The spotlight could not have been brighter on Sunday night, and the Jets were able to step out of the shadow cast by the Cowboys and bask in a Week 1 win. They snatched victory from the fast-closing jaws of defeat, thanks to a highly unlikely sequence of events.
A 26-yard TD pass by Mark Sanchez to WR Plaxico Burress cut it to 24-17 in favor of the Cowboys early in the fourth quarter.
A forced fumble by DT Mike DeVito of Cowboys QB Tony Romo at the Jets 3-yard line prevented Dallas from turning it back into a two-score game with nine minutes to go.
A Sanchez fumble gave the ball right back to the Cowboys, but the Jets forced a three-and-out and Dallas set up to punt.
And then it happened.
With the Jets down by 7 and just over five minutes left in the game, Dallas lined up to punt from its 41. It was a routine snap to Cowboys P Mat McBriar, but Jets RB Joe McKnight flew through a hole in the offensive line, blocked the punt, and Isaiah Trufant picked up the ball and ran free into the New Jersey night.
"Man, that's real big," said Trufant. "It's greatly big for the city to get a win like that. Just to help the team win and start the season 1-0, that's real big."
While Trufant struggled to grasp the enormity of what he and his teammates had just accomplished, he nearly missed the opportunity to be a part of Sunday night's game. He was signed from the practice squad on Saturday and was activated for the opener 90 minutes before kickoff.
Playing exclusively on special teams, Trufant had one job to do on Sunday night. He can confidently say he went above and beyond his duty, putting six of the most important points of the game on the board.
There was only one thing on his mind after scooping the bouncing ball at the Cowboys' 18-yard line.
"Getting to the end zone to score," he said. "It was a great block by McKnight. I was just grateful the ball bounced my way and I was able to pick it up and run with it."
For McKnight, it was the first blocked punt of his life. And he could not have picked a better time for it.
"Their punter has a fast get-off time, so [ST coordinator Mike] Westhoff told me that if I get back there, just try to get it," said McKnight. "It came across my mind that he punts very fast, so I just took two steps across the line and dove for it."
The play was designed specifically for the Cowboys, and was executed to perfection.
"It was something Westhoff drew up," said special teams captain Eric Smith. "We were basically trying to get 2-on-1 on the wing. They slid their whole protection, brought their fullback all the way over, and didn't have anybody to account for Joe."
The legend of Mike Westhoff grows even bigger after drawing up the perfect play and calling it at a critical juncture in the game.
"It was a wide-open hole and all I had to do was run through it, put my hand out and block it," said McKnight. "Originally it wasn't supposed to be for me, it was supposed to be for [Smith], but it just happened that way that it opened up for me."
Smith clarified by saying the play was designed to spring one of the three Jets on the overloaded side of the formation; in this case, Smith, McKnight or CB Marquice Cole. While Smith and Cole drew the blocks, McKnight was left free, unabated to the punter.
It was a gratifying moment for the second-year man McKnight, who had well-documented struggles in his rookie season.
"I wouldn't say that I'm a hero, but it feels good, especially after the stuff that I've been through. To get to this point today, it just feels good."
The effort by McKnight was appreciated by all those wearing green on Sunday night, including his head coach.
"I said, 'Son, if you keep making plays like that, you're going to be a part of this offense,' " said Rex Ryan. "And he is. That was a huge, huge play."
After the game, McKnight joked about what he felt when he blocked his first career punt.
"It kind of hurt my hand a little bit," he said, "but I'm OK now."
The same can be said for Jets fans. At first, there was pain and disappointment. Later, ecstasy.