EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It began with coach Bruce Coslet and it spread up and down the sideline.
Coslet laughed. Wide receiver and game hero Chris Burkett laughed. Even place-kicker Pat Leahy laughed.
Pretty soon, all the New York Jets were laughing.
The tension of the past three weeks was broken with the knowledge that not even they could blow an 18-point lead.
"We deserved it," said a smiling Burkett after the Miami Dolphins had been whipped, 41-23, yesterday at Giants Stadium. "When you play well and still lose, it's tough."
That's what the Jets (2-3) had done the past two weeks, losing to Buffalo in the waning moments, then suffering a ghastly overtime loss to the Chicago Bears Monday night.
They were two games the Jets could have won, but didn't. They were the kind of losses that can haunt a team a long time. The Jets played as if they had never happened.
"This team is tough mentally," Coslet said. "We may have a breakdown, but we don't have a letdown. We knew we couldn't do anything about those two games, so there was no sense thinking about them."
The Jets were thinking only about dominating the Dolphins, and that's exactly what they did on a warm, windy day.
Ken O'Brien was nearly perfect, completing 18 of 24 for 221 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Rob Moore in the first quarter that put the Jets ahead to stay.
The Jets' defense held Dan Marino in check. Marino completed 17 of 34 passes for 245 yards. He threw his first touchdown pass in nine quarters, but was sacked four times and had an interception by Erik McMillan returned 83 yards for a touchdown.
Freeman McNeil came off the bench and broke loose for a 58-yard run that led to a big field goal.
The biggest play, however, belonged to Burkett, who blocked a Reggie Roby punt and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown to give the Jets a 21-10 lead with 12 seconds left in the half.
"The difference this week was we made some big plays," Jets' center Jim Sweeney said. "Burkett's block, McMillan's return -- those were great plays."
The Dolphins (2-3) hung tough for a while. Marino got them in position for a 53-yard Pete Stoyanovich field goal as time ran out in the half to narrow the gap to 21-13.
Leahy and Stoyanovich traded third-quarter field goals, then the Jets marched 76 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. The drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Brad Baxter, consumed 8 minutes, 51 seconds.
There was still plenty of time left -- 10:25 in the fourth quarter -- for Marino to bring the Dolphins back from a 31-15 deficit, but it wasn't to be.
The Jets made sure they weren't going to let this one get away. Dennis Byrd sacked Marino and the defense forced the Dolphins to punt.
Then the second-longest run of McNeil's career, to the Miami 13, set up Leahy's 27-yard field goal that gave the Jets a safe 34-16 advantage with only 5:39 left.
When McMillan picked off Marino on the Dolphins' next possession for his fourth career interception return for a touchdown, the Jets could afford to smile.