Rex Ryan wanted this one badly for the New York area — and his Jets delivered.
But it was far from easy.
Nick Folk kicked a 50-yard field goal with 27 seconds left, giving the Jets a 27-24 comeback victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the final game of the NFL's first full Sunday with the commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an emotional backdrop.
With the game tied at 24, the Cowboys had a chance for a winning drive with 59 seconds left, but Tony Romo was intercepted on the first play by Darrelle Revis, who returned it 20 yards to Dallas' 34. Four plays later, Folk kicked the go-ahead field goal against his former team.
The Jets tied it with 5 minutes left when Isaiah Trufant, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, ran in a blocked punt from 18 yards for a touchdown. Joe McKnight charged up the middle unblocked and got his hands on Mat McBriar's kick, which bounced right into Trufant's hands.
It appeared the Cowboys were going to take a two-touchdown lead midway through the fourth quarter when Jason Witten's 64-yard catch put the ball at the Jets 3. Three plays later, Tony Romo scrambled, then tried to run it in up the middle, but was sacked by Mike DeVito. The quarterback lost the ball — and it was recovered by nose tackle Sione Pouha.
The Jets turned the ball over a few minutes later when a blitzing Danny McCray sacked Mark Sanchez, hitting him from behind and knocking the ball loose. But the Cowboys couldn't take advantage when they had two penalties and were forced to punt — the play that swung the momentum in the Jets' favor.
Early in the week, Ryan said he felt a responsibility to the New York area to win on opening night, especially with the team honoring the victims of the attacks and their families before the game and at halftime. He also wanted to get the better of his twin brother, Rob, with their father Buddy in the crowd.
Sanchez was 26 of 44 for 335 yards and touchdown tosses to Dustin Keller and Plaxico Burress, who played in a regular-season game for the first time in nearly three years. He last played in 2008 for the Giants before he spent 20 months in prison on a gun charge.
The Jets also played a clean game with no penalties, compared to seven for the Cowboys, and spoiled Jason Garrett's debut as Dallas' full-time coach after he went 5-3 in an interim role last season.
A few plays after putting a bone-crunching hit on Cowboys defensive back Michael Jenkins while blocking on a 28-yard catch by Santonio Holmes, Burress had a 26-yard catch as he spun into the end zone to make it 24-17 with 11:56 left. The play was reviewed by officials and upheld.
Burress put both arms out with the ball in one hand, yelled to the crowd in celebration and then gave the ball to his 4-year-old son Elijah in the stands.
Romo was 23 of 36 for 342 yards and two touchdowns, picking on Antonio Cromartie on both to help give Dallas a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Romo threw for a 3-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant on the Cowboys' opening drive of the game. Miles Austin also outwrestled Cromartie for a 36-yard TD in the third period, and it appeared Romo's return after missing the final 10 games of last season with a broken left collarbone was going well — until it all fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Witten finished with six catches for 110 yards, Austin had five for 90, and Bryant caught three passes for 71 yards.
New York responded after Austin's score with a 33-yard pass to Jeff Cumberland that sparked a 64-yard drive. Folk capped it with a 34-yard field goal that made it 17-10.
Burress got his first reception with 44 seconds to go in the third quarter, an 18-yarder, but Sanchez's next pass was intercepted by Sean Lee, and the Jets missed several tackles as Lee scurried down the right sideline for 37 yards to the New York 1 as the period ended.
But after an incompletion to Witten, Felix Jones went off left end to make it 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The game was played before a full MetLife Stadium, with most fans in their seats before the game for an emotionally charged pregame show featuring an a capella version of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Lady Antebellum that had a crowd of nearly 80,000 silently listening, many of the fans saluting, some crying.
Players from both sides held an American flag that blanketed the field while the anthem was sung.
At halftime, the stadium lights were turned off, with dozens gathering at midfield and forming two huge human squares — in honor of the Twin Towers. The squares were made visible by those involved holding up lights, along with three spotlights in the middle of each formation.
Five For Fighting's John Ondrasik then sat at a piano on the field and performed his song, "Superman (It's Not Easy)," which became an anthem for many after the attacks with its lyrics about heroes.