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Palladino: Jets Have Good Start To Tough Road Ahead

(credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

(credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.” He’ll be covering football throughout the season.

It’s hard to find anything bad about the Jets’ 37-10 win over the ragged Chiefs Sunday. They had a nice romp. And at 8-5, they hold their playoff destiny in their own hands.

But here’s one negative.

One big thing, actually.

Jim Leonhard may not be around much after going down with what looked like a nasty knee injury after his second-quarter interception. He’d be a big loss, since Leonhard is basically the quarterback of the defense, not to mention a pretty darned good punt returner.

Losing him for this stretch run against Philadelphia, the Giants, and Miami would force the Jets to put Brodney Pool, who should never be mistaken for Leonhard, in his place in the secondary. And they’ll probably have to settle for Jeremy Kerley at punt returner, a man whose issues mishandling kicks forced special teams coach Mike Westhoff to reinstate Leonhard back there in the first place.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that if the Jets continue playing like they did on offense against a Chiefs squad that has admittedly turned hapless since quarterback Matt Cassel injured his hand, they won’t have to worry about making the playoffs.

As it is now, their record looks strong given that everybody in the AFC wild card hunt was in a giving mood. Houston’s huge AFC South-clinching victory over wild card hopeful Cincinnati dropped the Bengals a game back of the Jets at 7-6. Those pesky Titans losing to New Orleans to fall to 7-6 also helped, as did 7-6 Oakland’s blowout loss to Green Bay.

All but Denver, which beat the Bears in overtime, fell behind the Jets. And that may not matter because Denver is in sole possession of the top spot in the AFC West.

If it all ended today, the Jets would have the final wild card spot.

It could get even better. Let’s let our imagination fly wild for a second. If the Jets sweep the last three, they’ll not only walk into the postseason at 11-5, but they’ll be on a mega-roll with six straight wins.

Maybe that’s too much to ask considering Philadelphia has Michael Vick back and the Giants will be as high as ever heading into the Christmas Eve matchup, a Jets home game. Especially without a key player like Leonhard.

But the fact remains that it’s not an outlandish scenario. The Jets appear to be gaining strength both on offense and defense.

Shonn Greene has transformed himself from the dancing, fumbling mess of the early season to a runner who powered his way to 129 yards and a touchdown Sunday for just his second 100-yard game of the season. Over the last two games, he’s scored four touchdowns and rushed for 217 yards.

This after a four-game stretch where he totaled no higher than the 78 yards against Buffalo.

Mark Sanchez benefited from a total ground game that racked up 159 ground yards. Unpressed most of the time, he sat back and went a wonderful 13-for-21 for 181 yards and two touchdowns, while running in two himself on a naked bootleg and a quarterback draw.

Their first-possession touchdown set the tone, and for once the Jets didn’t step off the pedal. Their 28 first-half points marked their most since their 35 against Arizona in 2008.

The defense harried poor Tyler Palko, a UFL talent disguised as an NFL backup, all day, sacking him five times and limiting his offensive output to a minuscule four first-half yards before Mike Pettine’s group lightened up in the second half.

The Jets needed a game like this. A skate. A walk in the park. A fun romp.

Well, almost fun. It’s never enjoyable to lose your top safety, and incidentally one of the indispensable players on your squad.

But as long as the Jets keep putting up points like this, they may be able to overcome that loss, be it temporary or permanent.

For one day, they got what Rex Ryan has been asking for all season — a fast start, and a good finish. No late-game drama. And plenty of help from their conference friends.

Now they have to make it all count.

Will Leonhard’s injury come back to bite Rex and the Jets? Sound off below…