As hard as they were fighting against the NFL's top team, the Jets needed a bolt out of the blue to have any chance of beating undefeated Houston. Their number came in when Joe McKnight returned a kickoff 100 yards up the left sideline to turn a budding blowout into a six-point deficit with 4:38 left in the third quarter Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
It seemed like the change of luck needed for a team fighting injuries to some of its best playmakers, so Jets coach Rex Ryan decided to double down and go for an onside kick. Nick Folk bounced one high off the turf to the right, where wide receiver Chaz Schilens went up and cradled it to his stomach -- only to have Houston's Shiloh Keo dislodge it and recover at the Jets' 46.
"I had it," Schilens lamented after the game. "I caught it, and the dude's helmet came up and knocked it out. Close, but not close enough."
Like the rest of his teammates, Schilens loved the aggressive approach, but just as the ball eluded the Jets, so did the upset as the Texans escaped with a 23-17 victory.
"It was a great call," Schilens said. "If I caught it, we would have got all the momentum back. If I caught it, we probably would have won the game, so that's a huge letdown on my part. It was the perfect time to call it. What can you do?"
Ryan said it was his call "all the way," effectively relieving special-teams coach Mike Westhoff of any responsibility for being second-guessed. "I came here to win," said Ryan, who also was successful on two fourth-down conversion attempts. "I'm never going to look back and regret going for something. I can promise you that."
The Texans seemed to take control when Shayne Graham's 42-yard field goal gave them a 20-7 lead. But McKnight fielded the kickoff, found the wall on the left sideline and ultimately eluded Graham's attempt to shove him out of bounds just before diving across the goal line.
"[Garret McIntyre and Konrad Reuland] made a good block on their double-team, and Bilal [Powell] and Nick Bellore made a good block," McKnight said. "I was one-on-one with the kicker, so I had to make him miss.
"Everybody thought the momentum had changed. I even thought the momentum had changed. But it didn't happen that way."
Despite giving the Texans a short field, the Jets yielded only a field goal, and they matched that with a 21-yarder from Folk with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter to get back within six at 23-17. The game was there to be won when they got the ball with 3:28 left, but a pass went off the hands of tight end Jeff Cumberland and was intercepted. It was their second tipped-ball interception.
"It's just not going the right way right now," Schilens said. "Like unbelievable turnovers. They're a great team, but tipped balls and stuff like that? Give me a break."