Final score: Jets 30, Falcons 28
Sometimes, the wild world of the NFL can feel more scripted than the most contrived Hollywood films. Take for instance, the Geno Smith coming-of-age story we witnessed in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons, which just so happens to be our 19th top game of 2013.
Smith entered the game having 11 turnovers through the first four games of the season. That was the most by a rookie quarterback since 1998, when both Peyton Manning (12) and Ryan Leaf (11) were giving away the football faster than Wes Welker gave away $100 bills at the Kentucky Derby. As a result, the Jets limped into the contest with a 2-2 record.
Speaking of limping, Atlanta was coming off a last-gasp loss to the New England Patriots at home, and at 1-3 were looking to turn the course of their season back toward the playoffs on Monday Night Football.
In the week leading up to the game, Smith apologized personally to all of his teammates for his recent performance (four turnovers in a loss to the Tennessee Titans) and promised to be better. He wasn't lying. Cue the overly upbeat action montage.
Smith led Gang Green's offense to scores on its first three possessions -- something they hadn't done in almost five years. Atlanta found the end zone once, but when the Jets stymied a goal-line series right before the half, the Dirty Birds were ushered into the locker room to a chorus of boos.
Smith's coming-of-age story reached its high point when he found Kellen Winslow in the back of the end zone to push the lead to 27-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Yet, every movie has that inevitable down moment. The point where all looks bleak and the hero cannot possibly come out on top (even though we know he or she will).
Matt Ryan didn't earn the "Matty Ice" moniker for nothing. As he's done time and time again in the Georgia Dome, he led a furious comeback to give the Falcons the lead as the clock reached the two-minute warning. Ryan had led these type of comebacks numerous times before, and was looking to sweep the proverbial leg on Smith's big day.
Yet, down 28-27, with the odds stacked against him, the young Jets quarterback rose to the occasion. In just over a minute, he pushed the offense 42 yards across the field and into enemy territory.
The Jets storybook ending hit a road block as they stared at a third-and-3 from the Atlanta 31, with one timeout left and 25 seconds on the clock. Desperate for a first down to run out the clock and give Nick Folk a shorter field goal attempt, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg dialed up a pass play with his rookie quarterback lined up in the shotgun.
As Smith made his pre-snap reads, he saw that Atlanta was showing blitz. With the game on the line, on the road, facing a raucous crowd, he called an audible for a Bilal Powell run. It was a gutsy move ... but the right one, as Powell slipped past the blitz and scampered for 6 yards. Timeout. The field goal attempt was up ... and good.
Geno Smith had come into his own as a quarterback with a last-second, game-winning drive in a nationally televised prime-time contest.
Fade to black.
The easy answer is Geno, but the right answer is Muhammad Wilkerson. Wilkerson made the Atlanta offensive line look plain silly all night long and spent the majority of his time in their backfield. We're pretty sure a realtor was showing him space back there in the second half, as it looked like he wanted to settle down for good next to Ryan. He finished the game with 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in an utterly dominant performance.
Julio Jones and Antonio Cromartie were locked in a heavyweight bout all night, but Jones got the better of Cromartie (while being held, mind you) with this spectacular one-handed 46-yard catch. Check it out.
The Jets' special teams deserve a hat tip for their effort in this one. Folk made all three of his field goals, the unit blocked an Atlanta punt and consistently turned field position in their offense's favor. Matt Ryan and co. started drives beyond their own 30 just twice, while New York started drives in Atlanta territory twice. As a result, the Falcons' average starting field position was their own 26, while the Jets' was their own 38.
Tony Gonzalez's first-quarter reception made this the 200th straight game where he's caught at least one pass. It was an incredible feat historically speaking, as you can see more clearly in the stat board.
This was one of the higher points on Geno's roller-coaster rookie season. The Jets alternated wins and losses during their first 10 games of the season, ultimately finishing 8-8 and narrowly missing the playoffs.
For the Falcons, the bleak start to their season only got worse. Jones' spectacular one-handed grab came at a price, as he re-broke a bone is his foot and was sidelined for the season. Roddy White's injuries continued, and the Falcons fell to a disappointing 4-12 record in Tony Gonzalez's swan song NFL season.
NFL Network will feature games No. 10 through No. 1 in an all-day marathon from 6 a.m. ET to 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 6.
-- by Alex Gelhar. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar.