After six games, the Jets were just 3-3 and their new-look offensive line, featuring newcomers LG Alan Faneca and RT Damien Woody, was middling. But Faneca and the line's play improved measurably and the Jets got on a wonderful roll.
"I think when we started clicking, the whole team started clicking," Faneca said today.
The Jets, victors in five of their past six games, look to return to their winning ways this weekend in San Francisco. Although the Northern California weather won't be a factor Sunday, it could be in the Jets' final three games and the playoffs. And the Jets figure to be a team built for winter because they've got the NFL's eighth-ranked rush offense at 131.1 yards per game.
"We're not satisfied. I think we're excited. It's definitely good to see that, to get it going, especially since we started out slow earlier in the year," Faneca said. "We still watch tape, man, and we see things we could have done better and yardage we feel we left on the field. That is how an offensive lineman is always going to look at it, though. We're pleased at where we're at and we definitely feel we're going to get better."
Thomas Jones, who reached the 1,000-yard mark in last weekend's loss to the Broncos, is averaging 4.7 yards a carry and has rushed for 100 yards five times this season. Jones has 11 rush touchdowns and Leon Washington, who is averaging 5.3 yards a clip, has also pitched in with four scores.
With time, the linemen have gotten more comfortable with each other and the chemistry has been on display.
"All of a sudden, you went from 4 yards to an 8-yard run because you were able to do a little bit extra and you were comfortable with the guys and knowing what everybody's doing," Faneca said. "So that process kinds of grows and all of a sudden it just starts happening."
A seven-time Pro Bowler and a six-time All-Pro choice with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Faneca didn't have any expectations when he signed with the Green & White on March 3. He thought the Jets were headed in the right direction and he wanted to be a part of their move. The transition to a new club wouldn't be easy, though.
"I was completely spoiled — 10 years with virtually one offense and things were just second nature," he said. "I knew what the receivers were doing, I knew where I needed to be, I knew if my guy dropped he needed help because of the blitzes. … It was ridiculous. I was spoiled."
Like a rookie, Faneca was forced to increase his video work, study more and think first before reacting. He compared the switch to "a whole new puzzle." But he's had a great teacher to help him along the way in Bill Callahan.
"You take the best of what everybody offers and you make it all your own," Faneca said. "He's definitely a great coach, a very sound technician on what to do, He has brought a lot of things to me that I maybe haven't necessarily thought of or focused on as much in my game. It's helped me out."
When Faneca joined the Jets, he thought he'd be blocking for either Chad Pennington or Kellen Clemens. But their battle for the Jets' starting position ended in the first week of August when the Jets traded for Brett Favre.
"It's been great. He's a fun guy, a good guy to have in the locker room, a great guy to have out on the field and a helluva player," said the red-haired lineman of the future Hall of Famer. "It's been a great time."
As the Jets begin the fourth quarter of the 2008 season, Faneca believes they're in a better position to respond to a loss than they were earlier in the year.
"We're more confident in what we're able to do, what we're doing. Early on, we were still trying to figure out who we were — our identity," he said. "I think we found that over the last month and a half, so you lean on that, on what you know you're capable of doing. When you lean on that, it gives you confidence to know that you're able to put it back out there on the field."
Faneca, who's started 11 consecutive postseason contests, including the Steelers' Super Bowl XL win, is on familiar ground now, just with a new team. He's played in a number of significant December and January games and said it's important to work up to a crescendo.
"We've set ourselves up good. We've been playing good football. It's about maintaining and growing going into the playoffs and that's what we need to do now," he said. "You need to grow as a team and get better. You can't be satisfied with where you are at. You have to be hitting your stride at the end of the month."
But after a decade in Pittsburgh, Faneca hopes he doesn't see his former teammates any time soon.
"That would be the one game I'm not rooting for," he said of a possible postseason matchup.