The Jets were down a number of starters and were without coach Robert Saleh because of COVID-19, but they made up for it by displaying the most resilience they have shown all season.
They rallied around each other and fought to the very end, when a defensive stand — of all things — preserved their gutsy 26-21 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.
"Everybody stepped up," acting head coach Ron Middleton said. "Just a culmination of the week. Everybody being professional and going about their job with all of the adversity.
"It was an awesome win. An awesome win."
In the first game between No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and No. 2 selection Zach Wilson, the Jets, who had 20 players on the COVID-19 list, outlasted the Jaguars and snapped a three-game losing streak.
Lawrence’s 26-yard run gave the Jaguars a first-and-goal at the 5 in the final seconds.
On second down, linebacker C.J. Mosley should have had an interception to seal the win, but it went through his hands and Marvin Jones Jr. caught it at the 1.
The Jaguars were out of timeouts, so they rushed to the line and spiked it on third down with 13 seconds left. On fourth down, Javelin Guidry knocked the ball away from Jones.
Jacksonville also was flagged for an illegal shift, and the Jets (4-11) declined the penalty and took over on downs.
The defense — one of the worst in the league all season — finally came up with a big stop.
"Thankfully I didn’t lose us the game with that dropped interception," Mosley said.
It was a wild week for the Jets.
They found out Wednesday that Saleh had tested positive for COVID-19 and that Middleton, the tight ends coach, would be running things until Saleh is cleared.
Starting defensive tackle Quinnen Williams was added to the reserve COVID-19 list Sunday morning, joining defensive starters John Franklin-Myers, Foley Fatukasi, Michael Carter II and Ashtyn Davis and starting guards Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
The Jets started rookie Jason Pinnock and Will Parks at safety. Pinnock is a cornerback and Parks wasn’t with the Jets before this week.
"The message all week was take advantage of your opportunity," Wilson said.
"It was different, and it was a challenge," Mosley said. "I feel that everybody who stepped in and stepped up, they held their end of the bargain and they completed the challenge."
Middleton was very aggressive. He went for it on fourth down five times and was presented the game ball after the victory.
Saleh addressed the team via Zoom. He had to have been pleased with what he saw from Wilson, who had almost as many rushing yards as passing yards.
Wilson completed 14 of 22 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown — a brilliant play and throw to tackle-eligible Conor McDermott in the fourth quarter that put the Jets up 23-15.
He carried the ball four times for 91 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown run on the Jets’ first drive. He had the longest run and the most single-game rushing yards by a quarterback in Jets history.
Middleton said coordinator Mike LaFleur challenged Wilson and he responded.
"The OC got on him pretty good and it paid off," Middleton said. "I think he played free. I think he played with confidence. He was out there and showed his running and athletic ability. I thought it was great."
Braxton Berrios had a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that helped put the Jets up 13-9 in the second quarter. Michael Carter ran for a career-high 118 yards on 16 carries. The Jets totaled 273 yards on the ground, their most in more than three years.
Lawrence was 26-for-39 for 280 yards for Jacksonville (2-13).
The Jets led 13-12 at halftime after failing to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Wilson’s pass to Denzel Mims was incomplete. They went ahead 16-12 on Eddy Pineiro’s 42-yard field goal on the first drive of the second half.
Mosley had a strip sack on Lawrence on the next series that Ronnie Blair recovered, giving the Jets the ball at the Jaguars’ 13. They came away with no points, though.
They ran a fake field goal on fourth-and-5 from the 8, but holder Braden Mann was tackled a yard short. The Jaguars took over and turned it into points on Matthew Wright’s 40-yard field goal.
Middleton was undeterred on the next series, going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Wilson rolled away from the rush and threw to a wide-open McDermott, a former tight end, for the touchdown. The extra point made it an eight-point game, which proved huge.
"That was probably the highlight of my entire life so far, that touchdown pass," Wilson said.
"My old tight end skills from high school came out," McDermott said.
The Jaguars made it 23-21 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Dare Ogunbowale with 5:25 left. Jacksonville went for two and Kyle Phillips pressured Lawrence, who threw it out of the end zone.
The Jets had a chance to ice the game on their next series. They had a first-and-goal from the 7, but the drive stalled at the 1. Middleton took the points — Pineiro’s 20-yard field goal for the game’s final points — and the defense made it stand up.
"It was all about resilience," Berrios said. "Next man up. Focus on what we have to do. Go out there on the field and make a play. Lucky enough, we made one more play than they did."