On a night of the lowest lows for the New York Jets, Xavier Gipson closed out the evening with perhaps Week 1's most emphatic highlight.
After New York's expected savior, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, went down on his fourth snap with what is now feared to be a torn Achilles, the Jets could have thrown in the towel. But the team fought through it, forcing the AFC East heavyweight Bills to overtime, where Gipson delivered the knockout blow with a weaving, 65-yard walk-off punt return.
"It felt like I was dreaming," Gipson told reporters later of his closeout play in the 22-16 victory.
It was indeed the caliber of play dreams are made of, delivered by an undrafted rookie in the clutch of a prime-time Monday night game -- and it amounted to a nightmare for the Bills -- but Robert Saleh never doubted it was possible.
"I'm going to speak for our entire locker room and say we knew he was gonna get one today," the head coach said. "We just had a feeling. That kid is electric with the ball in his hands. If I'm a team, I'm not kicking to him. But let him keep proving it. I think none of us in the locker room are surprised that he took one."
The potential for such a game-breaking play was building all night as the Jets scratched and clawed momentum back their way even after the blow of Rodgers' exit.
Despite an offense under backup Zach Wilson that initially failed to find much traction, New York's heralded defense played beyond even its standard, forcing Bills quarterback Josh Allen into mistake after mistake and never letting Buffalo expand the lead beyond 10 points.
A 13-3 halftime advantage for Buffalo evaporated with Allen's second and third interceptions of the game to Jordan Whitehead, plus a fourth-quarter fumble. Wilson and Co. took advantage and edged their way back, taking a late 16-13 lead. After the Bills pulled out a last-second field goal to force overtime, the defense picked up the lunchpail again, forcing a three-and-out and the fateful punt on the first drive of the extra frame.
For Gipson, the odyssey to his welcome-to-the-NFL moment started even earlier, when the 22-year-old out of Stephen F. Austin State University went unchosen in April's draft and elected to sign with New York.
He earned his way onto the roster against the odds with his game-changing skills on special teams, admitting to reporters after the game that Saleh had been telling him he's going to "get one" on a return since the first preseason contest.
That work carried over into Monday, where Gipson fielded two kickoffs and three punts, taking one to the house using speed and patience in equal measure on his ninth snap of the night.
"It was meaningful," Gipson said of the coaches trusting him in such a spot. "Knowing how hard I worked. Knowing my position. How fast it could've ended. Coach Saleh, I thank them guys for believing in me and giving me an opportunity to show what I can do."
However the Jets' year goes in the wake of Rodgers' season-altering injury, Gipson helped close a night where the takeaway could have been gloom and gloom alone into a shocking, euphoric victory.
By doing so, he reached the greatest height of his young career, twisting and turning through a Bills special teams unit like the emotional ride New York had experienced all night.
"A roller coaster," Gipson said when asked about his journey thus far. "Not knowing knowing if I'm good enough, truth be told. Just letting my work show, day in, day out. Show them how bad I want to be here. Show them how bad I want to be a legend and be great. It's been like a roller coaster, man, for real."