the Dolphins on the board with a 21-yard field goal, making it a 6-3 game with 4:24 remaining in the third. Vilma forced Mare onto the field, closing off the middle lane on a 3rd down play from the New York four. Brown gained one but he needed two yards. The Dolphins ran the ball well against the Jets as Brown gained 127 yards, but the Jets made all the game-changing plays during the first three quarters.
The final 15 mintues was as wild as it gets.
"It started as a defensive struggle and ended as an offensive struggle," Mangini said. "I am excited about the way it finished."
The 3-3 Jets host the 1-5 Lions next Sunday at the Meadowlands.
"We can celebrate this win tonight," Coles said. "But as soon as this game was over with, my mind went to next week. I have to prepare myself to play another tough football game."
Notes:Mangini took time in his post-game remarks to credit the Green & White faithful. "Being here with the Jets fans is always great when the games get tight," he said. "Their energy is always helpful."...The Jets played turnover free ball and were 3 in turnover differential on the day. Hobson recovered a fumble and also collected one of the two first half interceptions of Harrington. "The turnovers are great, but we have to stop the yardage," Barton said. … Rookie Drew Coleman started once again at cornerback opposite Andre Dyson, but Justin Miller made the most of his time and registered seven solo tackles… Kevan Barlow received the start at running back, carrying 13 times for 45 yards. Leon Washington led the Jets' ground attack for the second consecutive week, picking up 58 yards on 11 carries… The Dolphins entered the game thin in the secondary and then they lost corner André Goodman on the Jets' first possession of the third quarter… Brad Smith operated at quarterback out of the shotgun on the first play of the final quarter and Pennington lined up wide. Smith took the snap and handed off to fellow rookie Leon Washington for a six-yard gain... Rookie tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson lined up against perennial All Pro DE Jason Taylor for the first time in his career. "He is a helluva player; he is a helluva player," Ferguson said of Taylor.