The New York Jets are one game from the Super Bowl, the undeniable underdogs out of the four teams still left in the tournament. And that's completely OK with them, considering that people have picked against them all season.
"We kind of like doubters, we kind of like being the underdogs because that gives us motivation," DE Mike DeVito told reporters on a conference call this afternoon. "No.1 defense, No. 1 running-game, and we're still not getting the credit for where we're at now. We're just going to keep playing that underdog role and keep doing what we're doing."
You can't deny that type of attitude when a team is winning games while dictating the tempo as if it was the favorite. The Jets far exceeded outsiders' expectations but not their own.
As they prepare for the team with the best record in the league — the 15-2 Indianapolis Colts — they're confident they can compete against whoever remains on the schedule.
"That's how we felt since day one, all through training camp," said DE Shaun Ellis. "We're just a very confident bunch and when we get clicking on all cylinders, we feel like we can stop anybody, at least make it hard for teams to put up points on us. It's just a combination of a lot of talented guys and talented coaches that are making this work."
Through all the tough injuries that the defense has faced, including DT Kris Jenkins' season-ending knee injury, players have stepped up when their names have been called.
Sunday's 17-14 victory over the Chargers was no exception. Ellis broke his left hand on the Jets' first defensive play of the game, forcing DeVito's role to increase.
"I ended up playing more on first and second down and let Shaun get in there for the third-down stuff and a lot of that pass-rushing stuff," said DeVito, who has eight tackles this postseason and had one of the two sacks of Philip Rivers. "With his hand and everything, I ended up filling that role quicker than usual."
Ellis' hand will require surgery, but not until after the Colts game, regardless of the result. He was going to have the procedure — which will require having screws implanted in the bone — prior to the trip to Indy, but his skin wouldn't have healed in time to play the game.
Instead, Ellis will be attended to by the Jets' medical staff this week and given a cast to wear. Considering the Jets have to win only one more game to get to the "Big Game" and knowing that opportunities like these do not come every season, it would have been quite difficult for the Big Katt to sit out Sunday's contest.
The last time No. 92 made it to the playoffs was in 2005, when the Jets lost, 20-17, in overtime in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Steelers. The 10th-year pro, who set a franchise record by starting his eighth playoff game at San Diego, knows he's not getting any younger.
"That's the reality of it," he said. "I've been to the playoffs a couple of times and came close in that Pittsburgh game. I haven't been back since. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
An opportunity that the Jets' young players are taking full advantage of, especially rookies Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene. In two games Greene has rushed for 263 yards, the most in the NFL this postseason and the second-most by a rookie in league playoff history.
Sanchez began his playoff career against Cincinnati with the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a single game, completing 80.0 percent of his passes. In his two games combined, he is 24-of-38 for 282 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 92.2 passer rating.
Then there are other young players who play important roles for the Green & White, such as third-year CB Darrelle Revis, who has two interceptions in his first pro postseason, and third-year S James Ihedigbo, who leads the team with seven special teams tackles and has added a QB hit and a forced fumble.
And the list goes on for all the other Jets having the experience of their lives.
"It means a lot for them to come in and get a lot of experience right away," said Ellis. "Just to be able to experience this is going to really set the tone of the Jets' future, it really is, because these guys are very talented and the sky's the limit."