EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan and the New York Jets tried to stay positive even though things appeared grim.
After all, they trailed by 14 points and were unable to do much for three quarters against the Dallas Cowboys. As it turned out, the Jets were just getting started.
"This was amazing," a smiling Ryan said. "It doesn't get much better than this, especially the way we got it done."
An emotionally charged day for the Jets ended with an unlikely comeback as Nick Folk kicked a 50-yard field goal with 27 seconds left, giving them a 27-24 victory in the final game of the NFL's first full Sunday with the commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a backdrop.
"It was a draining game," said Ryan, wearing an FDNY cap. "I am just so proud we were able to pull this thing out, for the town, as well. I probably even feel better about that than I do for our football team."
Ryan wanted this one badly, and he said early last week that he felt more pressure to win this game than perhaps any other he has coached. And, it wasn't only the fact it was the home opener: He also wanted to beat his twin brother Rob, Dallas' defensive coordinator, with their father Buddy in the crowd.
With pregame and halftime ceremonies honoring those affected by the attacks, the Jets felt they were taking on the role of "America's Team" against the Cowboys in front of a national television audience.
"Oh my goodness, exciting," Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "It was rocking. I felt like I was at a concert, but we were on stage. It felt great tonight. You could feel the energy in the building, and that was a tribute to the fans."
With the game tied at 24, the Cowboys had a chance for a winning drive with 59 seconds left, but Tony Romo was intercepted on the first play by Darrelle Revis, who returned it 20 yards to Dallas' 34.
"We win that football game if I don't do what I did," Romo said. "It's hard to swallow."
Four plays later, Folk kicked the go-ahead field goal against his former team.
"I thought, 'Just make it look like an extra point,'" Folk said. "I took a deep breath before I went on the field."
A few moments later, he was greeted by a sideline of wildly cheering teammates.
"We just kept hanging in there and hanging in there, believing we can get it done," Ryan said. "I can't be more proud of our team. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but we'll take this kind of victory any day of the week."
It was the third time in franchise history the Jets overcame a deficit of at least 14 points in the fourth quarter, and first since the "Monday Night Miracle" against Miami in 2000.
"It was an emotional win," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "It was the ultimate team win."
It sure was, and it took some big plays on offense, defense and special teams to get it.
The Jets tied it with 5 minutes left when Isaiah Trufant, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, ran in a blocked punt from 18 yards for a touchdown. Joe McKnight charged up the middle unblocked and got his hands on Mat McBriar's kick, which bounced right into Trufant's hands.
"Your eyes light up and you pick up the ball and run," Trufant said. "I saw daylight and fans cheering."
A few minutes earlier, it appeared the Cowboys were going to take a two-touchdown lead when Jason Witten's 64-yard catch put the ball at the Jets 3. Three plays later, Romo scrambled, then tried to run it in up the middle, but was sacked by Mike DeVito. The quarterback lost the ball, and it was recovered by Sione Pouha.
"If we get points there, the game probably has a different story," Witten said. "At critical times, you can't have those mistakes."
The Jets turned over the ball a few minutes later when a blitzing Danny McCray sacked Sanchez, hitting him from behind and knocking the ball loose. But the Cowboys couldn't take advantage when they had two penalties and were forced to punt — the play that swung the momentum in the Jets' favor.
"We clearly need to play better at the end to win the ballgame," said Dallas' Jason Garrett, whose debut as the team's full-time coach was spoiled.
Sanchez was 26 of 44 for 335 yards and touchdown tosses to Dustin Keller and Plaxico Burress, who played in a regular-season game for the first time in nearly three years. Sanchez, who was knocked around a bit in the game, appeared weary but said he felt fine.
Burress last played in 2008 for the Giants before he spent 20 months in prison on a gun charge. He knew it would be an emotional moment when he finally took the field.
"It feels like I never left," he said. "I still have some football shape to get into. I expected to be a little fatigued going into the fourth quarter."
A few plays after putting a bone-crunching hit on Cowboys defensive back Michael Jenkins while blocking on a 28-yard catch by Santonio Holmes, Burress had a 26-yard catch as he spun into the end zone to make it 24-17 with 11:56 left. The play was reviewed by officials and upheld.
"Mark just gave me an opportunity," Burress said. "He believed in me to make a play. He said my guy is better than your guy and he put it over there."
Burress bowed to the crowd and then stretched both arms out with the ball in one hand, yelled to the crowd in celebration and gave the ball to his 4-year-old son Elijah. He finished with four catches for 72 yards.
Romo was 23 of 36 for 342 yards and two touchdowns, picking on Antonio Cromartie on both to help give Dallas a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Romo threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant on the Cowboys' opening drive. Miles Austin also outwrestled Cromartie for a 36-yard TD in the third quarter, and it appeared Romo's return after missing the final 10 games of last season with a broken left collarbone was going well — until it all fell apart in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys dropped to 246-1-1 when leading by 14 points or more in the fourth quarter, according to STATS LLC.
"We lost this game because of me," a dejected Romo said.
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