Jets 19, Broncos 13
-- The New York Jets kept their slim playoff hopes alive tonight by snapping someone else's after sealing a 19-13 win over the Denver Broncos with a late interception on their 2-yard line.
The win at Giants Stadium was far from pretty. Alongside noteworthy accomplishments by Laveranues Coles, who passed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season, and Curtis Martin, who crossed the 10,000-yard career rushing barrier, Jets place kicker John Hall failed on an extra-point attempt early and tight end Anthony Becht dropped a ball late in the end zone. New York also nearly let Denver steal the game in the final two minutes, escaping only after second-string safety Jon McGraw picked off Denver quarterback Brian Griese's red-zone pass.
But considering the Jets' 2-5 start this season, their players were looking at both tonight's victory and their 7-6 record as a thing of beauty, as well as further inspiration to win their remaining three regular season games.
"We bent a lot today, but we didn't break," said Jets defensive end John Abraham, noting the Jets are just one game back in the parity-swamped AFC East. "This just shows what kind of character we have, and how we operate under pressure. We just don't feel it as much because we've been playing with our backs to the wall like this for most of the season."
Certainly, it was a pressure the Broncos couldn't handle. After starting the season 6-2, they came into today's game with two straight losses and the feeling they, too, had to win out the rest of their schedule to have a chance at the playoffs. Instead, the Broncos are 7-6, two games behind the Oakland Raiders and one behind San Diego in the AFC West. Denver has also effectively shut itself out of the wild-card race by virtue of a 4-6 conference record and losses to most of the teams it would be competing with in a tiebreaker situation.
Making the situation even more heartbreaking for the Broncos were the opportunities they bobbled away today. Aside from Griese's last-minute touchdown-turned-interception, several Broncos defensive players let their own potential interceptions slip through their fingers, and twice in the third quarter the field goal unit missed kicks.
"This is tough. It's harder than you can possibly fathom," Griese said.
The Broncos are still technically alive for the postseason, but "we've lost three games in a row, and a team that's lost three games in a row doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs," Griese said
It was indeed a rough end to what had started out as a decent day for Denver, which finished two long early possessions with short field goals. The Jets' own early long drive ended in a one-yard touchdown run from Curtis Martin, who a few minutes earlier had become the 16th player in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards. But while Martin jogged into the end zone practically untouched, Denver managed to block New York's extra point, keeping the score within reach.
The Broncos then scored when Griese completed a 10-yard touchdown to Ashley Lelie with 17 seconds remaining in the half. The impressive pass was just one of many from Griese, who finished 28 for 37 for 288 yards. "I thought he played exceptionally well," said Denver Coach Mike Shanahan, whose team went into halftime with a 13-6 lead.
The Jets, however, had plenty of confidence in their own young quarterback. Chad Pennington has been the diamond in New York's rough season, and with 244 passing yards, he was just as effective as he has been since taking over the starting job from Vinny Testaverde.
Pennington had only moderate support on the ground -- despite his record, Martin finished with only 57 rushing yards -- yet he kept finding receivers, and in the beginning of the fourth quarter he went inside the 5-yard line to Coles, who had the presence of mind to roll into the end zone after catching the ball on his stomach.
The touchdown gave the Jets a 16-13 lead, and a pass to Becht with about six minutes remaining likely would have put the game away. But even though Becht dropped the pass, forcing New York to settle for a field goal and open the door to a Denver comeback, the Broncos could not convert. With 1 minute 32 seconds remaining, McGraw intercepted Griese's final pass at the New York 2-yard line.
"Every game counts right now," said McGraw, noting "in December, you want to be in the position to control your own destiny. We're right there now, and this is a huge win for us."