NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Everything seems to be falling into place — again — for Rex Ryan and the Jets.
Well, almost everything. Starting safety Jim Leonhard is out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
But they’ve got a three-game winning streak, the offense is finally clicking and the defense is shutting down opponents. The teams they’re competing with to make the postseason also lost Sunday.
“It’s playoff time right now,” Ryan said. “That’s how we’ve approached it every game.”
It’s beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when the Jets appeared out of the mix late in the season, only to bounce back, get a couple of breaks and make it all the way to the AFC championship. After all those struggles and moments of panic earlier this season, the Jets (8-5) suddenly control their playoff destiny.
“Our approach doesn’t change,” cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. “We’re still in a fight for the playoffs. I mean, one game could change everything for us.”
Such as this week at Philadelphia, when the Jets take on the Eagles (5-8) in a matchup that appeared a lot sexier in the summer when New York lost out to the NFL’s “Dream Team” on getting prized cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The Jets aren’t taking the game lightly, though, not against a team with Michael Vick that still has an outside shot at getting to the postseason.
“I think we understand the importance of these games late in the season,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said after the Jets’ 37-10 win over Kansas City on Sunday. “We understood, especially my rookie year, and this year we missed opportunities early in the season and anytime you do that you want to try to make up for them. And guys understand that, we understand the kind of wild-card race we’re in.
“So, I think we just find a way to click, and that’s important late in the season.”
Tempering the Jets’ excitement, though, was the Leonhard news Monday.
“(The mood) is kind of mixed because of what happened to Jim,” center Nick Mangold said. “He’s a great leader, a great player for us. But, we have injuries and guys have to step up, so I think guys are excited about the opportunity after winning three straight and we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us in Philly.”
Leonhard was hurt after making an interception in the second quarter and will now be forced to only watch for the second straight year as the Jets try to reach the postseason. He broke the same leg last season almost exactly a year ago.
“That’s going to be a huge loss for us,” Ryan said.
If there’s any consolation, New York knows it can win without Leonhard after going deep into the playoffs last season. It’s not the ideal situation, but then again, that’s how the Jets have operated much of the time during Ryan’s three years in New York.
“This team means everything to Jim, and his leadership is going to be missed without question,” Ryan said. “He’s one of the guys that elevates other players around him.”
Two years ago, the Jets entered Week 15 on a three-game winning streak — just as they will this season — but lost to Atlanta at home to fall to 7-7 and see their playoff hopes placed in serious jeopardy. Ryan even mistakenly thought their shot at the postseason was over. But then, they beat a previously undefeated Indianapolis team that rested Peyton Manning and a playoff-bound Cincinnati squad that had nothing to play for.
Lucky breaks and all, the Jets soared into the AFC championship game. Cornerback Darrelle Revis said last week that this year’s team reminds him an awful lot of that bunch. The season appeared as if it might start spinning out of control after a deflating loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos a few weeks ago. Instead, the Jets have bounced back — as they always seem to do.
A loss Sunday, though, and New York will have to start relying on lots of help again.
“Pressure either brings out the best or worst in players,” Sanchez said.
He should know. In less than three seasons, Sanchez has already established himself as a player who can handle late-season pressure. He struggled mightily at times earlier in the year and fans were booing him in pregame introductions just a few weeks ago.
Since then, Sanchez has led New York to three straight wins while throwing seven touchdown passes and just one interception, while also running for two scores. The offensive line, which appeared a shell of its former solid self, is again protecting the quarterback and making big holes for Shonn Greene and the running game.
“It’s really coming together,” Mangold said. “We’ve done a much better job of execution up front and making sure we’re doing the right thing, which I think has helped.”
The defense, although not perfect, has played more along the way Ryan expects: smothering and dominant. There might have been no better example of that than how the Jets stifled the Chiefs during the opening two quarters Sunday.
“I’ve been around a lot of great defensive performances, but holding a team to 4 yards in the first half was about as good as I’ve ever seen it,” Ryan said. “It definitely was as good as I’ve ever seen. I like the way we’re playing.”
The Jets know they’ve just got to keep it up — against Philadelphia, the Giants and at Miami — and then the real pressure of the postseason begins.
“We just have to keep playing like we did (Sunday),” safety Eric Smith said. “If we can put this effort together each week, we have a good shot at winning.”
Notes: RG Brandon Moore was fine after playing the entire game against the Chiefs without practicing because of soreness in his surgically repaired hips. Ryan said the plan moving forward will likely have Moore sit out Wednesday, be limited Thursday and then put in a full practice Friday. … The Jets are 0-8 all-time against the Eagles, the only team New York has never defeated.
Will the Jets take care of business against Vick and the Eagles? Be heard in the comments below…
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