Coach Mangini stares in the background
On football's primetime stage and in what was one of the most important moments of the Jets' 2006 season, they turned to seemingly an unlikely hero. Rookie running back Leon Washington cracked the stout Miami defense in the closing seconds of a tied ballgame, setting the Green and White up for their ninth victory of the season.
Washington, who doubled up as the team's punt returner, took his fourth reception of the evening 64 yards into the Dolphins' red zone and Mike Nugent nailed a game-winning 30-yard field goal four plays later.
"We haven't really completed a pretty good screen play all year long, and it was good to go out there and make that play. As an offense, we were really looking forward to hitting one," said an excited Washington, who also accounted for 26 rushing yards. "Our offensive line did a great job selling it. We caught them in a blitz and Chad got me the ball. It was great play calling. All I was thinking was make a big play, and our kicker will make the field goal."
Both offenses were slow out of the gates as the scoreboard remained fixed well into the third quarter. Washington and the rest of the Jets offense initially had trouble advancing the ball against the Dolphins defense on a waterlogged field, but the Florida native wasn't about to disappoint.
"It was really good coming back home," Washington said. "The last couple of times I came down here, playing Miami, we lost. Last year was my senior year in the bowl game, and we lost to Penn State."
The Florida State product led the Jets with team-highs of 108 receiving yards and four receptions, but it wasn't a completely easy homecoming for the Floridian. With less than ten minutes remaining in the second quarter, Washington absorbed a big hit from defensive back Michael Lehan after catching a lofted short pass from Chad Pennington. Courageously, the 5'8", 202-pound back bounced right up and was in for the next offensive drive.
"Coach Mangini emphasizes this all year long that no matter who you are - you are obligated to make plays," said Washington. "We understand the urgency and the significance of this game."
Not only did the Christmas night win at South Beach give the Jets a sweep of the Dolphins for the season, it puts control completely in their hands when it comes to a postseason berth. By winning Monday, Jets' fans don't have to scoreboard watch next weekend because a win over the Raiders at home will automatically give the Green & White one of the two Wild Card spots.
"They've not just worked hard collectively - they've worked hard individually to get better with their personal preparations and to continually improve as a team," Mangini said of his 9-6 Jets. "We focus on the things that we need to get better at and focus on making progress, and that is what we've done."