DENVER (AP) — Rex Ryan sees the unmistakable signs of maturity in his team.
From the gutsy long pass Mark Sanchez launched on the game’s decisive play to the fumble recovery that clinched the New York Jets’ improbable 24-20 win over Denver on Sunday, Ryan said his team has started making the plays they weren’t ready to make a year ago.
On a day when the Jets (5-1) were outgained, run over by the Broncos’ reeling rushing attack and turned the ball over three times, they still found a way to head into their bye week on a five-game winning streak.
“I’d like to apologize for that win,” the colorful and charismatic Ryan said. “No, I wouldn’t.”
Sanchez was off rhythm against the Broncos (2-4), throwing his first two interceptions of the season. But when the game was on the line, Sanchez was at his best.
Just another sign of his maturation in Ryan’s estimation.
Trailing by a field goal and facing a fourth-and-6 from the Denver 48 late in the fourth quarter, Sanchez launched a deep ball to receiver Santonio Holmes, who was blanketed in one-on-one coverage by safety Renaldo Hill.
As the two went up, Hill grabbed Holmes’ face mask with a few of his fingers, leading to a flag on the play and setting up LaDainian Tomlinson’s winning 2-yard TD run with 1:13 left.
“In my eyes right now, that’s his loss and my win,” Holmes said. “I make that catch anytime.”
Hill refused to chat after the game. His teammates, though, weren’t certain the play deserved a flag.
“We’ve got to live with what was called,” rookie cornerback Perrish Cox said.
Ryan applauded his quarterback for even attempting the pass. Last season, as a rookie, Sanchez may not have even glanced that far down the field, Ryan said.
“His presence to know, ‘I don’t have stick the throw underneath, I’m going to take my shot down the field,” — I was really proud he made that decision,” Ryan said.
The Jets defense held up their end, too, especially late. New York surrendered 145 yards rushing to a Broncos team averaging a third of that coming in.
Unlike Sanchez, Kyle Orton wouldn’t get a shot at a last-gasp pass, however.
A bad shotgun snap by rookie J.D. Walton sailed wide of Orton and was recovered by cornerback Dwight Lowery at midfield with 35 seconds left.
“You just can’t believe it, because you want to have a shot,” receiver Brandon Lloyd said. “You want to have a shot to at least throw the ball up and see if we can get a P.I.”
The Broncos felt like this was a win that definitely slipped away.
“I’m not scared to say it: I think we outplayed them,” Broncos linebacker Mario Haggan said. “They just had one more punch than we did and obviously it was decided by a technical.”
Once again, Tomlinson remains a thorn in the side of Denver, scampering in from 20 yards out to tie it at 17 with 8½ minutes left.
He’s at a loss to explain his success, but he has 21 touchdowns in 19 games against Denver dating back to his playing days with San Diego.
“At first, we couldn’t win here when I was with the Chargers,” Tomlinson said. “We went on a streak where every year we lost here. Eventually that turned around. Now, it seems like I can’t lose here. I guess it’s how it works out.”
Tomlinson’s score came just after Demaryius Thomas caught Orton’s high pass over cornerback Darrelle Revis from 17 yards out to put Denver ahead 17-10 in the third quarter.
Revis has been hampered by a hamstring injury. Yet even at 90 percent, Ryan said he’s still the best option.
“That is better than 90 percent of the corners in this league,” Ryan said. “Did he get beat for a touchdown? Yeah, he did. But you know what? He’s going to get beat again for a touchdown this season, no matter if he’s 90 percent or 100 percent. That’s just the way it is. He’s a great player — they all get beat.”
Broncos perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey certainly did early in the game, giving up a 32-yard TD catch to Braylon Edwards.
With a defense missing safety Brian Dawkins, cornerback Andre’ Goodman and pass-rushing linebacker Robert Ayers, the Broncos switched to a four defensive linemen look for a bulk of the game.
The scheme confounded the Jets, who turned the ball over three times after entering the game with only one fumble on offense all season.
“Good teams find a way to win,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “It’s not always going to go your way. They had a great game plan, and they executed well. We just made one last play to get it done. Sometimes, it happens like that.”
Notes: Broncos PK Matt Prater’s 59-yard field goal as the first half expired was the second-longest in team history, behind Jason Elam’s 63-yarder in 1998. … Rookie QB Tim Tebow raced in from 5 yards out for his first NFL touchdown. … Jets PK Nick Folk connected on a franchise-long 56-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.