Calvin Pace high-fived nearly everyone he saw on his trip to the Jets' locker room. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer let out a "Hell, yeah!" and slapped equipment manager Vito Contento on the back. And it wasn't long before Santonio Holmes emerged, summing up how the Jets were feeling at that exhilarating moment.
"This was a business trip!" Holmes shouted. "Business as usual! Business is done!"
The sixth-seeded Jets had just pulled off the unthinkable, sending shock waves across New England and avenging that 45-3 beatdown by the Patriots last month. They rode Mark Sanchez's three touchdown passes and a solid defensive game plan that frustrated Tom Brady to a 28-21 victory over the top-seeded Patriots in their AFC divisional matchup Sunday night.
The Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the second time in as many seasons under Rex Ryan and will face the second-seeded Steelers at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field with a berth in Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, on the line.
"It was a tremendous feeling," Ellis said. "A lot of people didn't give us a chance, considering what happened last time. But every guy in that locker room believed. We knew we didn't play our best the last time, and we just wanted to come out and play Jets football, and we did that.''
Sanchez rebounded from a slow start, conquering his personal house of horrors (he was 0-2 here). He threw for 194 effective yards, connecting on 16 of 25 attempts, and was not intercepted or sacked. Sanchez posted a quarterback rating of 127.3.
"I just felt like I needed to be smart and take what they gave me," Sanchez said, "and not get caught up in, 'Oh, you can't win up here' and use that as fuel. We just stayed within ourselves and let the other guys make plays. They did it all."
The Jets stifled Brady, who completed 29 of 45 but was sacked five times and was intercepted for the first time in 339 attempts.
"In reviewing the tape, we discovered he wasn't so invincible," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Since his last Super Bowl, we realized that in the playoffs, he's just as average as any other quarterback. Our roster had more playoff experience than theirs had, yet we weren't getting enough credit for being in the moment and being to the dance before."
The Jets' 14-3 halftime lead was cut to 14-11 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter after Brady hit Alge Crumpler with a 2-yard pass and Sammy Morris added the two-point conversion run. The Jets knew they had to get the momentum back.
"It was just understood," center Nick Mangold said, "that we needed to go down and get some points out of it."
"It was a beautiful pass by Mark,'' Holmes said. "He placed it where the defender had no chance to make a play on it.''
After Antonio Cromartie ran back an onside kick 23 yards to the Patriots' 25, Shonn Greene's 16-yard run gave the Jets a 28-14 lead with 1:41 left. Brady threw a 13-yard TD pass to Deion Branch with 24 seconds to go, but the Jets again recovered the onside kick, sealing their upset and backing up their weeklong war of words.
"We talk because we believe in ourselves,'' Ryan said. "There's a huge amount of respect our team has for New England. That's a great team.
"Maybe people take it the wrong way, but we don't try to badmouth an opponent. We respect every opponent, but we are not in fear of anybody. We came here on a mission, and we are trying to win a Super Bowl. We've still got a long ways to go."