It was special to see the emotion of the Jets vets. Safety Victor Green and quarterback Vinny Testaverde hugging and exchanging private words at midfield, center Kevin Mawae clinging to the slick Network Associates Coliseum grass in fatigue and joy. It was special for Herman Edwards to get to the playoffs in his first year as an NFL head coach and for the Jets to get their first postseason game in three years and the ninth playoff berth in franchise history. It was special to finally beat the Raiders at Oakland for the first time since the Jets were Titans.
``We might have to play them again,'' said wide receiver Wayne Chrebet. ``Now they know we can win here and we know we can win here.''
And it was special for the Jets to stick it to the critics advised people to stick a fork in Gang Green.
``We were done,'' defensive tackle Steve Martin said. ``They had the potatoes and the cornbread next to our heads. We were done like chickens.''
But this time the Jets didn't foul up in the clutch. Their 24-22 victory over the Raiders on Sunday allowed them to climb onto the NFL's postseason bus. And the victory was appropriately special because of the unit that played the biggest role in making it possible.
``Special teams? I was mad at them a few times,'' said Edwards after John Hall drove a 53-yard field goal through a low snap to give the Jets their winning points with 59 seconds to play. ``We had some penalties, but we also made some good plays. It just shows a lot of character of the guys, the way they hung in and played the game.''
All the Jets pulled it together to earn either the fifth or sixth seed and a roadtrip to either Miami or back to Oakland _ it all depends on tonight's NFL regular-season finale between Baltimore and Minnesota. But Hall's kick, the fifth game-winner of his five-year career, was the centerpiece.
``I was hoping it had enough distance, but I knew it was straight,'' said Hall in typical understated fashion. ``We just came in and played as a team and didn't give up.'' Hall's teammates weren't as modest. They said to a man they had no doubt that despite the distance and the condition of the field and the pressure, Hall would come through.
``We know he has enough leg,'' said Testaverde, who struggled at times and threw two bad midgame interceptions but still moved the Jets 29 yards to the Oakland 35 to set up the kick. ``Once it got up, I knew it was good.'' ``Once we got across the 50,'' said linebacker Mo Lewis, ``I knew he was going to do it.''
``He kicks them from 65 yards in practice,'' guard Randy Thomas said. ``I had no doubts. I was drinking my water on the sideline, knowing now the defense had to make the stop.''
Before the game got to that point, the special teams had a hand in several other big plays. In the first half, it seemed the Jets had frittered away all the momentum from Vinny Testaverde's first 40-yard pass of the season to Laveranues Coles on the game's second play. But Chris Hayes got his first punt block as a Jet, rookie Jason Glenn took the loose ball 4 yards with Raider Randy Jordan on his back, and Gang Green went back on top, 14-9.
``Mike drew it up in practice this week,'' Hayes said of special-teams coach Mike Westhoff's contribution. ``But he had to call it at the right time, and he did that, too.'' ``I'm just ecstatic right now,'' said Glenn of his first career TD.
Each time the Jets came up with a play, Oakland responded. On the one hand, it was surprising, since the Raiders came in with as much baggage as the Jets - QB Rich Gannon going after his underachieving teammates, injuries on both sides of the line, and DT Darrell Russell's suspension.
On the other hand, this was the Black Hole, and the Jets seemed to succumbing to the environment once again. Testaverde and the offense sputtered to life here, turned the ball over there. Curtis Martin could gain just 50 yards and lost the NFL rushing title to Kansas City's Priest Holmes and lost his first fumble in 201 offensive touches.
``I said to myself, `Why are you waiting till the last game of the season to fumble?' '' Martin said. ``Fortunately, the team made up for it, and that's what we needed.''
The Jets defense, meanwhile, bogged down on occasion and let the Raiders drive to a wide-open Gannon-to-Roland Williams touchdown pass at the end of the first half and two field goals by former Giants kicker Brad Daluiso in the second to inch back into the lead. But once Hall nailed the biggest kick of his career, the defense rose up to stop the Raiders cold at their 20. The celebration was on. And a guarantee was paid off. That was the assurance, in the gloomy depths of the visitors' losing locker room at Pittsburgh, that strong safety Victor Green gave four weeks earlier: that the Jets would make the playoffs.
``Guys like Vinny helped me out, all my teammates helped make it possible,'' Green said. ``Everybody got it done. I don't have to hide my face when we get back to New York.'' Certainly not if, as many Jets have predicted this season, they have finally found all the hidden switches, on offense, defense, and special teams, and have thrown them in time for the playoffs.
``What I'm hoping is that we're just now peaking,'' running back Curtis Martin. ``I don't feel we've peaked all season. There isn't one game where we've had every cylinder clicking.'' Put the forks away. It's time to crank up the bandwagon.