With 5:44 remaining and their team trailing by three, Dustin Keller turned to Santonio Holmes as they waited for referee Carl Cheffers to blow his whistle and signal the start of the Jets' most important drive of the season.

"I kind of tapped Santonio on the shoulder and let him know that you are making this play," Keller said. "You are going to be in the end zone on this one. Lead us down there."

Technically, Mark Sanchez led the Jets down the field, but it was Holmes' grab that saved the Jets from a potentially devastating defeat and kept their playoff hopes alive.

Sanchez's 16-yard toss to Holmes with 1:01 left gave the Jets a thrilling 28-24 win over the Bills at MetLife Stadium Sunday, a victory that wasn't secured until Ryan Fitzpatrick's fourth-down pass from the Jets' 24, intended for Stevie Johnson in the end zone, sailed incomplete as time expired.

"We'll take it. Wow," coach Rex Ryan said. "You have to give our guys a lot of credit. That wasn't an easy game by any stretch of the imagination."

Sanchez's pass to Holmes was his fourth touchdown toss of the game, a career high. He threw TD passes of 3 and 18 yards to Keller and a 14-yarder to Plaxico Burress and finished 17-for-35 for 180 yards and one interception.

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Fitzpatrick completed 26 of 39 attempts and threw three touchdown passes for the Bills (5-6).

Sanchez really picked it up in the second half, completing 9 of 15 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns and recording a 123.3 passer rating. He was especially on point in the fourth quarter and was a huge reason the Jets (6-5) snapped their two-game losing streak.

Sanchez went 7-for-9 for 66 yards on the game-winning 12-play, 82-yard drive. Perhaps no hookup was bigger than the one he had with Burress just after the two-minute warning.

With the Jets trailing 24-21 and facing a third-and-11 at Buffalo's 36-yard line, Sanchez lofted a pass toward the left sideline that a spinning Burress pulled in with his right hand, an amazing reception that gave the Jets a first down at the 18.

"Mark just did a great job hanging in there," Burress said. "They brought an all-out blitz, and they faked one blitz and went to another. He gave me the look, gave me the signal or whatever, and just put it in my hands, told me to go out and make a play. That's what I did."

Two plays later, Holmes made his. On second-and-8, Sanchez rolled right and pointed to Holmes before uncorking a pass that the wide receiver caught for a 16-yard touchdown just before reaching the sideline.

Nick Folk's kick made it 28-24, giving the Jets a four-point lead that left the Bills needing more than a field goal.

"The quarterback got flushed out of the pocket," Holmes said. "We know what we're taught in practice is to just keep the play alive until it's completed, thrown away, whatever. The guy had his back turned to the quarterback and I was watching his every move, relaxed until I knew it was my turn to turn around and do what I'm supposed to do for Mark."

But the Bills responded, driving to the Jets' 24. On the fourth play of the drive, Stevie Johnson dropped a potential 47-yard touchdown pass after getting in the middle of the defense, splitting Brodney Pool and Jim Leonhard before letting the ball slip through his hands at the 25.

Buffalo also had three cracks at the end zone from the 24 but Fitzpatrick couldn't connect with anyone, overthrowing Johnson at the goal line as the clock hit triple zeroes.

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That ended a wild game that seemed to take a turn for the worse for the Jets when Antonio Cromartie muffed a third-quarter punt that Buffalo cashed into seven points. One play after the muff, Fitzpatrick threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to former Jet Brad Smith, defended by Cromartie, that tied the score at 21 with 2:11 left in the third quarter. Dave Rayner's 53-yard field goal with 9:46 left in the fourth quarter gave the Bills a 24-21 lead.

Despite facing a banged-up Bills team, the Jets basically had to pull a Houdini, knowing they likely have to win their final six games to make the postseason for a third straight year.

"We just don't need to put ourselves in that position the way we did," Sanchez said. "It's a great job winning the game. It's huge. Any time you win in this league, it's huge, especially when you need to win six in a row. So I'm thrilled about the win. Don't get me wrong. It's just that I know we can play better than that.

"We don't need to fight it at the end and grind it out and bite our nails at the end of the game. That's not the way we need to play. We won't win every game like that."