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Sunday, November 14, 2010
Jets keep dodging land mines, banking wins

By Tim Graham

Santonio Holmes
Santonio Holmes scored the winning touchdown in overtime as the Jets barely edged out the Browns.
CLEVELAND -- To imagine the New York Jets being winless in their past four games is not a stretch.

There was the pass interference call on Mark Sanchez's fourth-down desperation heave with 76 seconds to play against the Denver Broncos in Week 6. The Jets scored a touchdown one play later to win 24-20.

There was the embarrassing home shutout loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 9 despite having a bye week to prepare.

There was the fortuitous sequence of events -- defensive breakdowns, wacky play-calling, a senseless late-hit penalty -- that helped the Jets force overtime and edge the Detroit Lions in Week 9.

Then came the 26-20 overtime victory Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium. In spite of three missed field goals by Nick Folk and three Browns' possessions in the extra period, the Jets became the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back overtime road games. Santonio Holmes scurried 37 yards for a touchdown with 16 seconds left in sudden death.

The Jets' streak of lucky breaks and bounces is borderline absurd.

"I think I'll have a heart attack one of these days," Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson said.

Skeptics -- mostly fans who wear Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots gear -- were accusing the Jets of winning with smoke and mirrors even before this Week 10 spectacular finish. They can even go back to last year, which critics like to do with these Jets, and point out how fluky their playoff run was.

"You don't just luck up and go 7-2," said Jets right tackle Damien Woody. "That's the same Browns team that beat New Orleans in New Orleans and blew out New England last week. So this is a team that's on the rise and played well today.

"Can you tell me in the National Football League how you smoke-and-mirror to 7-2? We're undefeated on the road. It's hard to win on the road. I'm not worried about anything else. We're 7-2, and we're going to continue to do what we do."

The Jets are atop the AFC East. Nobody owns a better record in either conference. They're well on their way to nailing down a second straight playoff berth. They are the NFL's only undefeated road team and have won eight straight, dating back to last season. If you count the playoffs, the Jets have won 10 of their past 11 away from the Meadowlands.

But about those recurring close calls ...

How does a team weigh being able to pull out so many dramatic victories against repeatedly being in those situations to begin with?

"It's great that you can win and overcome mistakes and penalties and missed field goals," Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "But you can't keep doing that. Eventually, it's going to catch up with you."

That's how razor-thin the margin for error is in the NFL. The Browns have been playing good football, but the Jets probably should have lost to a 3-6 Broncos team and a 2-7 Lions team that became the Buffalo Bills' first victim Sunday.

"A win is a win," Woody said. "But I'd rather take a blowout and chill in the fourth quarter than have a game like this."

You can't say the Jets didn't deserve to beat the Browns on Sunday. The Jets dominated in many respects. They gained 456 yards, second most of the past decade. They committed zero turnovers while forcing two. The Jets kept the ball for more than 47 minutes, had 91 snaps compared to the Browns' 59 and were better on third downs.

The main difference was Folk. He missed from 48 yards and 24 yards in regulation and from 47 yards in overtime.

Folk was close to automatic heading into the Week 8 bye, but has been erratic since. He has converted just five of his nine kicks in the past three games. The Jets would be foolhardy not to invite some free-agent kickers for tryouts this week.

The benefit of continually avoiding defeat can be measured beyond the verdict of any given game. The Jets are unapologetic for their methodology because they know they're not only banking wins, but they're also accumulating the kind of confidence you can't purchase with currency or sweat. You can't manufacture conviction.

"You always believe going in to any game," Taylor said, "but when you're rolling like this you believe late in the game no matter what's going on, whether you're up or down, you're going to rally or close it out.

"I've been on teams before that had great players and did some things throughout the course of a game but didn't know how to win in the end."

Tomlinson noted that winning close games develops a level of comfort within critical situations. When a team has thrived under duress, he said, "There's no sense of panic or desperation. We can say 'Hey, guys, we've been here before. We've done this before.' It gives you an advantage."

Tomlinson insisted the Jets are not taking this hot run for granted. They need only to remember being on a five-game winning streak, coming out of the bye and failing to score a single point against the Packers at home.

"That was us," Tomlinson said. "We know every week if we don't execute, if we don't focus it could very well happen again.

"That's our fear. It's still in the backs of our minds."

One of the troubling aspects of getting skunked by the Packers was that no team ever has been shut out at home and gone on to win a Super Bowl.

Then again, it would be difficult to find a team that has done what the Jets have been doing for the past month. Woody said he's "never experienced anything close to this" in his 12 years, and he won two Super Bowls with the Patriots. Taylor, in his 14th season, echoed a similar statement.

"We're far from perfect," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "There's no question about it. But we're 7-2. We'll take it."