FOXBORO — It may have taken a few more minutes than expected, and it may have been by a measly field goal, but New Englanders understand what happened just before midnight.
The New York Jets became a force last night. There is no other way to interpret their 34-31 overtime win.
We must also add this disclaimer: The Patriots are, even with Tom Brady and several of his Pro Bowl companions on the sideline, champions. And quarterback Matt Cassel? He deserves every single thing coming to him, + it wins or an $80-million contract.
But the Jets are No. 1 in the AFC East.
"To be honest, I won't tell you exactly what was said, but a few guys were real emotional," said Jets defensive lineman Kris Jenkins, an 8-year veteran and Jets "rookie." "This game obviously meant more than just a win around here. Trust me, I know how good these Patriots are. I was on a team that lost a Super Bowl to them."
We have seen similar celebrations after Patriot losses be it in Miami in October, Pittsburgh in January or Indianapolis whenever.
The 2008 Jets had to win on Nov. 13 in Foxboro and they did.
An AFC East lead in mid-November is worth its weight in gold. Beating the Patriots is, well, priceless.
"If we lose this game?" said Jets kicker Jay Feely, who booted the game-winning 34-yard field goal in OT. "I wouldn't want to think of what would have happened. We had to beat the Patriots (last night)."
Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Patriots have been the Jets' daddy, beating them 10 of 11 times heading into last night.
In between, the Jets hired the Patriots' defensive "genius," Eric Mangini.
It didn't seem to matter.
They didn't quit, though. With the Patriots returning nearly everybody from their near-perfect team, the Jets accepted none of that.
They acquired the best available quarterback (Brett Favre), the best available defensive lineman (Kris Jenkins) and best available offensive lineman (Alan Faneca).
They didn't just want to compete with the Patriots. They wanted to beat them.
While the Patriots almost pulled off a miracle win, the Jets were the better team.
The Jets won the coin toss to begin the game and didn't defer. They scored a touchdown. Remember the old days?
The Jets not only rushed for 140 yards, but they ran the ball 39 times. That's what very good teams do. They eat up the tough yards in the middle, control the clock, and let the opposition play desperate football.
The desperate Patriots almost did it. The finally caught the Jets on the final play of regulation, with Randy Moss making the play of the game while falling out of the end zone with a second left.
But the Jets won the toss in overtime and methodically moved 80 yards, overcoming a sack on the first play and a 3rd-and-15. They ran the ball six times on that last drive, enough to keep Patriots defenders a tad off balance, before the 34-yard chip shot by Feely.
It was the stuff of champions.
E-mail Bill Burt at email@example.com.