Even amid the platitudes spouted Monday, it was telling to hear players and Coach use words and phrases like “if,” “can” and “as long as” — all suggesting a less rosy reality, which is what the Jets face over their next six games. Their ostensibly favorable schedule notwithstanding, the Jets have done little over the last two weeks to inspire belief that they can suddenly solve the team-wide inconsistencies that have plagued them, to an extent, all season.
“Sometimes we look like a million dollars, sometimes we look like $75,000, sometimes we look like nothing,” Ryan said. “I just think we have to be consistent. If we’re consistent, and I believe we can be, we’ll be right there in the end.”
The gulf between a playoff-caliber team and the group that lost, in harrowing last-minute fashion, last Thursday to the Denver Broncos is wide. As safety Jim Leonhard said, elite defenses — or rather, defenses that consider themselves elite — do not allow middling offenses to march 95 yards in a game-winning drive. As linebacker Bart Scott said, the Jets cannot afford to turn the ball over on special teams or throw interceptions that are returned for touchdowns.
“We’re finding ways to hurt ourselves, and it’s been different each and every week,” Leonhard said.
That is not entirely true. The Jets’ defense played exceedingly well for the first 55 minutes against Denver. But their offense has not moved the ball with any efficiency or conviction since Nov. 6, and in the two games since, has made critical mistakes at critical times, throwing three interceptions, two of them run back for touchdowns. Deficient pass protection has not helped Sanchez, who struggles in the face of a rush; his 44.8 completion percentage under pressure ranks better than only Curtis Painter’s, according to .
“We know it’s never just him,” guard Brandon Moore said. “If it was, he could just go out there and snap the ball to himself.”
A novel idea, to be sure. And if it worked, the Jets would be considering it. And yet, as they approach Sunday’s game against Buffalo, they are heartened by the likelihood that LaDainian Tomlinson (knee) and Jeremy Kerley (knee), who did not play Thursday, and Shonn Greene (ribs), who got hurt on the second offensive series, will return. Even if the Jets did not say it — and, really, they are in no position to — they must also enjoy that the have played even worse than they have, dropping their last three games by a combined score of 106-26 in a skid that began with a loss to the Jets.
“Everyone kind of feels like it’s now or never,” Leonhard said. “We have to play well, and we have to play well now.”
All because the Jets and the Bills are among four teams sharing the same record, 5-5, sitting a game behind Cincinnati for the A.F.C.’s final wild-card berth. A few players acknowledged paying attention Sunday to scores around the league, including a few results — losses by Tennessee, Buffalo and Cincinnati, which all began the day ahead of the Jets — that aided their playoff chase. With their margin for error thinner than a microphone stand, Matt Slauson echoed what many players believed, that “we have to pretty much win every game” to reach the postseason for the third straight time under Ryan.
Even if the Jets do finish strong, they are likely to encounter tiebreaking obstacles, and not just in head-to-head matchups with Denver, Oakland and Baltimore. The next tiebreaker is conference record, and the Jets’ 4-5 mark lags behind the Titans (4-4) and the Bengals (5-3). That means that the Jets, unless they win their final three A.F.C. games (Buffalo, Kansas City and at Miami), may have to overtake Cincinnati to make the playoffs. If the Jets slip, they would need to finish with a better record than Denver and Oakland in the A.F.C. West, all while hoping that the Bengals stumble, too.
“We better get it done,” Ryan said, “and we better get it done in a hurry.”
The N.F.L. announced that it had fined Rex Ryan $75,000 for using profanity toward a fan during halftime of the Jets’ Nov. 13 game against New England.