The game was one the Jets probably would have lost last year, and maybe even earlier this season. But they showed some of the growth, maturity and resiliency they’ve talked about developing.
It was an ugly, turnover-filled game that could have turned against the Jets several times. Instead, they rode the foot of Jason Myers, who kicked a team-record seven field goals, and held off the Colts, 42-34, Sunday at MetLife Stadium on a day the franchise honored the 50th anniversary of its lone Super Bowl champion.
The Jets (3-3) are keeping hope alive that this can be a playoff team. They accomplished a rare feat — for them, anyway — winning two games in a row for the first time in more than a year.
“We’re right back in the thick of things,” Todd Bowles said. “The growth of the team — we probably would have lost this one a year ago or a couple of weeks ago. For us to win ugly is a pretty good thing.”
The Jets’ last hot streak came just over a year ago, when they captured three in a row in Weeks 3, 4 and 5. They’ve been pretty proficient at losing streaks, though. They fell three straight times this year after winning their opener. But since then, the Jets seem to have found a formula for success, built around controlling clock with their run game, letting Sam Darnold pick apart defenses, and making plays and being opportunistic on defense.
“It was a big step, but the great ones do it consistently,” Leonard Williams said. “We’re happy about this win, and I think it showed a lot about this team finishing the game. There’s a lot of times where we could have rolled over and let the other team take over, which we have done sometimes in the past, like last year. But we aren’t the same team.”
Darnold had another strong game, completing 24 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Jermaine Kearse caught nine passes for 94 yards, and Terrelle Pryor had a receiving TD for the second straight week. Myers was brilliant, connecting on field goals of 30, 48, 32, 37, 45, 37 and 45 yards.
The Jets’ defense had plenty of issues, but it did open the game with a pick-6 of Andrew Luck, who threw for four scores. Morris Claiborne snared a twice-deflected pass and took it 17 yards for the touchdown just 12 seconds into the game.
As a whole, the defense really bent, but it didn’t break. It made plays when it really had to – forcing the Colts into field goals following two turnovers in the first half. The Jets forced four themselves, including three interceptions. Avery Williamson and Darron Lee had the other two.
“I feel like we’ve grown as a team,” Claiborne said. “Those type of games in the past we weren’t mature enough as a team to step over that hump and go win those games like good football teams do. Now I think we’re learning as we go along. We’re taking steps toward that process of finishing those type of games. That was a showing of it.”
Luck threw for 301 yards and almost led the Colts back after the Jets took a 17-point lead early in the third quarter. The Colts (1-5) got within eight with 1:51 left on Luck’s pass to Chester Rogers. But the Jets put the game away when Neal Sterling recovered the onside kick.
“I definitely see the growth aspect of this team,” Lee said. “Last year we probably would have lost that game. Something probably would have happened. The wheels would have fallen off. But that just shows the growth and maturity of this team, the dedication of this team. We’re trying to build on consistency, and today was a step in the right direction.”
The Jets showed some mettle after their 30-13 lead had been trimmed to 33-27 following Luck’s 2-yard TD pass to tight end Erik Swoope eight seconds into the fourth.
On the Jets’ next drive, they made it a two-score game again as Myers drilled a 45-yard field goal to put them up 36-27. The Jets were fortunate they got that, because Darnold should have been intercepted on third down. Colts defensive end Jabaal Sheard couldn’t gather the ball before falling.
The Jets’ defense made sure the offense got the ball back with a chance to extend the lead. Lee picked off Luck as the Colts were nearing Jets territory. They converted it into – what else? – a Myers field goal – and a 12-point cushion.
“We needed a play,” Lee said. “That’s what we talked about on the sideline. We need a play, and to come out and put our foot on their throat – we went out and did that.”
And it got the Jets back to .500 for the first time since Week 6 last year.
“It’s good,” Lee said, “but we’re not done yet.”