With the Jets trailing the Texans, 20-7, and just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter Monday night, many inside MetLife Stadium may have felt the home team was on the verge of a collapse.
But Joe McKnight didn't see it that way.
Sprinting along the left sideline, the third-year Jet returned the Houston kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown that provided his team a well-needed energy boost.
"We felt like it was a big spark," safety Eric Smith said. "It got guys going. It got guys excited. It felt like it put us back in the game."
Backup quarterback Tim Tebow added, "Oh, we were amped up. We were excited. Huge return. We've been waiting to see Joe take one to the house, we all know he can, and so it was good for Joe and good for us, as far as momentum, to see that."
The return TD was the second of McKnight's career. His first came almost exactly a year ago last October at Baltimore, when he had a 107-yard return that was the longest play of any kind in franchise history.
"My double team made a great block," he said of his 100-yard return Monday night. "Mac [Garrett McIntyre] and Konrad [Reuland] made a good block on their double team, and Bilal [Powell] and Nick Bellore made a good block, so I was just 1-on-1 with the kicker, so I had to make him miss."
While McKnight's speed and his arsenal of skills were on full display against the undefeated Texans, everything hasn't gone smoothly for him so far this season. He lost his third-down job to Powell. Then shortly after All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis suffered his severe knee injury at Miami, head coach Rex Ryan asked him to shift and play corner. Although McKnight played the position throughout high school, when he initially was informed of Ryan's decision, he felt like the switch was due to him not being good enough to play running back.
"I'm not frustrated or anything like that," he said Monday. "I just want to help the team make plays and help the team win."
McKnight wants to help the Jets offense, which has produced only three touchdowns in its past four games, but he's pleased with his role on special teams. He said he benefitted from the guidance of former teammates such as Leon Washington and Brad Smith when he first joined the organization in 2010.
"We got the greatest special teams coach in the NFL," McKnight said of Mike Westhoff. "If we keep capitalizing and making plays, we can get the momentum to the offense and defense."
Besides his impressive play on special teams, McKnight also saw some action back at his natural position against Houston, rushing four times for 5 yards. He lost 8 yards on a failed fourth-quarter Wildcat play in which he took the direct snap, but he also had an 11-yard run in the third quarter.
"Every play is not going to work the way I want it to work," he said. "You've just got to keep pushing and keep fighting, and eventually it's going to happen."
Despite being so close to victory, No. 25 for the Green & White said Monday's loss hurt the same as last week's 34-0 shutout against San Francisco.
"It was a great effort," McKnight said. "We gave some plays away and now we know we just can't give so many plays away. We have to play every play every game and just finish."
Who knows what type of impact McKnight will make the rest of 2012? But we certainly know one thing: His teammates and fans witnessed a moment Monday that they'll remember for a long time.
"Anytime that Joe gets the ball in his hands, we expect that from him," wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said following the game. "He's a big-time playmaker. He showcased it tonight, as he does time and time again. Those guys block well on special teams. I know we'll get more out of Joe."