The Jets had a full and satisfying night planned for themselves, a select slice of their alumni and their fans at New Meadowlands Stadium and at home. The agenda included the return to action of cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker Calvin Pace, the first game as a Jet by Santonio Holmes, a rude reception for the returns of Brett Favre and Randy Moss, some pomp and circumstance for 20 members of the Jets' Monday Night Miracle team of 2000, and of course a rousing victory over the Vikings.
And perhaps in tribute to the 23-point comeback over the Dolphins 10 years ago, the 2010 Jets did a little Monday-night-into-Tuesday deal again. Rather than mounting another comeback of their own, they had to drive a spike into the heart of Brett Favre and the Vikings offense, which kept coming back from the dead on them.
And that's just what the Jets did. They turned a career-best Nick Folk 5-for-5 field goal night, Shonn Greene's first touchdown of the year with 4:30 to play and Dwight Lowery's "surreal" first pro touchdown on an interception return with 1:30 to go into a wet and wild 29-20 verdict over the Vikes in a battle, among other things, of two of last year's conference finalists.
"I just thought this was a typical Jets win," said head coach Rex Ryan, who saw his team rise to 4-1 and into sole possession of first in the AFC East over idle New England and drop the tough but desperate visitors from the North to 1-3. "We were resilient and we had a team effort all the way against an excellent team. He had a great play on defense, D-Lo did, and we'll take the victory. We're not apologizing for anything."
Apologies weren't necessary, although explanations were asked for regarding the offense that, despite regaining Holmes' services and coming off of three straight four-TD performances against their divisional rivals, needed all of Folk's field goals, four of which came after short drives that started in Vikings territory stalled in the red zone.
Sanchez, who completed 21 of 44 passes for 191 yards and had no personal giveaways for the fifth consecutive game, mentioned his accuracy wasn't his best and other unspecified "self-inflicted wounds," but said, " None of those things can take away from the feeling we're feeling right now. I don't think we win this game last year. This was a test of our leadership."
And also their running game. Against the Vikings' fourth-ranked defense and ninth-ranked run unit, the Jets ground away like a dental drill with LaDainian Tomlinson's still youthful thrusts (20 carries, 94 yards) and Greene's powerful bursts (10-57). In all the Jets gained 155 yards on 32 carries, and Ryan was proud and ready with the killer stat — it was the most rushing yards against the Vikes' vaunted front in 54 games, including playoffs, or since giving up 168 in the 2006 season finale to the Rams.
"I feel like our offense, we can run the ball against anybody," said Greene. "We have an awesome line and our wide receivers on the edge are able to block people. There's a lot more games to go, and hopefully there's a lot more touchdowns going on."
But until Greene's 23-yard dash off his line's right-side blocking and with a nice assist from rookie fullback John Conner, TDs were hard to come by for the Jets. It's just that midway through the third quarter, it didn't seem as if the Jets would need more than three at a time. That's because the defense was pitching a shutout against Favre and the newly acquired Moss.
The defense was all over No. 4 in general and Antonio Cromartie, similar to his blanketing of Moss in the second half of Game 2 vs. New England, was doing it again, staying stride for stride with one of the game's best deep threats and batting away four balls in all, three targeted for Moss. That helped the Jets mount a defensive effort that enabled them to outgain the visitors, 226 yards to 54, and force them into five three-and-outs and two lost Favre fumbles on their first nine series.
"Shutting them out in the first half was great," said DE Shaun Ellis, who played in that Monday night win over Miami 10 years ago and helped hold the fort in this one a decade later. "But to play a team like we did in the first half, they've got to respond somehow. ... It got very stressful. You know that's Brett, man. He always keeps his team in the game. I learned that from him being here."
Old No. 4 erupted in a historic way. First he hit Moss for 16 yards on third-and-15, the first third-down conversion against the Jets defense in 22 opportunities. Another completion made Favre the first in NFL history to 70,000 passing yards. And his final throw on the drive found Moss past Cromartie in the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown. It was the 500th TD toss of Favre's storied career, but more important, it was the first TD of the game and trimmed the home team's lead to 12-7.
Just when the danger of settling for field goals was starting to settle in, Brad Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards. For the fourth time the Jets started a drive in Vikings territory and for the fourth time they went to the Folk well. Folk's fifth conversion, from 31 yards, made him the first Jets kicker since John Hall in 2001 to hit five in a game, the first since Pat Leahy in 1984 to make five in a home game, and the only other kicker besides Leahy to hit at least five field goals without a miss.
The Jets' lead was back to 15-7 but then Favre struck again with a 34-yard TD pass to the superfast Percy Harvin on a crossing pattern. After a timeout with 12:47 to play, Minnesota decided to go for two to tie instead of one to cut the Jets' lead to one. But the Jets were all over the play-action Favre toss and Cromartie "intercepted" the pass in the end zone.
With the Jets offense still stymied, punter Steve Weatherford came up big again (seven punts, four inside-the-20, 46.3 gross, 43.1 net) to help the defense keep Minnesota penned up. Finally, the O broke through with a six-play, 66-yard drive to No. 23's burst to lift the hosts to a 22-13 lead.
Still Favre and the Vikes came back. One play after WR Greg Lewis lost Revis in coverage and caught a 33-yard pass to the Jets 6, Favre found Harvin for a brilliant 11-yard TD strike past Jim Leonhard in the back of the end zone. That made it 22-20 with 3:09 to go. And when Sanchez could get only one first down, the home team gave the ball back to the visitors from the north at their 16 with no timeouts but 1:48 to go.
It took only three plays for the Jets defense to force Favre to cough up his first interception of the game. Again with the numerology, No. 26, Dwight Lowery, jumped all over the pick and took it untouched 26 yards for his first pro TD and a 29-20 lead.
"It was just surreal," Lowery said. "The whole thing, after I got the ball and was running for the end zone was all surreal. Before that, I was really focused."
As a result, the Jets are focused on moving to 5-1 at Denver next Sunday. As LB Bart Scott said, "They don't give out awards for being in first place right now." But as Rex said, "We're right on schedule."
Thunder and lightning storms delayed the game's opening kickoff 37 minutes until 9:15 p.m. And rain fell heavily at the end of the first half and into the halftime celebration for the Monday Night Miracle Jets. The fans had retreated from the uncovered seats due to the rain but they were still there under the overhangs and in the wings, ready to cheery for the highlights of the 40-37 win over the Dolphins and then as each of the 20 Jets from that 2000 team was introduced. Wayne Chrebet got a huge hand, rivaled by Jumbo Elliott and Vinny Testaverde, who addressed the crowd.
It was another turnover-less game for the Jets, their fourth straight, tying a franchise record for four games. Their one giveaway through five games also ties the five-game mark. Their plus-3 margin kept them in the NFL lead with a plus-11. And Sanchez still has no interceptions or lost fumbles this season.
Tomlinson tore it up again with 94 rushing yards on 20 carries plus 13 yards on five catches. Also with five catches were Braylon Edwards (70 yards) and Jerricho Cotchery (46). Holmes returned to action with three grabs for 41 yards. ... The Jets were outgained by Minnesota on the game, 336-328, after holding a first-half yardage advantage of 206-51 over the Vikes.
The Jets are now 8-1 in franchise history over the Vikings. Perhaps an omen, the Jets lost their first six Monday night appearances before posting their first win, in their first home MNF game, by 14-7 at Shea Stadium in 1979 ... over the Vikings. ... The Vikings have not held a second-half lead of any kind in their last seven games vs. the Green & White. ... Ryan said there were no injury situations he knew of. CB Drew Coleman came up with cramps on a third-quarter kickoff-return tackle but walked off under his own power and returned late in the game.