ATLANTA — Ridiculed during the preseason, the New York Jets are exceeding expectations.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith tossed three touchdown passes and led a drive in the final two minutes to set up Nick Folk’s winning field goal in a 30-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday at the Georgia Dome.
After throwing eight interceptions in his four NFL starts, Smith did not turn the ball over against the Falcons. The rookie out of West Virginia completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards with touchdowns to Jeff Cumberland, Jeremy Kerley and Kellen Winslow.
Smith completed each of his five throws on the decisive 56-yard drive, and he had a 8-yard key scramble that helped set up Folk’s 42-yard field goal as time expired.
Winslow’s touchdown in the back corner of the end zone put the Jets up 27-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Matt Ryan led two late scoring drives and gave the Falcons the lead with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo with two minutes to play.
Julio Jones made a spectacular one-handed grab, and Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez on fourth down to extend the go-ahead drive. The Falcons’ also benefited from a defensive holding call on a fourth down during the march.
After a troublesome preseason that saw quarterback Mark Sanchez go down with a shoulder injury, expectations for the Jets were tempered. New York was an underdog at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener and a double-digit underdog to the Falcons on Monday. There were calls for coach Rex Ryan’s job before the season even began. A month later, the Jets (3-2) head home to play the winless Pittsburgh Steelers while sitting just a game back of the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
The Falcons (1-4) enter their bye week on a three-game losing streak — the first of the Ryan era.
Ryan completed 36 of 45 passes for 319 yards. Gonzalez made 10 catches for 97 yards, and Jones added eight grabs for 99 yards.
Smith threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter, a 20-yarder to Cumberland and a 16-yarder to Kerley. The latter put the Jets up 17-7 with seven minutes left in the half and drew boos from the home crowd.
The Falcons had a chance to cut into the lead right before halftime, but their red-zone struggles resurfaced. Atlanta coach Mike Smith elected to go for it twice on fourth down from the Jets 1-yard line with two seconds to play. After a pass interference call gave the Falcons another shot, Jacquizz Rodgers was stuffed at the goal line, sending the Falcons into the half trailing by 10 points.
Atlanta entered the game ranked 29th in red-zone production, but the Falcons came away with a touchdown on their first drive inside the Jets 20-yard line. Jason Snelling caught a shovel pass from Ryan to give the Falcons a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
New York’s Antonio Allen blocked a punt on the Falcons’ first series, setting up a 22-yard Folk field goal that gave the Jets an early lead.
NOTES: Gonzalez caught a pass in his 200th consecutive game, joining Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only two players to accomplish the feat. … The Jets had their projected starting backfield intact for the first time this season, with both Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory seeing action. … The Falcons added former running back Gerald Riggs to the team’s Ring of Honor. Riggs is the ninth Falcon to receive the honor, joining William Andrews, Steve Bartkowski, Claude Humphrey, Mike Kenn, Tommy Nobis, Deion Sanders, Jessie Tuggle and Jeff Van Note. … CB Dee Milliner and WR Santonio Holmes were inactive for the Jets, both due to hamstring injuries. … Falcons RB Steven Jackson (thigh) missed his second consecutive game. Starting LT Sam Baker (knee) and starting LB Akeem Dent (ankle) also were inactive.