Jets earn defining win over Broncos

DENVER -- Call it the "Rocky Mountain Miracle." Or maybe you prefer "Hail Mark." Either way, it was the best pass Mark Sanchez never completed, a fourth-down heave that sliced the thin air and traveled half the football field.

"I was praying," Rex Ryan said.

"Oh, god," Bart Scott thought to himself.

The long pass bounced off Santonio Holmes' pleading hands, but there was contact with safety Renaldo Hill, who grabbed his face mask. Out came a penalty flag, defensive pass interference -- a 46-yard, game-changing play at the Denver Broncos' 2-yard line. The New York Jets took it one giant step further, hailing Sunday's 24-20 victory as proof they're a team of destiny.

"The great teams find ways to win these games," Ryan said after the Jets' fifth straight victory, which tied the franchise's longest winning streak of the decade.

One play can change so much. If Sanchez's pass had been incomplete, the Jets would be 4-2, heading into a long bye week with a cooled-off quarterback and questions about an underachieving offense. But give them credit: They capitalized on the penalty, took the lead on LaDainian Tomlinson's 2-yard touchdown with 1:13 remaining and closed the deal with another Dwight Lowery takeaway in the closing seconds.

If the Jets (5-1) go on to do special things in January, they could look back at fourth-and-6 as a season-defining moment. After all, it punctuated the first fourth-quarter comeback win in the Ryan/Sanchez era, and it came on a day in which they didn't play a good football game.

"That's championship football," Jerricho Cotchery said. "You don't want 'em -- you don't want these types of games -- but you need 'em. Championship teams need these games. It builds character and shows you can pull out a game when no one gives you a chance."

On the same plot of land where John Elway staged so many dramatic finishes, the Jets turned Elway-esque in the fourth quarter, overcoming 17-10 and 20-17 deficits. Sanchez was no Elway, not after two early interceptions that easily could've been four, but he shook off the awful start and got his team in winning position.

"Last year," he said, "I would've just kept nose-diving."

Sanchez (17-for-30, 198 yards) got the ball with 3:55 left to play, at his own 20, and you wondered if he'd be able to move against a banged-up Denver defense that caused problems all day. But Sanchez hit a big third-down pass to Braylon Edwards and another to Holmes, and soon it was fourth-and-6 from the Denver 48.

"Guys were excited in the huddle," Brandon Moore said. "I don't think it was like that in the past. There was always maybe a little doubt, like, 'Can we get it done?' This time, going into the huddle, I felt something was going to happen."

Actually, it was a curious play call by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The Jets needed only six yards, but he sent four receivers on vertical routes -- Edwards, Cotchery and Dustin Keller in a "trips" formation to the right, Holmes alone on the left.

The Broncos played man-to-man coverage underneath, with a safety -- Hill -- in the deep middle. Holmes ran a stop-on-go, buzzing past rookie cornerback Perrish Cox. Sanchez couldn't find anyone open, so he moved around the pocket.

Looking. Looking.

He floated to the left, still looking. Sanchez thought about running for the first-down marker, but decided this was no time to channel his inner Elway. He saw Holmes, now covered by Hill, and decided to let 'er rip.

"I don't think Mark Sanchez would've made that throw last year," said Ryan, thinking his young quarterback might have forced it somewhere else.

Holmes, his back to the goal line at the 2, was in position to make the catch. But a super-slow replay showed that Hill yanked his face mask ever so slightly, causing Holmes' head to jerk to one side. Had it not been for the interference, Holmes might have made the circus catch.

"I think I would've made the catch," he said. "I was watching the ball the whole time."

Holmes never saw Sanchez, running for his life behind a wall of pass-rushers, but he tracked the trajectory of the ball as soon as it emerged from the mass of humanity, some 50 yards away. There were some horrible calls by the officiating crew, but the officials got this one right. Afterward, none of the Broncos disputed the call.

"I'm not scared to say it: I think we outplayed them," linebacker Mario Haggan said. "They just had one more punch than we did and obviously it was decided by a technical."

Said Sanchez: "I'm real happy. We stole a win."

Ryan said it was the "appropriate call," but he knows it will be debated. Some will say the Jets got lucky. This much can't be disputed: A year ago, the Jets blew three games in the fourth quarter, never mounting a single come-from-behind win. Now they have pulled out close games in a span of six days.

Go figure. The Jets were outrushed by the worst rushing team in the league, committed three turnovers (and none in the previous four games), got burned by a surprise onside kick and made a lot of penalties. But they're 5-1, heading into the bye.

"We definitely couldn't have done this last year," Sanchez said. "I know that for a fact."

Maybe they caught a break, but winning means never having to say you're sorry.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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