By Kristian Dyer
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As they return to work today after their bye week, the Jets now face the challenge of putting together a strong stretch run to what has been a rocky start to the season. From preseason prediction and talk, much of it coming from the Jets and their head coach Rex Ryan, all indicators pointed toward a dream trip to Indianapolis, IN for the Super Bowl.
This was, after all, a veteran team put together to build on consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances.
But a 4-3 start? That was in no one’s crystal ball.
It is easy for Jets fans to fall into a malaise right about now, a despondency that seems to come naturally for fans of this team who seem to enjoy wallowing in their losses and in fact feel a slight guilt at enjoying winning. The three game losing streak which encompassed Week 3 through Week 5 was a black eye to this team’s bold talk and so-called swagger, but it could well be just a speed bump towards their ultimate ambitions. The second half of the season is there for the Jets taking and could well be the catalyst for another postseason push.
To their credit, this team has rebounded, overcoming that three-game losing streak to now win back-to-back games heading into their bye week. They won handily over Miami and then showed backbone and character in a comeback victory against San Diego. Now, this Jets team must build on their last two games and turn their lackluster start into the stuff of postseason glory.
The schedule is there to make this happen. It isn’t an easy task set before them, but there isn’t a game that the Jets can cross off the list automatically and chalk up as a loss. Five of their nine remaining games are against team currently at .500 or below. Two games, against the 5-2 Bills, come with the memory of the Jets easily sweeping last year’s meetings with their divisional opponent. And even New England in Week 10 is a team that the Jets have beaten at home the past two years.
“Go Time” is “Now Time” for Ryan’s bunch.
They likely won’t run the table, but the Jets must start consistently beating some of these teams that are jockeying for position with them for a playoff spot. Their 4-3 record this year consists of just one win against a team currently with a winning record. To their credit, all their losses have been on the road, against teams all of which are above the .500 mark – there was no ugly loss to hang their heads over. But to be taken seriously, the Jets must now start chipping away at the other teams around them eyeballing the playoffs.
Perhaps more of a long shot, but the Jets really should be sizing up the division and home field advantage through at least the wild card round. If the Jets beat the hapless Dolphins and take care of business against the surprising Bills and their nemesis the Patriots, they would be 7-1 in the AFC East and would win their division for the first time since 2002.
Considering their 4-0 start at home this year, it is a scenario that isn’t far fetched and would be advantageous for the Jets to play at least one game in the friendly confines of MetLife Stadium. In their two previous playoff runs under Ryan, the Jets have never had a home postseason game despite posting a 4-2 record during that stretch.
It would be easy to write off the Jets, although 4-3 is far from the fast start many envisioned from this veteran team. Baltimore proved on Monday night in their embarrassing loss at Jacksonville that there are chinks in their armor and there isn’t quite that same fear about Patriots Way as their once was surrounding that dynasty. The Jets can chalk up their three game losing streak to the parity in the NFL and they should be able to make a little run right about now.
A season that two weeks ago was on the ledge is suddenly there for the taking, the promise of fulfilling Ryan’s guarantees perhaps in the offing this time. The sense of panic has settled and the talk of “Occupy Florham Park,” a tip of the hat to the location of the Jets practice facility, has rightly abated. Something special could be brewing this season for a team that showed as much grit as any in the second half of their dramatic win against the Chargers.
But the Jets need that winning spirit from last week to go start being found in all four quarters of their upcoming games, and not just furiously played second halves. If the Jets can find that formula that made them winners in Week 7, it could be a special season. Not even the most despondent of Jets fans would deny that.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets and can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
How will the Jets finish out the season? Make your best prediction in the comments below…