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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — One down for the New York Jets — barely. Five more to go in their desperate playoff push.
Mark Sanchez threw a career-high four touchdown passes, including the winning 16-yard score to Santonio Holmes with just over a minute remaining, as the New York Jets kept pace in the AFC playoff race with a 28-24 comeback victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
With several Jets players saying they needed to win each of their last six games to reach the postseason, things appeared bleak with New York (6-5) trailing 24-21 after Dave Rayner’s 53-yard field goal and facing a third-and-11 from the Bills 36.
But Sanchez connected with Plaxico Burress, who made an impressive one-handed grab for 18 yards and the first down. Sanchez quickly ran a quarterback sneak and then, on the next play, rolled out to his right to buy some time and found Holmes alone in the right corner of the end zone to give the Jets the lead with 1:01 left.
The Jets then had to overcome a valiant comeback attempt by the Bills (5-6), who have lost four straight. With Buffalo driving for a winning score, a wide-open Stevie Johnson dropped a pass that would have gone for a long gain. Ryan Fitzpatrick also threw behind Johnson in the end zone with 8 seconds left that might have been a touchdown.
Sanchez wasn’t great in this one, going 17 of 35 for 180 yards and an interception, but came through with the game on the line. He also threw two touchdown passes to Dustin Keller and another to Burress as the Jets rebounded from a disappointing loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos 10 days ago.
Fitzpatrick was 26 of 39 for 264 yards and three touchdowns, but couldn’t pull out one more in the end. Buffalo played without several injured starters, including Fred Jackson and George Wilson.
Johnson had one of the Bills’ touchdown catches late in the first half when he got up and mocked being shot in the thigh, clearly making fun of Burress who served 20 months in prison for shooting himself in the leg in a nightclub in 2008 while he was with the Giants. Johnson then ran to the left side of the end zone mocking the “flight” celebration the Jets often use after scoring and fell to the ground, getting flagged 15 yards for excessive celebration on the play that gave Buffalo a 14-7 lead.
That penalty was enforced on the kickoff and helped the Jets score the tying touchdown.
New York was already going to have good field position, but Rayner flubbed a squibbed onside-kick attempt that hit off the Jets’ Marquice Cole, who recovered the ball at Buffalo’s 36.
The Jets moved to the 14 when Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus was hit for a 15-yard penalty for using his helmet to make contact with Sanchez. Three plays later, Burress caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to tie it at 14 with 1:03 left in the half. Burress simply bowed to the crowd and ran to the stands and handed the ball to his son Elijah, as he always does after scoring receptions.
The Jets’ offense started the third quarter with a nice drive capped by Keller’s second touchdown catch of the game that gave New York a 21-14 lead with 3:50 remaining in the period. Keller had a nice leaping 22-yard grab earlier in the drive, and two plays later, the Jets tight end caught a pass from Sanchez at the 6, broke the tackle of Da’Norris Searcy and trudged into the end zone for the score.
After the Jets held the Bills to three-and-out late in the third quarter, Buffalo got the ball right back when cornerback Antonio Cromartie — who doesn’t normally return punts — muffed the fair catch and Leodis McKelvin recovered at New York’s 36. McKelvin injured his ribs on the play and left the game.
Fitzpatrick went for a big play right away, throwing a ball up deep down the right sideline to Brad Smith, who got a hand on it — along with Cromartie — and tapped the ball up, grabbed it out of the air as the defender fell and took off into the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown that tied it at 21 with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Buffalo took a 7-0 lead with 1:38 left in the first quarter on an 8-yard touchdown catch by David Nelson, capping a 13-play drive that covered 90 yards. The Bills had three third-down conversions on the drive, which was also helped by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Brodney Pool on the second play.
On first-and-20 from the Jets 46 following a holding penalty on the Bills’ Chad Rinehart, Fitzpatrick connected with Johnson for 15 yards. Two plays later, Spiller had a 13-yard grab on third-and-2 to put the ball at the 15. Facing a third-and-1 from the 6, the Bills went with an option play — shades of what the Jets saw often against Tebow and the Broncos in their last game — and Spiller got a yard. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick found Nelson in the back of the end zone.
One play after nearly connecting with Holmes for a touchdown, Sanchez pulled off a nice play-action fake and found a wide-open Keller in the left corner of the end zone to tie it at 7 less than 3 minutes into the second quarter.
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.)