New York Jets are not counting themselves out


Jets Coach Rex Ryan still believes in quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) despite Sanchez’s uneven play this season. However, Sanchez did throw four touchdown passes in a vital win over the Bills on Sunday. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)
November 29, 2011

The New York Jets couldn’t slow down the New England Patriots and then were on the wrong side of Tebow-mania during a recent stretch in which they lost two games in four days.

They benefited from a few breaks last weekend as they held on to beat a team, the Buffalo Bills, that has been headed very much in the wrong direction lately. Their modest 6-5 record leaves them scrambling to make up ground in the race for a wild-card playoff spot in the AFC.

But as they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, the Jets cannot be discounted as contenders, not after reaching the last two AFC title games and repeatedly finding ways to survive each time their last few seasons seemed on the verge of unraveling. The Jets, not surprisingly, are far from counting themselves out.

“I definitely think we’re a playoff team,” Coach Rex Ryan said at a news conference Monday. “We have to prove it on the field. But I absolutely think we’re a playoff team and then when you get in there, anything can happen. So the main thing is to get in there. . . . That’s certainly what we plan on doing and I think we’ll be a dangerous team when we get there.”

No team has been less bashful about advertising its Super Bowl aspirations than the Jets under Ryan, their charismatic third-year coach.

But their latest Super Bowl-or-bust season has brought some ominous signs that the team’s season could end farther from a Super Bowl appearance than the Jets are accustomed to.

The Jets have lost four of their five road games this season. They have not always followed their favored formula of rugged defense and running the ball effectively. They’re still in the league’s top 10 in total defense, ranking eighth overall in yards allowed. But they’re 17th in scoring defense and 24th in rushing offense.

They lost by three touchdowns at New England 17 days ago and followed that up by dropping a Thursday night game at Denver when they allowed quarterback Tim Tebow to take his team 95 yards in crunch time for the winning touchdown. Those two defeats left the Jets in desperate need of a triumph over the Bills last Sunday. It was the right time to be playing Buffalo, which was coming off three straight losses — one of them to the Jets — by a combined 80-point margin.

But it wasn’t easy for the Jets, who needed quarterback Mark Sanchez’s fourth touchdown pass of the game with just more than a minute left to beat the Bills, 28-24.

The Bills had several chances to win on their final drive, but wide receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a key pass and failed to haul in another throw by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone.

“Any time you win in this league, it’s huge, especially when you need to win six in a row,” Sanchez said at his postgame news conference Sunday. “So I’m thrilled about the win. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I know we can play better than that.”

Sanchez’s four-touchdown performance against the Bills came after Ryan gave veteran backup Mark Brunell some practice snaps with the first-team offense, a tactic that Ryan used successfully last season.

“Mark Sanchez is not our problem,” Ryan said Monday. “He’s one of [the] strengths of our team.”

The Bills helped the Jets to a touchdown with a 15-yard penalty on Johnson for a touchdown celebration during which he, among other things, pretended to shoot himself in the leg. Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress served 20 months in prison after accidentally shooting himself in the leg in a New York nightclub in 2008, when he was a member of the Giants. Even so, Ryan dismissed the notion that his team was lucky to beat the Bills.

“I don’t care if I’m known as the luckiest coach in the league,” Ryan said. “That’s great. As long as we win, that’s fine with me. But it is funny how if we make a mistake, we’re horrible. . . . It could be bad luck there, too.

The Jets trail the first-place Patriots by two games in the AFC East.

They’re among three 6-5 teams, along with the Broncos and Tennessee Titans, pursuing the Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) for the second of the conference’s two wild-card slots.

(The first slot is likely to go to either Pittsburgh or Baltimore, each of whom is 8-3.)

But the remaining schedule is relatively kind to the Jets, who play only one opponent — the Giants (6-5) — who currently has a winning record.

Ryan said he hopes another late-season run will take his team far into the postseason.

“Obviously I felt better about last year’s team being 9-2 as opposed to being 6-5,” he said. “That goes without saying. But, you know, do I still think this team is capable? I absolutely do.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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