The first two seasons for the New York Jets under Rex Ryan have been marked by extreme peaks and valleys. They go from looking unbeatable to looking like one of the worst teams in the league. Both years have required the team to string together a run or two to make the playoffs and then to ultimately come within a half or a few plays of the Super Bowl.
Let’s look at those runs and try to figure out if they have another one in them —
2009: 4-6 to 7-6
The Jets were effectively buried after falling to 4-6. They responded with three straight wins over mediocre teams (Carolina, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay). The main factors behind this winning streak were really the lack of quality opponents and an excessively conservative (Kellen Clemens played the last game and a half of this streak) game-plan, which allowed the defense to dominate horrible offenses while the Jets own offense didn’t get in the way. I would expect something pretty similar in the next few weeks against Buffalo, Washington, and Kansas City. Although considering the steps back the Jets running game has taken, they will need more from Mark Sanchez…more as in, complete a few passes over 10 yards and don’t turn the damn football over.
2009: 7-7 to the AFC Championship Game
After losing to Atlanta to end their previously mentioned 3 game winning streak. The Jets won 4 straight to make the playoffs and get all the way to the AFC Championship Game. A major factor in the first two wins was quality of competition, notably an Indianapolis Colts team resting starters in the second half and a Cincinnati Bengals team looking ahead to the playoffs. However, the Jets showed the regular season finale wasn’t a fluke by smacking the Bengals around in their own building in the wild-card round and then upsetting the heavily favored San Diego Chargers the next week. Mark Sanchez played well in these four games, particularly in terms of protecting the football. Shonn Greene also got rolling, which took the Jets running game to another level. The defense was very good and Brian Schottenheimer actually strung together a few solid game plans.
2010: 0-1 to 9-2
After an ugly opening week loss, the Jets won 8 of their next 9, basically an unprecedented streak of success in franchise history. The key here was clutch plays by Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, considering the duo hooked up for the game deciding play in half of those wins, with the defense stepping up at the end of the game in a few others.
2010: 9-3 to the AFC Championship Game
After a pair of brutal losses to New England and Miami, the Jets responded by winning 2 out of 3 to end their regular season and coming up with two more road playoff wins. The key here was the defense regaining their dominant form, most notably in the playoffs against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady along with Mark Sanchez getting his confidence back. The stats won’t bear this out but considering the competition and the timing of the game, the three most impressive games I have seen from both Sanchez and Rex Ryan’s defense were the regular season win in Pittsburgh in week 15 and their playoff wins over the Colts and Patriots.
The best six quarters of football the Jets have played this season were the second half against San Diego and the full Buffalo game. In retrospect, neither of those teams are very good. However, you saw a dominant defense and a confident Mark Sanchez, noticing a trend here?
Prospects for 2011 Playoff Run
Considering their next three opponents, the Jets have a very real chance to get their defense rolling against subpar offenses. Yes, I am putting Buffalo in that category after watching them play the past three weeks. If this unit can’t get going against the Bills, Rex Grossman, and Tyler Palko they have even further to go than we already think they do. Outside of one ill-advised throw and a dropped snap, Mark Sanchez played very well against Buffalo a few weeks ago. He must start building himself back-up immediately, with support of the coaching staff/game-planning. Even if the Jets do scrape by in the next three, Sanchez must get much better to win in Philadelphia, beat the Giants, and the suddenly hot Miami Dolphins.
He will need support of both Shonn Greene and his offensive line, who have been average at best this season. An offense isn’t a one man show. Greene and the rest of the running backs need to bring balance to the offense and the wide receivers and Dustin Keller must start looking like the playmakers they are supposed to be.
Are the Jets capable of winning their next three and setting us up for an exciting few final weeks? Absolutely. If they can’t win these next three, it is time to blow up big chunks of this team and they know that. Let’s see if they have another run in them.