Following an exhilarating 16 games of Green & White football, it's time to let you vote on the Jets' Plays of the Year. Today, we continue our series with the special teams.
Week Two – Jets vs. Patriots: Bryan Thomas blocks Stephen Gostkowski's field goal attempt and Jonathan Vilma recovers to give the Jets offense' one last chance.
The New England Patriots spoiled the Jets' home opener festivities by jumping out to a 17-0 lead at halftime. Then, midway through the third quarter, the Pats appeared to have put the game well out of reach by scoring their third touchdown of the game.
With the Jets trailing 24-0, a few dozen sorrowful fans decided to head for the exits. What those fans missed, however, was an inspiring comeback performance.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery jump-started the Jets' offense with a 71 yard-touchdown reception. Then Laveranues Coles followed with a 46-yard touchdown catch and run of his own. After kicker Mike Nugent nailed a 42-yard field goal, the Jets found themselves within one possession of tying their division rivals from the north.
The Patriots looked to seal this contest with a Stephen Gostkowski 29-yard chip shot field goal. But defensive end Bryan Thomas got a hand up and swatted away the nail in the coffin. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma pounced on the loose ball at the Jets' three-yard line and scampered up to the nine-yard line, giving Chad Pennington and the offense one final chance to tie the game.
"I am really proud of the way these guys fought and put themselves in a position to tie the game," said Eric Mangini following his first loss as a head coach. "We fought back from 24-0 and gave ourselves a chance to tie. We made it a lot more interesting there at the end."
But the exciting comeback fell short due to the deep hole the Jets dug themselves in opening half.
"You can't fall behind 24 points and expect to win any game," Vilma said. "Give them credit. They held on. They did a good job."
Week Four – Jets vs. Colts: Justin Miller's record-breaking return
In a seesaw affair at the Meadowlands against one of the league's most explosive teams, kick returner Justin Miller almost stole the spotlight. After the Colts took a 24-21 with just 2:34 remaining, Miller returned the ensuing kickoff a franchise record 103 yards to give the Jets a lead over the eventual AFC Champions.
"My return team was ready for me to come out," said Miller. "They went out and blocked, put everything on the line, and that is all I can ask of them."
The touchdown celebration was short-lived as Colts quarterback Peyton Manning led his team downfield in the final minutes of regulation and capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run to regain the lead and solidify the victory.
Miller's return almost never was. Leon Washington, the Jets' rookie running back, signaled for the Pro Bowler to take a knee after Miller caught the kickoff three yards deep in his end zone. Miller, who admitted he didn't see Washington's signal, broke through the middle and inched his way past the final obstacle, Colts' rookie defensive end Ryan LaCasse.
"I have to credit my return team. We worked on that all offseason and all preseason," said Miller, who set Jets' records for total kickoff returns (60) and kickoff return yards (1,577) in a season as a rookie in 2005. "We worked on just making a block. It doesn't have to be a great block – just get in the way. That is what I have asked them for all year, and we went out and did that today."
Week Ten – Jets at Patriots: Chad Pennington's pooch punt
On fourth and one from the Patriots' 33-yard line, Jets coach Eric Mangini sent his quarterback on the field but it wasn't to gain a first down. Chad Pennington, set back in shotgun formation, took the snap and let a perfect pooch punt fly through the thick New England air.
"It was a good call by Coach Mangini to do that, to try to pin them down in there, and it worked out good for us," Pennington said.
On the Jets' first series of the second half, Pennington started inside New England territory thanks to Justin Miller's 62-yard kickoff return. Although the offense was unable to convert a first down, Pennington managed to help his defense by placing a 29-yard punt inside the Patriots' five-yard line.
The Green and White prevailed by opting for better field position rather than risking a turnover on downs. The Pats' offense was unable to work their way out of the jam and punted from their own 32. On the Jets' ensuing drive, Pennington was able to storm back into enemy territory and set up a Mike Nugent field goal.
According to Mangini, the quarterback punt was something the club had worked on all season long at practice.
"We've been doing that for a while," Mangini said. "You know, each Saturday it is a little bit of an adventure. We usually have all three quarterbacks go. Chad rolls it down to the two, Patrick (Ramsey) hits in the end zone, and Kellen's (Clemens) is like my golf game."
Week Twelve – Texans at Jets: Nugent drills career long 54-yard field goal
If there is one thing a kicker needs besides a strong leg, it's confidence. In his second NFL season, kicker Mike Nugent used both to string together a stellar campaign.
In week 12 at the Meadowlands, Nugent connected on a field goal from 54 yards out to cap off a four-field goal performance. The deep three-pointer eclipsed his previous personal best of 49 from his rookie season.
"I was just thinking, 'The warm-ups went really well, so just hit it like I did during warm-ups,'" said Nugent. "I always have a lot of confidence in Ben Graham holding, James Dearth snapping, and all the guys on the line doing a good job of protecting us. I knew they all would come through, and I knew I had to do my job."
That big boot came in the final few minutes of the first half as the Jets were on their way to upending the Texans 26-11. For his big day, Nugent was named Mangini's Special Teams Player of the Week.
"Mike really nailed it," Mangini said. "Mike is the type of guy that everybody cheers for because of the way he works and the way he cares. He is easy to root for. Obviously, everybody wants three points, but aside from that, it's just good to see him hit that type of field goal."