With 34 seconds left, trailing Tampa Bay by two points and starting at his own 20-yard line with no timeouts remaining on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith needed an experienced hand he could lean on. There was only one place to look: nine-year veteran tight end Kellen Winslow.
Smith had looked Winslow's way six previous times, and the result was six catches, including a 7-yard touchdown just before halftime. Sure enough, Smith went to Winslow on first down, but the pass was broken up. But on second down, Winslow got open deep down the middle for a 25-yard gain.
"I've been in that situation many times," Winslow said. "I'm just there to make plays for him. I can't let him down."
Smith spiked the ball with 15 seconds left to stop the clock. What happened next didn't go according to script. If it had, Smith might have hit Winslow with the winning TD pass. But a broken play turned into a happy ending for the Jets when Smith scrambled, was hit out of bounds after a 10-yard gain and drew a personal foul that put the Jets in range for a 48-yard field goal by Nick Folk and an 18-17 victory.
Describing Smith's fateful scramble, Winslow said: "It was 'Tampa 2' [coverage], and I was running down the middle. I told him I was going to run a corner [route]. I ran the post and then I ran the corner. I was wide open deep. I was hoping he was going to throw it to me, but thank God, we got the penalty there and Nick made the field goal."
All's well that ends well, so Winslow was happy for Smith and the fact that he pulled out a win in last-second fashion in his NFL debut. "I'm not surprised at all," Winslow said. "The game wasn't too big for him. I'm proud of him. He rose to the occasion."
So did Winslow, whose career seemed in doubt after he was cut by Seattle last season and then played only one game for New England before asking for his release. There was some question whether Winslow's right knee, which has had microfracture surgery, would hold up.
Before this season began, Winslow insisted he was healthy, and he set a goal of making 100 catches. He started with seven for 79 yards against the Bucs, a team he played for from 2009-11.
"It feels real good, man," Winslow said. "I was real emotional before the game. I had to control myself . . . I had been envisioning it for so long that, I don't know how to explain it, but I was just ready for the game and real emotional."
With the Jets trailing 14-5 late in the second quarter, Winslow caught an 18-yard out that set up his 7-yard touchdown reception on a route over the middle on the next play.
Told he'll be the answer to a trivia question about who caught Smith's first TD pass, Winslow smiled. "I'm honored to be it," he said. "Geno's going to be a great player. I'm happy we got this win and his first win."