Buster Skrine was just as confused as everyone else.
The Jets cornerback was on the field for the overtime coin toss, just a few steps away from referee Clete Blakeman and Patriots captain Matthew Slater. And Skrine couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“I’m like, he had to mess it up,” the nickel cornerback said after the Jets’ wild 26-20 victory yesterday at MetLife Stadium. “If you go back and look at the film of the coin toss, he Slater] looks to the sideline like: ‘I don’t know what I just did.’ I think he messed it up. But it is what it is.”
Then Skrine added with a grin: “Thanks for letting us get the ball first.”
Bill Belichick’s decision to have New England kick off to start overtime — rather than give the ball to Tom Brady, his future Hall of Fame quarterback — seemed like a snub of the Jets’ offense. And that overconfidence played right into Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands.
It took the Jets quarterback just 2:33 to march his offense downfield before he threw the winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker.
“Those are the moments that you cherish,” said Decker, who leaped into the stands and received hugs from fans after his score. “The way we finished, I love this team.”
It was the exclamation point to a dramatic victory over their biggest rivals, one that extended the Jets’ winning streak to five games — a feat they hadn’t accomplished since 2010.
Belichick’s belated Christmas gift helped pave the way for the Jets’ playoff run to continue. So did the results of the Steelers-Ravens game.
Pittsburgh, which began the day ahead of the Jets in the AFC wild-card race based on a tiebreaker, lost to the Ravens (4-10) in Baltimore, 20-17. The Steelers fell to 9-6, and the Jets (10-5) now control their playoff destiny. They can clinch a wild-card spot by beating the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday.
Coach Todd Bowles was unaware of the Steelers-Ravens outcome until he got into the locker room. Skrine, however, said, “I was watching on the scoreboard the whole time.”
On the Jets’ winning drive, Fitzpatrick had completions of 48 yards to Quincy Enunwa and 20 yards to Brandon Marshall before hitting Decker in the right corner of the end zone.
“It’s about damn time,” Bowles said, laughing, when asked for his reaction to the game-winner. “I was happy for those guys. They put in a lot of work all week, so to see them fight it out and get a victory this time was good to see.”
The Jets’ fate now is in their hands, but Fitzpatrick (26-for-41, 296 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) was quick to point out that they still have work to do.
“I’m excited . . . but we have to take care of business,” said the quarterback, who has completed 131 of 203 passes for 1,525 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 106.5 during the winning streak.
In three of the past four games, Fitzpatrick has driven the Jets to a win in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime. But he didn’t look sharp at all times against the Patriots (12-3).
With the Jets up 17-6, Patriots defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard sacked Fitzpatrick, forcing a fumble that Jamie Collins scooped up and ran into the end zone for a 14-yard TD with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
A 49-yard field goal by Randy Bullock increased the Jets’ lead to 20-13 with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots wouldn’t go away.
With about 2 1⁄2 minutes left in regulation, tight end Rob Gronkowski hauled in a 26-yard catch on fourth-and-9 from the Jets’ 35 (with Calvin Pryor in coverage). That play helped set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open James White that tied the score at 20 with 1:55 left in regulation.
But overtime proved to be the Patriots’ undoing.
Said Marshall: “When they won [the coin toss], my reaction was, ‘Stop them.’ Then it was our ball and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ ”
The transcript of the coin toss before overtime between referee Clete Blakeman and Patriots co-captain Matthew Slater:
Blakeman: “Heads is the call.”
Blakeman: “It is heads.”
Blakeman: “You want to kick?”
Slater: “We want to kick that way.”
Slater: “Hey, we won. Don’t we get to choose?”
Blakeman (off mic): “You elected to kick.”