CLEVELAND -- So the New York Jets got lucky again, winning a second straight overtime decision they could have -- maybe should have -- lost. So what? They won, and while it's sometimes better to be lucky than good, it's always better to be both.
And the Jets are.
They proved it again with a 26-20 overtime defeat of never-say-die Cleveland, a victory that keeps them atop the AFC East and guarantees the Jets will be a factor in the playoffs.
Here's why: Not only are they winning, they're winning on the road. In fact, Sunday's game marked their eighth straight regular-season win away from the Meadowlands and 10th in their past 11 road games (including playoffs) and that will be meaningful in January.
Heck, it may be meaningful before then because the Jets have a game with New England next month, and it's not at home. It's at Gillette Stadium, where the Jets have lost five of their past seven decisions. But that was then, and this is now -- and now there is no better road team anywhere than the New York Jets.
They win in the last minute in Denver. They steal an overtime victory in Detroit after overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Now this.
"We were resilient," quarterback Mark Sanchez said.
They usually are, and trust me, that will be a bonus down the stretch because they might have to hit the road again for the playoffs, particularly if they don't win the division. The New York Giants did in 2007 after winning seven of their eight regular-season road games, and you saw what happened. They ran the table in the playoffs, punctuating it with a Super Bowl victory.
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I'm not saying that happens here, but I will say I respect teams that win as the Jets are -- they find ways to win where others do not. I don't care if Cleveland was short-handed or the Browns' Chansi Stuckey fumbled away a victory or that cornerback Joe Haden should have batted down a ball he instead intercepted.
None of that matters. The Jets won. Period. On the road. In OT. Again.
"That talks to you," coach Rex Ryan said. "If you want to win games on the road, you bring a good football team. And that's what we have. You talk about how resilient this football team is ... that's two games on the road in overtime. And that's about as tough as it gets. But we found a way to get it done."
Like the Sunday before, it was the heroics of Sanchez that took the Jets to the top. Playing with an injured calf, Sanchez made critical throws when the Jets needed them most -- with the game-winner to Santonio Holmes the exclamation point.
As important as his accuracy, however, was his poise in the pocket, with Sanchez escaping pressure again and again. In fact, on the Jets' next-to-last drive in overtime, Sanchez should have been sacked at his own 5 by defensive lineman Shaun Rogers but somehow ran out of the tackle and steadied himself to throw a 21-yard completion to running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The play not only kept the series going, it freed the Jets from a third-and-long deep in their own end.
|New York Jets|
|The Jets have played clutch football offensively and defensively in winning two consecutive OT games. This has become a formidable Cleveland team that they overcame. Chalk one up for coach Rex Ryan over brother and Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.|
|The Browns showed some pluck taking the Jets to OT despite key injuries to Scott Fujita, Sheldon Brown and Josh Cribbs. The TD drive engineered by Colt McCoy to tie it in regulation showed his poise. The Browns can't thrive offensively with Peyton Hillis and Benjamin Watson as their only weapons.|
|By Marty Gitlin|
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"He's tougher than nails," Ryan said of Sanchez. "He gave our guys chances."
He gave them so many that the Jets had the ball 20 minutes longer than Cleveland -- including a whopping 16-minute advantage in the second half. That's when the Jets should have put this game away, only kicker Nick Folk wouldn't let them. He missed three field goals, including a 24-yarder in the third period and a 47-yarder in OT -- mistakes that might have sabotaged another club. But Sanchez and his teammates returned to threaten again and again -- producing six possessions of nine or more plays, including one of 19.
In the end, they were too much for the similarly resilient Browns, who played the second half without starters Scott Fujita and Sheldon Brown on defense and Josh Cribbs on offense yet should have put away the victory in overtime. They didn't, of course, with Stuckey's fumble the killer, but that tells me something about these Jets. Good teams find ways to win, and they just did. I don't care how it happened. I just care that it happened.
"When you can win games like this," Tomlinson said, "there is no sense of panic and desperation. You kind of understand, 'Hey guys, we've been here before. We've done this before.' And it gives you an advantage."
The advantage that New York has is that three of its next four games are home -- with New England the only exception. Except New England is always the exception ... the obstacle that keeps the Jets from moving forward, at least as long as Tom Brady is healthy. The last time the Patriots failed to win a division with Brady in the lineup for the entire season was 2002, and even then they had the same record as the team that won with the tiebreaker.
The New York Jets.
That club won a December game in New England, then hammered Green Bay at home to qualify. This club is better, much better, winning everything on the road with a young quarterback who just produced a couple of signature moments in a promising career. I think Mark Sanchez is the X-factor with the Jets -- with no one sure if Good Mark or Bad Mark suits up -- but these past two games tell you a lot about him and the team he quarterbacks.
"We won both of them on big throws," said Tomlinson. "Those are the things that usually get young quarterbacks going."
Road victories are usually the things that get playoff teams going, too. The Jets are on their way.
"Our goal is to be a champion and we've got to find ways to get it done," Ryan said, "and that's what we did. We're far from perfect, but we're 7-2. And we'll take it."