EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the New York Jets' offense took the field with less than six minutes remaining in the game -- and maybe their season -- Plaxico Burress sensed the moment. The man once made the game-winning catch in a Super Bowl, so he knows moments.
"I told some of the guys, 'This drive defines our offense, defines our team,'" Burress said later.
As it turned out, it defined Burress.
On a day in which his past was mocked by a dim-witted Buffalo Bills wide receiver named Stevie Johnson, who celebrated a touchdown by pretending to shoot himself in the thigh, Burress saved the Jets with their play of the year.
Burress went up like Dwight Howard and made a twisting, one-handed catch on a third-and-11 in Bills' territory, setting up Santonio Holmes' game-winning touchdown reception with 61 seconds to play. It was a living-on-the-edge win for the Jets, 28-24, nothing to brag about. But it gets them to Week 13, still breathing.
If it weren't for The Catch, "we'd be sitting here looking stupid," linebacker Calvin Pace said.
Johnson ended up wearing the dunce cap. Not only did he come off as a classless punk with his end zone antics, but he shot his team in the foot (pun intended) by dropping a wide-open pass at the Jets' 25-yard line with 31 seconds left in the game. He might have scored on the play. We'll never know, but this much we do know:
In a virtual elimination game between two 5-5 teams, it came down to two receivers. Burress' acrobatic play saved his team from a devastating loss that would've been straight out of the "Same Old Jets" history books. Johnson could've done the same for the Bills, but he was betrayed by his head and his hands.
Johnson went down with guns; Burress came up roses.
One day shy of the three-year anniversary of his self-inflicted gunshot wound, which put him in jail for two years, Burress got the last laugh. Afterward, he managed to keep a straight face, claiming he didn't know about Johnson's mindless act until he heard it from reporters and insisting it didn't upset him that someone would make light of it.
But Burress managed to fire off (sorry) a zinger.
"I've seen worse, and I've heard worse," he said. "It doesn't bother me at all. The result I'm looking at is we won the football game and he turns around and drops three wide-open balls to lose the game. If I was a player, that's how I'd evaluate myself. He kept doing his thing and I kept doing mine."
Actually, Johnson dropped only one, but he was targeted three times (all incompletions) on the Bills' final six snaps, the last two from the Jets' 24-yard line. He came up empty.
Truth be told, Johnson (eight catches for 75 yards) was a headache for Darrelle Revis, nickel-and-diming the league's best cornerback for most of the game. When he beat Revis for a 5-yard touchdown with two minutes left in the first half, Johnson -- perhaps overcome with shock -- began his planned celebration.
Johnson performed the faux gunshot and mocked the Jets' "Flight Boys" celebration by making like an airplane. Then he dropped to the ground, which was either his interpretation of an airplane crash or a crass re-enactment of Burress falling down after shooting himself. Johnson was penalized and he deserves to be fined.
"It was very stupid of me going through that, and I feel like I cost our team the win by doing that," said Johnson, alluding to the penalty and the botched kickoff that ensued -- blunders that set up an easy touchdown for the Jets.
Johnson was remorseful because he hurt his team, but he didn't apologize to Burress, saying it was all in fun. Stupid is as stupid does. The Jets said it didn't provide any motivation because, to a man, they said they didn't know about it.
Once upon a time, Burress was an immature player like Johnson. But on this day, he was everything the Jets envisioned when they handed him that guaranteed $3 million in August. If he didn't come down with that ball from Mark Sanchez, who threw high in the face of a blitz, it would've been a fourth down from the Bills' 36.
With Nick Folk attempting a 54-yard field goal, everything on the line.
"It felt like a regular catch to me," said Burress, who scored earlier on a 14-yard reception. "The goal is to haul them all in. I was just trying to find a way to get to it."
The Bills blitzed a cornerback, leaving safety Jairus Byrd on Burress. The 6-foot-5 receiver went up on his imaginary escalator, turning toward the sideline and reaching back with his right hand.
"I don't know if words do it justice," Sanchez said of the 18-yard reception.
Said Revis: "It was a crazy catch, one of the best catches I've seen in a while. He's already 6-foot-5 and he has go-go Gadget arms" -- a reference to the "Inspector Gadget" cartoon.
"Just a ridiculous catch," said Rex Ryan, who came oh-so-close to seeing his Super Bowl guarantee get blown up in Week 12. "Your big-time players make big plays at big moments, and look at that play."
A few seconds later, Sanchez found Holmes in the end zone (shades of 2010), overshadowing another shaky performance by the defense, another roller-coaster day by Sanchez and another critical giveaway by the special teams.
In the end, the Jets found a way to win. Where'd they find it?
"Plaxico Burress found it," Pace said, "with that one-handed catch."
And Johnson lost it, embarrassing himself in more ways than one.