New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith celebrates after the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — Geno Smith put the New York Jets in position to win at the end of the game, leaving Atlanta to bemoan its missed opportunity at the end of the first half.
Smith threw for three touchdowns and completed four straight passes to set up Nick Folk’s game-winning field goal on the final play, giving the Jets a 30-28 victory over the stunned Falcons on Monday night.
The Jets (3-2) hoped it was a defining game for their team and rookie quarterback.
“This is a championship game,” New York linebacker Demario Davis said. “You have to fight to the end. That’s what champions do, back against the rope, any situation. You have to keep swinging. That’s what we were able to do.”
The Falcons (1-4) feared it could be another anchor thrown on a season that seems to be sinking fast.
Atlanta already has more losses than last season, when it was 13-3 and played in the NFC championship game. Now the Falcons are four games behind the Saints in the NFC South and enter their bye week simply trying to avoid panic.
The final margin left Falcons coach Mike Smith explaining his decision to go for the touchdown instead of a field goal when the Jets’ defense stopped Atlanta on two plays from the New York 1 to end the first half.
“We felt like we needed to score a touchdown in that situation,” Smith said. “We felt like we have an opportunity to do it, and we didn’t get it done. In hindsight, it is probably not the way we wanted it to work out, but that is the decision we made.”
Folk’s decisive 43-yard field goal capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive.
Here are five things to know from the Jets’ victory:
SMITH AVOIDS MISTAKES: After the Falcons went ahead on the first play after the two-minute warning, Geno Smith calmly completed four straight passes and added an 8-yard run on the game-winning drive.
Smith was tied for the NFL lead with 11 turnovers, including eight interceptions, through four games. He delivered a near-perfect performance against the Falcons, completing 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers.
Smith remained poised when sacked four times.
“It’s a mindset,” he said. “I made it my duty to come out here and not put the ball on the ground and not put my team in jeopardy. It came down to a last-second drive against a tough Atlanta team on the road. We stood up tonight. It just speaks volume to this team’s character.”
FALCONS IN LOSING STREAK: In Mike Smith’s first five seasons as the Falcons’ coach, they never lost back-to-back regular-season games. Now they’ve lost three straight, their longest streak since 2007.
“We came up short,” safety William Moore said. “We can’t play like that. It’s embarrassing, not with the talent we have on this football team. It’s not going to work.”
There were looks of disbelief throughout the Falcons’ locker room following the loss.
“Extremely frustrating,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “It’s put us in a deep hole. We’ve got to dig ourselves out of it.
“We’re 1-4. What we are going to do, sit here and feel sorry for ourselves? I’m not going to put my hands up and say the season is over. We’ve still got a lot of football left to play. I’m going to believe and I expect my teammates to believe.”
BETTER BALANCE FOR JETS: Running backs Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory provided balance for the Jets’ running game, which had relied heavily on Bilal Powell in the first four games. Powell had 12 carries for 38 yards.
Goodson made his debut in his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Goodson ran for 32 yards on only three carries, including a 26-yarder. Ivory added 27 yards.
Smith completed passes to eight receivers. He threw touchdown passes to Jeremy Kerley, who started as Santonio Holmes was held out with foot and hamstring injuries, and tight ends Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow.
FALCONS HAVE ANOTHER RED-ZONE FAILURE: The Falcons began the week ranked 29th in touchdown percentage in the red zone. Running back Steven Jackson was held out with a hamstring injury for the third straight week and his absence again was felt, especially when the Falcons were stopped at the Jets 1 on two straight plays to end the first half.
The first play from the 1 resulted in an incomplete pass, but the Jets were called for pass interference when they grabbed Gonzalez as he tried to get open.
The Falcons then gave the ball to Jacquizz Rodgers, listed at 5-foot-6 and 196 pounds. Rodgers was swarmed by the Jets’ defensive front.
“In the red zone, that can’t happen,” Gonzalez said. “That kills you and it came back to haunt us today.”
Gonzalez had 10 catches for 97 yards. He joined Jerry Rice (274) as the only players in NFL history to catch a pass in 200 consecutive games.
FALCONS NEED TIME TO HEAL: Wide receiver Roddy White, who has struggled with a high ankle sprain all season, left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
The Falcons also lost running back Jason Snelling to a concussion, adding to an injury list that already was daunting with Jackson, left tackle Sam Baker (knee) and linebacker Akeem Dent (ankle). Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) must miss at least five more games.
The Falcons hope Jackson, White, Baker, Dent and others can recover during the bye week.
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