ATLANTA -- In a game decided by Nick Folk's 43-yard-field goal as time expired, the Jets beat the Falcons 30-28 Monday night because they got huge assists from their defense. And perhaps, no play mattered more than one easily forgotten.
Muhammad Wilkerson had himself a night with seven combined tackles, including two for a loss. But the big defensive end's sack and strip of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan late in the third quarter proved pivotal.
That was the game's only turnover, and it led to the second of Folk's three field goals to put the Jets ahead 20-14 with 39 seconds left in the third. Without that, Geno Smith and the offense would've had to find the end zone at the end to win.
Talk about a team effort.
“We feel great,” Wilkerson said. “We won collectively.”
The Jets' defense, despite facing 70 plays on a night when the Jets ran just 46, stood especially stout at the end of the first half in holding the Falcons scoreless on six snaps inside New York's 12-yard line.
Trailing 17-7, Atlanta took over with 7:19 left in the first half, burned every second of it and didn't score a point when coach Mike Smith passed on a field-goal try from the 1-yard line on the final play.
On first-and-goal from the 4, tackle Sheldon Richardson dropped Falcons back Jason Snelling for a 1-yard loss. After an Atlanta timeout, Ryan's pass to Harry Douglas deflected off the receiver's hands.
With seven seconds left, Smith called timeout. Ultimately, the Atlanta coach decided to go for it.
“I knew that they were going to do it. I could just feel it by the mentality of the game,” said linebacker DeMario Davis. “They were right there on the 1-yard line. I don't know what they were thinking, but they went for it and we were able to rise to the challenge.”
Smith explained his decision: “We felt like we needed to score a touchdown in that situation ... In hindsight, it is probably not the way we wanted it to work out.”
Ryan's fourth-down pass sailed past tight end Tony Gonzalez, but pass interference was called and the Falcons got a new set of downs from the 1 with one second left. Jacquizz Rodgers took the ensuing handoff and was stuffed for no gain and the Falcons were without three points that sure would have come in handy at game's end.
“We bowed up and stopped them like we're supposed to,” said Wilkerson, who helped pressure Ryan into a few quick throws. “They felt they could score, and we knew that we were going to hold them. We did our job and stopped them. That's a credit to the coaches for putting together a great game plan.”
The Falcons moved the ball better in the second half, scoring 21 points and gaining 227 of their 363 yards, but the Jets' stand at the end of the first half mattered more.
Even when Atlanta took a 28-27 lead on Ryan's 3-yard pass to tight end Levine Toilolo with 1:54 left in the game, Wilkerson didn't lose faith. He believed in Geno Smith, and the offense.
“I felt like I do all the time when the offense gets the ball, like they were going to drive down the field and get some points,” said the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder. “Collectively, as a team, we play together. It's 'Monday Night Football,' prime time ... We showed that we can be great.
“This team has a lot of heart. Rex [Ryan] always tells us to stick together, keep fighting. Believe in your brother next to you, and we did that tonight.”