Jets slip past Dolphins to make playoff push
By Steven Wine
By Steven Wine
MIAMI — The stadium was two-thirds empty by the fourth quarter, and small clusters of New York Jets fans let out a hearty cheer when Mike Nugent kicked the winning field goal with 10 seconds left last night.
A playoff atmosphere? Hardly. But the Jets moved closer to the postseason with an ugly but crucial comeback victory.
New York overcame steady rain, a sputtering offense and two late scores by the Miami Dolphins to win 13-10.
"For us it was all about chipping away and waiting for our moment," Jets coach Eric Mangini said.
All of the points came in the final 17:25. Miami kicked a tying field goal with 2:09 left, but on the Jets' next play, Leon Washington caught a short pass from Chad Pennington and broke loose for a 64-yard gain.
Four plays later, Nugent kicked a 30-yarder. That meant the Jets (9-6) can clinch an AFC wild-card playoff berth if they beat Oakland (2-13) in their final regular-season game Sunday.
"We like controlling our own destiny and not having to rely on someone else to help us," defensive end Shaun Ellis said.
For the Dolphins (6-9), the defeat ensures the first losing season for Nick Saban in his 13 years as a college and NFL coach. Miami was eliminated from the playoff race a week ago.
"When it came to it, we just fell apart on defense," linebacker Zach Thomas said. "And they made great plays when they had to."
The rain resulted in a succession of errant and dropped passes — and 18 punts. A mishandled snap spoiled a field goal try by New York. Dolphins cornerback Eddie Jackson left the game with a knee injury when he stumbled and fell on the slippery field without being hit.
When the Dolphins' scoreless streak reached six quarters, Cleo Lemon replaced Joey Harrington at quarterback to start the second half. A third-year pro, Lemon threw his first NFL touchdown pass and finished 11-for-16 for 104 yards.
"We decided to go with Cleo to see if he would give us a little bit of a spark," Saban said. "He did a decent job of moving the team a couple of times."
Miami's Ronnie Brown, back in the lineup after missing three games with a hand injury, rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries.
But in the fourth quarter, the Jets answered scores by Miami with scoring drives of 80 and 68 yards.
"We didn't knock them out, but we might have scored a technical knockout," New York linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.
After Lemon hit Randy McMichael on a 7-yard touchdown pass to put the Dolphins ahead 7-3, New York regained the lead on Pennington's 31-yard scoring pass to Jerricho Cotchery with 7:51 to go.
Cotchery was initially ruled down at the 1-yard line, but the Jets challenged the spot, and following a review the play was ruled a touchdown.
Pennington finished 14-for-29 for 237 yards.
A funny bounce then produced the game's only turnover — and the tying field goal for Miami.
A short punt by the Dolphins took a backward hop before deflecting off the arm of Jets blocker Brad Kassell, and Miami's John Denney recovered at the Jets 42. Eight plays later, Olindo Mare kicked a 25-yard field goal.
The game was an announced sellout, but because of the Christmas holiday, the bad weather and the Dolphins' disappointing season, the stadium was less than half full at the start.