By Jeff Capellini
So far the Jets have been the anti-Jets in December. Instead of folding with so much to play for, they’ve actually gotten better.
It has been a sight to see. A revelation some would say.
But even though this season to date has been a rousing success in nearly every way possible, a loss on Sunday to Rex Ryan and the Bills in Buffalo would make a lot of people forget about the dramatic reversal of fortune, how the Jets have rapidly transformed from last season’s 4-12 punching bag into this 10-win heavyweight throwing its fair share of haymakers.
The Jets are indeed a team to be reckoned with right now. Though other clubs around the NFL won’t say so publicly, it’s a safe bet very few of them want any part of Todd Bowles’ bunch. The Jets are rolling, partly because they finally have that very good offense to go along with what has been for years a very good defense, and also due to the fact that the football gods seem to like them for the first time in ages.
That’s a scary combination, and one this downtrodden fan base is in no way accustomed. I mean, the Steelers losing to the four-win Ravens and Bill Belichick suffering a total brain lock at precisely the right time don’t just happen every day. Something more seems to be at play here.
The Jets have karma in the form of reclamation projects and castoffs, veterans looking for redemption and young players just trying to establish themselves. They have a rookie head coach many like but still are not sure is the real deal. They have a novice general manager who has made a great first impression in a league where first impressions last all of five minutes.
But it’s working, and that, as life goes in the NFL, is the bottom line.
We’re simply not used to the Jets getting breaks and, perhaps more surprisingly, capitalizing on them as much as they have. Of all the statistics that best describe what a team is or isn’t, the following without question summarize why the Jets — circa 2015 — are for real:
Last season the Jets converted just 36.2 percent of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns, last in the NFL by a wide margin. This season they have jacked that percentage all the way up to 66.7, second in the league. What’s more, Gang Green has by far the league’s best red zone defense, allowing just 33.3 percent of possessions to cross the goal line, as opposed to 59 percent a year ago.
As a result of that kind of efficiency, the Jets are now THE story in New York City and many points beyond. Five straight wins have catapulted them into a position to not only make the playoffs but perhaps to do something a bit more memorable.
We’ll get to that next week, if there is a next week.
First, the Jets have to show one last time there’s nothing “same old” about this year’s group. They have to go into Buffalo and win, period. Forget that the Bills are at best a mediocre team. They will play this game like their lives depend on it. Their fans, some of the most loyal in all of sports, will react accordingly as well. The weather? Who knows? It’s Buffalo. Anything is possible.
And let’s not forget about Ryan.
It’s bad enough the Jets lost to him back in November at home, a game they basically took a rain check on for the first three quarters, but if they lose to him again it will be just devastating and, let’s be honest, unforgivable.
Whether or not Ryan was mostly responsible for the Jets’ demise over his final four seasons as head coach depends on your perspective. There are a lot of people who think he was. The vitriol thrown his way, especially on social media, would lead some to believe John Idzik never existed and that the Jets were more than competent at quarterback, two things that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yet, regardless if you love or loathe Rex the man or myth you do want to shut him up. The Jets failed miserably in that quest the first time around, with many viewing losing to the Bills as the equivalent of getting beaten by a semi-pro team. That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, but that’s the kind of regard in which many hold Ryan, fairly or unfairly.
Fan hysteria aside, the Jets owe it to nobody but themselves to get the job done Sunday. They have defied all of the odds in a season where many experts picked them to finish no better than third in the AFC East and certainly not to be in the mix for a playoff berth heading into the final weekend of the regular season. They have a chance to win at least 11 games in a season for just the fifth time in 55 years, an incredible stat when you think about the market they play in and the resources they enjoy.
With a win and a little help the Jets could find themselves as the No. 5 seed when the real season starts next week. The Kansas City Chiefs currently hold that spot and conclude the season against the visiting Oakland Raiders, who I’m guessing will play their rear ends off with a chance to finish .500 and send future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson into retirement as a winner on the line.
Provided the Jets win, they will become the fifth seed if the Chiefs lose or if the Denver Broncos fall to the San Diego Chargers. They would then draw the AFC South winner on Wild Card Weekend.
Assuming Houston does clinch the South on Sunday, you better believe the Jets will be salivating for some revenge, since it was the Texans who handed them their last loss, back on Nov. 22, a defeat that had even the biggest green-and-white optimist fearing that the season was on the verge of destruction.
Sure, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but it’s important everyone realize what exactly is at stake here. Beating Rex will open the door to endless possibilities because the Jets can play with any team in the league. But barring Pittsburgh falling at Cleveland, the type of loss I can’t imagine the Steelers suffering two weeks in a row, the Jets losing to Rex would end the season and be nothing short of a criminal act on their part.
Fans may love this team and be encouraged by the idea of a future without limits, but there will be hell to pay if the Jets don’t circle the wagons in Buffalo and keep this season going.
It would be a massive failure that would ruin what has been one hell of a ride.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet