Jets beat Falcons on Nick Folk's FG as time expires
ATLANTA -- There was no bluster. No unnecessary chirping. And certainly no trash talk.
The visitor's locker room inside the Georgia Dome was surprisingly tame for a team that had pulled off the improbable minutes earlier. The Jets (3-2) -- picked by many to sink to the depths of the AFC standings -- may have shocked the NFL, but they didn't surprise themselves.
"This is how we are. We expect to win," rookie Sheldon Richardson told Newsday Monday night shortly after the Jets earned a 30-28 win over the Falcons on Nick Folk's 43-yard field goal as time expired.
"We don't come in as no underdog and thinking we're going to lose at all. It's only Week 5. We're not going to celebrate like we're going to the Super Bowl."
Jets fans, on the other hand, likely will do just that this week.
After the rival Bills, Patriots, Dolphins and Giants lost in Week 5, the Jets ventured into enemy territory, armed with Geno Smith and a receiving corps cobbled together because of injuries. But within the deafening confines of the dome and against a team featuring a future Hall of Fame tight end in Tony Gonzalez along with receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and quarterback Matt Ryan (36-for-45, 319 yards, two TDs), Smith was everything the Jets needed him to be on the biggest stage he had ever faced.
The rookie threw a career-high three touchdown passes and drove the Jets downfield to put Folk in position to nail the winning field goal. "As soon as I saw it get up in the air, I saw it was pretty good," said Folk, who is 10-for-10 after starting both the 2011 and '12 seasons 11-for-11.
But after the Jets' most impressive win of the season, no one -- especially Rex Ryan -- wanted to revel in the dramatic upset over the 1-4 Falcons.
"I'm glad we won this way," he said, "because it took every one of us. We played fearless. Even our kicker is fearless."
After Levine Toilolo's 3-yard touchdown catch put the Falcons up 28-27 with 1:54 to go, the Jets had one final chance to shock the world. Starting from his 20-yard line, Smith threw three quick completions to Stephen Hill (12 and 9 yards) and Jeremy Kerley (13 yards) before scampering 8 yards and going out of bounds. On third-and-3 at the Falcons' 31, Bilal Powell ran for 6 yards, putting the ball well within Folk's range.
Smith completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and, best of all, had the first turnover-free game of his NFL career. He had eight interceptions in his previous four games. "They told me to go out there and just let it rip," Smith said of his teammates. "Play with no conscience."
Later, when later told on air by former quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young that Jets fans "are thinking Super Bowl now," Smith politely tempered the expectations of Jets Nation. "Calm down," he said. "Calm down."
Despite all the criticism the Jets received about their depleted receiving corps and lack of talent, they gut-punched the Falcons for much of the first half. For the first time since a 2008 game against the Patriots, the Jets scored on their first three drives (17 points). Big runs by recently activated Mike Goodson helped set up a 20-yard TD catch by Jeff Cumberland in the second quarter. And on their next drive, the Jets needed only three plays -- including a 47-yard catch by Cumberland -- and 1:37 to make it 17-7 on a 16-yard TD pass to Kerley. The defense held the 10-point lead, stacking up Jacquizz Rodgers on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to end the half.
The Jets made it 27-14 in the third quarter, thanks to a 24-yard punt return by Kerley (and subsequent horse-collar by punter Matt Bosher), a 19-yard run by Chris Ivory and a toe-tap 1-yard TD catch by Kellen Winslow.
But the Falcons were undeterred, even after Antonio Cromartie broke up a deep pass in the end zone intended for Jones. Three plays later, Rodgers broke multiple tackles on a 19-yard TD run to pull to within 27-21.
After last week's loss by the Jets in Tennessee, guard Willie Colon said, Ryan told his players that outsiders expected the Falcons "to turn their season around on us." But the Jets were determined not to be that team. Ryan challenged them to be fearless. And they obliged.
Outside linebacker Calvin Pace said it's difficult to forget ESPN's preseason power rankings, which listed the Jets 32nd overall. Though they aren't the best team in the NFL, he said, "we damn sure ain't dead last."