This win felt extra sweet. Even for Todd Bowles.
The Jets coach — a man of few words and even fewer public displays of emotion — leaped and bear-hugged team staffers immediately after Josh Brown’s kick sailed wide left in overtime to seal Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Giants.
It was the happiest his players had seen him, and for good reason. In Woody Johnson’s 15 years of ownership, he had never beaten the Giants in the regular season.
“That’s why I gave him the game ball,” Bowles said of Johnson, who at the urging of players did the “Dab” dance in the locker room. “It was a great team victory and something that brought everybody together, hopefully closer, for us to catapult and go forward.”
The Jets’ “one game at a time” approach is the same. But every victory feels different, and Sunday’s was by far the best, said nose tackle Damon Harrison. The Jets (7-5) clawed back from a late 10-point deficit, stymied Eli Manning down the stretch and made plays when it counted most. “Nobody gave up. Everybody believed,” Harrison said. “And to have that come true, it was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick (season-high 390 passing yards) outshined Manning, a future Hall of Famer, to improve the Jets’ playoff chances. “It was an emotional win for us, so it was a great feeling in the locker room, everybody was jumping around, excited,” said Fitzpatrick, who never had won more than six games in a season as a starter.
“I promise, coach Bowles is not jumping around and excited in the building today. He’s focused on the next game and figuring out what we can do to beat Tennessee. It’s a great feeling, but it’s also a feeling that can go away quickly depending on how we play.”
There is much more work to be done by the Jets, who are in a crowded race for an AFC wild card. But that didn’t keep players from relishing their latest accomplishment.
“This whole year has been awesome, and a lot of it is just the team that we have,” Fitzpatrick said. “Coming to work every day is great because we have guys that love the game of football and love playing together. It’s great to be in this situation. To be able to play meaningful games in December, that’s always the goal.”
The Jets “still haven’t played a true, true complete game all season,” cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. But on Sunday, Bowles finally witnessed the tenacity he’d been waiting for weeks to see. “And I’m happy that they got to see it themselves,” he said. “They need to believe . . . ”
Now, he hopes that same grit will be evident in the games ahead.
“I don’t think you can become a complete team until you have one of those type of games,” Bowles said. “We failed Buffalo, we failed in New England and we failed Philly. Obviously, we failed in a couple games that we were in and didn’t win. So to come back and finally have some success and win one of those games, it says a lot, hopefully, about the growth for our team.”