EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Oct. 22, 2006) -- The New York Jets are getting pretty good at these suspenseful endings, complete with lots of nail biting, sweating and nervous energy throughout the stadium.
"I didn't take a deep breath until we got that last first down," coach Eric Mangini said with a big smile.
Leon Washington rushed for 129 yards on 20 carries, scored the first two touchdowns of his career, and sealed the win by running for a first down with just over two minutes left as the Jets held on to beat the Detroit Lions 31-24.
The Lions put a scare into the Jets, who led the entire game, by getting within a touchdown with 2:22 left when an outstretched Mike Furrey caught the ball in the back right corner of the end zone. Mangini challenged the play, but it was upheld with officials saying Furrey got both feet in bounds and had control of the ball.
New York (4-3) got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff and ran out the clock to escape with a victory, matching its total from last season.
"We weren't expected to win but four games this year if you let the so-called experts tell it," wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. "Again, we've got four wins, but we can't rest our hats upon that."
The Jets, whose previous three victories were all decided on the opponents' last possession, won consecutive home games for the first time since 2004. But again, it didn't come easily.
After the Lions (1-6) closed within a touchdown with just over nine minutes remaining, Chad Pennington completed a 16-yard pass to Chris Baker, and Brad Smith followed with a 2-yard run. Tyoka Jackson was called for defensive holding on the play, one of nine penalties called on the Lions, moving the Jets further into Detroit territory. Washington then took the ball, ran to the left and scooted 16 yards -- tiptoeing the sideline -- with 4:51 left.
"It was unbelievable for him to maintain his balance," Pennington said. "That was a big-time play."
New York took advantage of Detroit being without their two starting defensive tackles, Shaun Rogers and Shaun Cody, finishing with 221 yards rushing.
"It's disappointing, in terms of our run defense," Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. "If any one thing jumped out, we couldn't control the run game. In this league, if you can't stop the run, you're not going to win."
Washington had his second 100-yard rushing game, and Kevan Barlow added 49 yards and a TD on 12 carries.
"Whenever you run the ball, you're able to control the defense and you can do things in your favor that help you win the game," Washington said. "Today, we came out and obviously ran the ball early and were effective."
Kevin Jones scored on a 9-yard shovel pass from Jon Kitna to cut Detroit's deficit to 24-17 with 9:09 left. Kitna converted two third-down passes for first downs and a 17-yard pass to Furrey on fourth-and-11 to set up Jones' score.
"We're just not finishing games," said Kitna, who was 22 of 36 for 269 yards, three TDs and two interceptions. "We're not starting very good and we're not finishing good in the fourth quarter. That makes it hard. We've played good in spurts."
The Jets scored their first first-quarter offensive touchdown in 20 games on Washington's first career TD 2:45 in.
"We knew we needed to get off to a fast start as far as keeping their offense off the field," Pennington said.
Justin McCareins' 44-yard touchdown catch made it 14-0 with 4:02 left in the opening quarter. On third-and-1 from the Lions 44 following an offsides penalty on Kalimba Edwards, Pennington ran the play action to perfection, freezing the linebackers and freeing up McCareins down the right sideline for his first reception since Week 2.
Pennington finished 16 of 22 for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Roy Williams caught a 22-yard pass from Kitna to make it 14-7 with 7:54 left in the half. Williams, who came in leading the NFL in yards receiving, was held to two catches for 29 yards.
Justin Miller put the Jets in great position on the ensuing kickoff, returning the ball 56 yards to Detroit's 41. Six plays later, Barlow plowed up the middle for his fifth touchdown of the season, giving the Jets a 21-7 lead with 5:28 left in the half.
Jason Hanson kicked a 25-yard field goal to cap a 12-play, 83-yard drive by the Lions to make it 21-10 with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
Mike Nugent's 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give the Jets a 24-10 lead.
"That was a very winnable game," Williams said. "Once again, we were our own worst enemy today: penalties and turnovers."
Notes: The Jets' 14 first-quarter points were their most since scoring 14 at San Diego on Sept. 19, 2004. ... Umpire Bill Schuster had his nose bloodied when he was knocked down at the end of a running play by Washington in the third quarter. He went to the sideline, was treated and was back on the field for the next play. ... Neither team reported any injuries.