New York moves one step closer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2006

By Steven Wine

Associated Press

MIAMI — The stadium was two-thirds empty by the fourth quarter, and small clusters of New York Jets fans let out a hearty cheer when Mike Nugent kicked the winning field goal with 10 seconds left Monday night.

A playoff atmosphere? Hardly. But the Jets moved closer to the postseason with an ugly but crucial victory.

New York overcame steady rain, a sputtering offense and two late scores by the Miami Dolphins to win 13-10.

“For us it was all about chipping away and waiting for our moment,” Jets coach Eric Mangini said.

All of the points came in the final 17:25. Miami kicked a tying field goal with 2:09 left, but Leon Washington caught a short pass from Chad Pennington and broke loose for a 64-yard gain on the Jets’ next play.

Four plays later, Nugent kicked a 30-yarder. That meant the Jets (9-6) can clinch an AFC wild-card playoff berth if they beat Oakland (2-13) in their final regular-season game Sunday.

“We like controlling our own destiny and not having to rely on someone else to help us,” defensive end Shaun Ellis said.

For the Dolphins (6-9), the defeat ensures the first losing season for Nick Saban in his 13 years as a college and NFL coach.

“When it came to it, we just fell apart on defense,” Miami linebacker Zach Thomas said.

The rain resulted in a succession of errant and dropped passes — and 18 punts. When the Dolphins’ scoreless streak reached six quarters, Cleo Lemon replaced Joey Harrington at quarterback to start the second half. A third-year pro, Lemon threw his first NFL touchdown pass and finished 11-for-16 for 104 yards.

The Jets answered fourth-quarter scores by Miami with scoring drives of 80 and 68 yards.

“We didn’t knock them out,” New York linebacker Jonathan Vilma said, “but we might have scored a technical knockout.”