Jets' 24-17, big-play win over Bills is one for Byrd

December 07, 1992|By Timothy W. Smith | Timothy W. Smith,New York Times News Service

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A powerful feeling swept over New York Jets cornerback James Hasty before his team stepped onto the frozen field yesterday to play the Buffalo Bills at Rich Stadium.

He said he reflected on the anguish and helplessness that the team had felt during the last week with Dennis Byrd lying in a bed at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, his legs paralyzed after he broke his neck against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday.

Hasty said he thought about the Jets' recent history against Buffalo -- 10 straight losses dating to 1987 -- and the fact that the Jets had lost four starters and were considerable underdogs yesterday. And the feeling got stronger.

Hasty talked to Jets linebacker Kyle Clifton about his feeling, about faith and about destiny.

"I told Kyle that it was in God's plan for us to win today," Hasty said. "No matter what they did, we were going to win this game. It was destiny."

Drawing strength from the faith that Byrd had displayed and lifted by the news Saturday that Byrd had exhibited some voluntary movement in his legs, the Jets pulled out an improbable, 24-17 victory over the Bills (9-4) to cap what probably had been the most anguished week in the team's history.

When strong safety Brian Washington intercepted a pass by Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and zigzagged 23 yards through the outstretched arms of Buffalo players to score the game-winning touchdown with 1:41 to play, it did seem as if some kind of divine destiny was working for the Jets (4-9).

As Washington lay in the end zone underneath a pile of his teammates, holding the football, his mind flashed to Byrd at the hospital.

"When I fell down in the end zone, I just said, 'Yes!' " Washington recalled. "In reflection, we look at Dennis and we look at what happened. He wants us to be strong, because he is very strong. We definitely drew electricity from him in this game today."

Byrd, who underwent surgery Wednesday, watched the game from his hospital room, surrounded by his wife, Angela, and his parents. On Saturday, he told Jets coach Bruce Coslet to tell the team that he would be watching them and pulling for them. With that thought in the back of their minds, the Jets were soaring with inspiration when they took the field.

"It was all in here," Jets defensive tackle Mario Johnson said, pointing to his chest. "It was nothing but heart.

"You tried to keep your emotions in control, but we were all whacked out. I knew Dennis was watching, and I knew if I !B messed up, I couldn't live with myself and I knew Dennis couldn't live with it. I was out there playing for Dennis."

After the game, approximately 20 Jets players and coaches squeezed into a room off the visitors locker room to speak to Byrd in a conference telephone call.

Coslet officially awarded Byrd the game ball during the call. The players -- who had drawn strength from Byrd's upbeat attitude all week, and who wore the ichthus, the Christian fish symbol, on their helmets with his jersey number as a representation of his faith -- were overjoyed to talk to him after the victory.

"I just told him that I was happy that we won, but I was sad that he wasn't here with us," Hasty said. "He said he was here. I have to believe that Dennis' spirit was here, but it wasn't the same as him being physically here. Dennis was really happy for us. You couldn't ask for a better situation."

"I'm sure when times got tough, the defense was thinking about Dennis," said Jets quarterback Browning Nagle, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 176 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. "Dennis will never give up, and that's the way the defense played today. It was special."

The Bills led, 10-3, at halftime. But the Jets tied the score on NTC Brad Baxter's 1-yard run midway through the third quarter, then took a 17-10 lead on a 9-yard run by Baxter with 1:43 to go in the quarter.

The Bills came back, tying the score at 17-17 on a 1-yard touchdown reception by tight end Pete Metzelaars early in the fourth quarter. That seemingly set the stage for another Jets loss against the Bills. Earlier this season, New York took a lead over Buffalo with less than 2 minutes left, but lost when Kelly drove the Bills to a touchdown with 51 seconds remaining. The Jets would not fold this time.

On second-and-10 at the Buffalo 18, Kelly looked straight at receiver James Lofton, but didn't see Washington lurking to the left. Washington stepped in front of the soft pass at the 23 and headed for the end zone.

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