As the penalty flag flew in the air, life instantly returned to the Jets' bench.
Rex Ryan took off down the sideline, pumping his fist as he ran. His players jumped up and down like schoolchildren, raising their hands in collective celebration. And there, amid all the revelry, was Geno Smith -- lying on the ground, still clutching the football.
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In the first regular-season start of his NFL career -- and his first game, period -- the quarterback took control of the game and his team. And as a result of Smith's poise -- and a personal foul on Tampa Bay -- Jets kicker Nick Folk had a chance to save the day.
Linebacker Lavonte David's late sideline hit on a scrambling Smith with seven seconds remaining resulted in a 15-yard penalty and set up a 48-yard field goal by Folk as the Jets stole an 18-17 win Sunday.
"No matter what, I was ready to kick it. Whether it be 63 or 48,'' said Folk, who connected on all three of his FG attempts (43, 30, 48). "That's what I told myself out there: 'It's just like an extra point.' ''
The Jets had only 34 seconds to pull off an improbable rally. Trailing 17-15 after Rian Lindell's 37-yard field goal and starting from his own 20, Smith needed to get the offense downfield without the benefit of any timeouts. But instead of panicking, he delivered.
On second-and-10, he hooked up with tight end Kellen Winslow on a 25-yard pass. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Smith scrambled 10 yards and went out of bounds at the Bucs' 45. But as he stepped out of bounds, David sent him crashing to the ground.
"I knew they lost the game,'' said Santonio Holmes, who caught one pass for 13 yards in his first game back from foot surgery. "I knew they gave it up at that moment.''
And the personal foul -- one of 13 penalties issued against the Bucs -- quickly set the stage for Folk, who kicked the field goal with two seconds left.
"Go ahead and write it,'' Ryan said, devising his own back-page headline: " 'Folk Hero.' ''
With 34 seconds left on the clock, Winslow -- whose 7-yard touchdown reception brought the Jets within 14-12 in the second quarter -- turned to head trainer John Mellody and said: "That's a lot of time in this league.''
And he was right.
When the flag went up, Ryan said only one thought went through his mind: "I was like, 'Holy cow! We've got a shot.' ''
Smith was 24-for-38 for 256 yards with one touchdown, one interception and one fumble. "Resiliency is something you have to have at this position,'' he said. "That's something that I think was always instilled in me at a young age.''
Right guard Willie Colon said he was "not at all'' surprised by Smith's composure. "That's what I've been trying to tell the media: No matter what interception, no matter what happens, the kid's composure is ice,'' he said. "And you've got to have those veins, especially when you're in this market and this city.''
The Jets now can carry the momentum of a big victory into their quick-turnaround game Thursday night against the Patriots in New England.
"We just fought to the end, till it was zero on the clock,'' said Muhammad Wilkerson, who -- along with the rest of the defensive line -- made good on a promise to rattle Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman. "We did our job.''
"We felt like we were hunting tonight,'' said safety Dawan Landry, who missed a tackle on a 37-yard completion to Vincent Jackson that set up the field goal by Lindell that made it 17-15 Bucs.
The rest of the football world may have counted the Jets out late in the fourth quarter, but they said they knew better.
"We're taking heat from the outside, but inside our walls . . . we're building a team,'' Ryan said. " . . . This team is special.''
Added right tackle Austin Howard: "We know that no matter what is said outside these doors, only we know what we can do to make this team successful.''