DENVER — LaDainian Tomlinson broke the Broncos' hearts again shortly after the field judge reached into his pocket to the disbelief of the orange-clad crowd.
L.T. scored his second touchdown from 2 yards out with 73 seconds left after a 46-yard pass interference flag on fourth down and the New York Jets rallied past Denver 24-20 on Sunday.
On fourth-and-6 from the Denver 48, Denver safety Renaldo Hill and Jets receiver Santonio Holmes jostled near the goal line and the ball fell incomplete as the crowd went crazy.
But field judge Gary Cavaletto called pass interference on Hill, who had grabbed Holmes' face mask with a couple of fingers on his right hand while both fell to the turf.
"Good thing the ref was right there to make that call," Holmes said.
The yellow flag left the Jets (5-1) feeling fortunate heading into their bye and the Broncos (2-4) forlorn.
"It could be debatable," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "But we don't care, we'll take it."
Hill declined comment in the locker room, letting others debate the merits of the crucial call.
"Nothing was taken from us," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd insisted, lamenting Denver's myriad missed opportunities, including three takeaways that led to just three points.
Indeed, Denver coach Josh McDaniels noted that the Broncos had a similar pass interference call that went their way in a win at Tennessee two weeks ago.
Although both teams insisted it wasn't the case, the Broncos seemed to let Tomlinson score on the next play so they could get one last shot at the win.
A bad shotgun snap by rookie J.D. Walton, however, was recovered by cornerback Dwight Lowery with 35 seconds left as the Jets left Invesco Field with the best record in the AFC.
"You just can't believe it, because you want to have a shot," Lloyd said. "You want to have a shot to at least throw the ball up and see if we can get a P.I."
Like the Jets did.
"I'm not scared to say it: I think we outplayed them," Broncos linebacker Mario Haggan said. "They just had one more punch than we did and obviously it was decided by a technical."
Tomlinson, who scored 19 touchdowns in 18 games against Denver while playing for San Diego, also scampered in from 20 yards out to tie it at 17 with 8 1/2 minutes left.
That score came after Demaryius Thomas caught Kyle Orton's high pass over cornerback Darrelle Revis from 17 yards out to put Denver ahead 17-10 in the third quarter.
For much of the day, it looked like this would be a signature win for McDaniels, who is 4-12 since beginning his rookie season with six straight wins.
Despite a depleted secondary that was missing three key players, including safety Brian Dawkins, the Broncos went to four down linemen most of the game and befuddled Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who threw his first two interceptions of the season and could easily have had two more passes picked off.
The Jets committed three turnovers altogether after having just one coming in.
The Broncos found some balance, recording their first 100-yard rushing game of the season, Tim Tebow found the end zone for his first NFL touchdown and Matt Prater nailed a career-long 59-yard field goal and then put Denver ahead 20-17 with a 48-yarder with just under four minutes left.
Prater's 59-yarder as the first half expired was the second-longest in team history, behind Jason Elam's 63-yarder in 1998. Prater is now 9 for 11 from 50 yards or more, the best long-distance success rate in NFL history.
Prater misfired from 49 yards out in the third quarter, however, ending his streak of 18 straight conversions, one shy of Elam's team record.
Playing for the first time since his cameo in the opener at Jacksonville, his hometown, Tebow scored his first NFL touchdown on a 5-yard scamper in the second quarter that tied it at 7.
Just two weeks ago, McDaniels labeled "ridiculous" the suggestion that Tebow, who rushed for 57 touchdowns at the University of Florida, could be the answer to the Broncos' short-yardage struggles in the red zone.
The Jets took a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter when Braylon Edwards ran a post route unchecked by Champ Bailey, who led a secondary missing injured starters Andre' Goodman and Dawkins and Darcel McBath.
Bailey and rookie cornerback Perrish Cox each dropped interceptions on the Jets' first two throws and then the Broncos came up empty despite starting two of their first three drives New York territory.
The first one ended in Revis' recovery of a fumble by Knowshon Moreno, who coughed up the ball after a 14-yard gain, his first carry in a month. Then, Lonnie Paxton's bad snap thwarted a 28-yard field-goal attempt.
Denver lost WR/KR Eddie Royal (groin), WR Matthew Williams (foot) and DL Kevin Vickerson (groin) to injuries. … Revis said his ailing hamstring was doing better.
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