The New York Jets defeated the New England Patriots, 16-13, in overtime today at the Meadowlands when Kurt Sohn made a 46-yard punt return to set up the coup de grace, Pat Leahy's game-winning 32-yard field goal.

Leahy's kick, which came with 4:55 left in overtime, was tipped by nose tackle Lester Williams -- which was fitting, since the game was that close.

"It was just a ssst! I heard," Leahy said. "I didn't know who hit it, because after that, I got attacked (by celebrating teammates)."

In case you're wondering, that's the whoosh! of the Jets you've been hearing overhead in the AFC East, previously known as the Shula Division. Miami has won or tied for the division title 11 of the past 14 seasons.

Today, though, the Jets ascended to the captain's chair in the division with a 9-3 record, one game ahead of Miami, coached by Don Shula, and the Patriots.

The Jets saw something even more significant: This is the type of game they would have lost in recent years.

With the division lead on the line, they had reached first and goal from the Patriots' five twice in the first quarter and settled for field goals both times. They had seen a 10-point lead sawed to dust in the fourth quarter.

And still they won.

"We showed everybody that if we won't do it in the fourth quarter," said defensive end Mark Gastineau, "then we'll do it in the fifth."

Jets safety Kirk Springs said, "We proved that we can hang in there and win the big game."

The Jets haven't won the division since 1969 with Joe Namath. Today, they won even though their top runner, Freeman McNeil, was limited to nine yards on five carries because of an ankle injury.

The Jets proved that with a young, cool-headed quarterback (Ken O'Brien) and a defense that can rush and pound quarterbacks, they are a force that will have to reckoned with, come playoff time.

They knocked New England quarterback Steve Grogan out of the game early when defensive lineman Ben Rudolph accidentally fell on Grogan's leg after a handoff. It was later disclosed that Grogan had suffered a severely sprained left knee and might be out for as long as a month.

The Jets led by 6-3 late in the first quarter when Tony Eason replaced Grogan. Eason spent much of the afternoon trying to avoid the pass rush, which sacked him five times, three by Joe Klecko.

The Jets built a 13-3 edge and held it into the fourth quarter. O'Brien, the league's top-rated quarterback, beat a third-quarter blitz and looped a perfect 20-yard pass over the middle to Wesley Walker.

Walker then outran two defensive backs to finish an 88-yard touchdown pass play, the third-longest in Jets history.

"We were in a blitz on the play, and I played a zone. That was a mistake," Patriots cornerback Ray Clayborn said. "I made a mental mistake that probably lost the game."

That's only partially true. Two plays earlier, the Patriots had made another major gaffe, just as costly, and just when they had seemed ready to reverse the 6-3 deficit.

Running back Craig James (108 yards) had just taken a lateral and run 57 yards to the Jets' 19. Moments later, on second and goal from the four, the Patriots tried a reverse, giving the ball to receiver Irving Fryar.

As Fryar raced around left end, he was hammered by defensive backs Johnny Lynn and Davlin Mullen. He fumbled at the two. After the ball was accidentally kicked, the Jets recovered at the nine, and the Patriots had blown a splendid opportunity.

Ten seconds later, Walker scored, and instead of a 10-6 New England lead, it was 13-3, Jets.

Titles are won that way.

"We should have won," said Julius Adams, the Patriots' veteran pass-rusher, "the way our defense was playing."

In the fourth quarter, Eason avoided the rush and started hitting mid-range passes. The Jets' defensive coordinator, Bud Carson, changed from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 for much of today, he said, to try to bolster a pass rush that had diminished in recent weeks. Mostly, it worked.

However, receiver Cedric Jones beat Jets cornerback Kerry Glenn on a fade pattern down the right side for a 29-yard touchdown, and the Patriots were within 13-10 with 7:53 to play. Suddenly, Tony Franklin's missed 41-yard field goal in the first quarter loomed large.

The Jets' offense was unable to bang away for first downs. Defensive end Ken Sims and linebacker Andre Tippett kept Jets running back Johnny Hector (29 carries for 97 yards) from breaking away. New England sacked O'Brien six times, but he passed for 311 yards.

The Patriots tied the game on their final possession in regulation. They started from their 43 with 1:17 to play, needing a field goal to tie it. Eason completed two passes and James surprised the Jets on a draw play, gaining 14 yards to the Jets' 16.

After a five-yard offsides penalty on the Jets, Franklin produced the game-tying 28-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in regulation.

In overtime, neither team budged until, on third and nine from the Patriots' 16, Klecko sacked Eason for a nine-yard loss.

Punter Rich Camarillo, backed into his end zone, kicked 51 yards. The Jets had set up their return to the right side the previous two times for negligible gains, so they set this one up to the left.

Sohn fielded the ball at the Jets' 39 and ran 46 yards down the left sideline to the Patriots' 15. The former Fordham University star picked up blocks from cornerback Glenn and linebacker Rusty Guilbeau. "I looked upfield," Sohn said, "and all I saw was the kicker (Camarillo)."

Actually, it was receiver Jones who caught him from behind. On the next play, Leahy ended it.

The Patriots now stare at the hollow truth: The franchise record in overtime is 0-8. That's the way titles are lost.