The New York Jets became the toast of New York today -- all New York, even the large portion inhabited by Giant fans.
By defeating the Green Bay Packers, 28-3, the Jets qualified for the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1969. In the process, they carried the Giants into the playoffs with them, the Giants' first postseason play since 1963.
Fans unaccustomed to victory celebrations crowded onto the Shea Stadium playing field at game's end, tore down one goal post and bent the other. The Jets' players had more trouble escaping their fans than they did in handling the Packers, who managed only 84 yards of total offense.
"These fans are crazy, but I love them," said defensive end Mark Gastineau, who seemed a little nutty himself as he leaped around the field waving his arms after each of the Jets' nine sacks of Packer quarterback Lynn Dickey.
"If we'd blown this, we'd have had all the fans against us, theirs and ours," Gastineau went on, "and I guess there are more Giant fans, although you'd never know it around here."
The Jets, 4-12 a year ago and 0-3 after the first three weeks of this season, finished with a 10-5-1 record and will be at home against Buffalo Sunday at noon in one wild-card game. Later that day, the Giants will play the Eagles in Philadelphia at 3:30.
Green Bay (8-8) hardly looked like a playoff contender. The Packers sealed their own doom with a weird play on their first offensive series and it took a roughing-the-passer penalty to get them close enough for Jan Stenerud's 31-yard field goal, their only score.
Green Bay faced fourth and 16 from its own 16 just one minute into the game. Rookie Ray Stachowicz, back to punt, fielded a two-hop snap from Charlie Ane, avoided the rush of Bobby Jones and had a good chance to get the kick away. Instead, he ran five yards and then kicked the ball directly into the Jets' Al Washington.
Taking over at the Packer 11, the Jets scored in three plays, with fullback Kevin Long covering the final yard.
A holding penalty against tackle Chris Ward nullified an apparent Jet touchdown pass from Richard Todd to Lam Jones and Pat Leahy was wide with a 33-yard field-goal try. After Stenerud's field goal, though, the Jets drove 80 yards in 20 plays that took 9 minutes 43 seconds, with Bruce Harper following a horde of blockers over the final three yards.
The key play of the drive and of the game came on a 13-yard third-down pass from Todd to Harper at the Packer 30. Harper fumbled and Green Bay's Estus Hood recovered, but field judge Don Orr ruled Harper's knee was down when he lost possession.
Although only 1:57 remained in the half after Harper's touchdown, Green Bay managed to dig a deeper hole. First Mike McCoy dropped the kickoff, stepped back into the end zone and advanced only to the five. Then, on third and two at the 13, Dickey bobbled the snap and Green Bay had to punt.
The Jets took over on their 45 with 1:06 left. A Todd-to-Scott Dierking pass gained eight yards and Todd lined his club up quickly, then threw a 47-yard scoring pass to Lam Jones, an Olympic sprinter who easily beat defender Mark Lee down the right sideline.
The only suspense left for the second half was whether the Jets could break the NFL sack record of 67 set by Oakland in 1967. They came up one short, but gained consolation from Todd's 38-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Walker in the fourth quarter.
Coach Walt Michaels declined to reply to the derogatory comments aimed his way when the Jets were 0-3, but he did say, "I've heard a lot of stories about a great defensive team in this metropolitan area (the Giants) and I think there's another one here that hasn't gotten the credit it deserves. Our defense has been outstanding all year long and it's a major reason we'll be playing another game next week."
Defensive tackle Joe Klecko, who set a team record of 20 1/2 sacks, was kicked in his already damaged left foot in the second period, but insisted on returning after it was rewrapped.
"It's fantastic, we're a winning football team," Klecko said. "We came of age this year. It's a united family type thing. We came back from adversity and shoved it in everybody's face."
"It's been a lot of years and I was afraid for a while I was just playing out the string," said 15-year guard Randy Rasmussen, the lone holdover of the Jets team that beat Baltimore in Super Bowl III. "It's great to be in the playoffs again."