Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- For Rex Ryan and the New York Jets, the darkest moments of the fourth quarter were the prelude to the brightest.
Trailing 24-10 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, the Jets forced Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo into two turnovers and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown on the way to a 27-24 win in the team’s home opener.
“It looked bleak, there’s no question about it,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “That might have been the best team effort I can remember being a part of.”
The win put the Jets one game closer to the Super Bowl victory Ryan has promised at the start of each of his three seasons and spoiled Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s return after missing 10 starts last year with a broken collarbone. The Jets reached the past two conference championships, one win shy of the title game.
The Jets-Cowboys matchup concluded the National Football League’s first Sunday of action since the four-month lockout disrupted the offseason. The opening slate of games also included the defending champion Green Bay Packers’ 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 8, a game NBC said was watched by 27.2 million people.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett called the loss a disappointing start to the season, while praising the Jets’ defense both physically and tactically.
“We have to handle situations at the end of the game better,” he said. “That’s what the best teams in the league do.”
Romo and the Cowboys started strong, even after being held to 64 yards rushing in the game. Romo completed four of five passes in the team’s 61-yard opening drive, including a three-yard touchdown to receiver Dez Bryant. In the third quarter, he threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin, who wrestled the ball away from Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
“When Romo gets hot like that, he’s about as good as there is,” Ryan said.
Dallas then followed an interception thrown by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez with a one-yard touchdown run by Felix Jones that helped give the Cowboys a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Jets started to turn it around. Sanchez found Plaxico Burress, the former Giants receiver in his first game after serving 20 months in prison on a weapons charge, for a 26-yard touchdown. Romo then led Dallas as far as New York’s three yard-line before Jets tackle Mike DeVito wrestled the ball free, preventing a Cowboys score.
When the Cowboys attempted to punt after their next offensive series, Joe McKnight dove in to block it. Jets defensive back Isaiah Trufant, signed off the practice squad for the game, recovered the ball and ran it in for the tying score.
With 56 seconds left, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis intercepted Romo’s throw to Bryant, setting up a Nick Folk’s game-winning field goal with 32 seconds remaining.
“That’s a great defense,” Romo said. “It’s frustrating to know that we win that football game if I don’t do what I did.”
Ryan also praised the Cowboys defense, run by his twin brother Rob. The Jets gained just 45 yards rushing in the game. Sanchez finished completing 26 of 44 passes for 335 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Ryan said he was proud of his quarterback and his team, which never gave up even when the game seemed lost.
“There’s no quit in this bunch -- none,” Ryan said. “We just kept thinking momentum’s coming our way, and sure enough it did.”
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