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Greenberg: Proof of Life from the Young Guys

After losing their most dynamic offensive and defensive players for the season and struggling with the health of both the nose tackles, the Jets finally catch a break this week: The one in the forearm of Rob Gronkowski, the Bill Belichick Laboratories cross-creation of Mike Ditka and Kellen Winslow.

After losing his last two Super Bowl appearances, after failing to solve his secondary problems for three years running, Belichick no longer builds 'em quite like he used to, just still well enough in combination with so many other offensive weapons to likely drop the Jets back to 4-7 Thanksgiving night.

That would require them to run the table in the prayer that this is one of those years that 9-7 will do the job. Never say never, since Pittsburgh has two quarterbacks hurt, Indianapolis plays Houston twice, and New England is the only remaining Jets opponent that today has a winning record. But the thinnest ray of hope that they still are going to make the playoffs without Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes is not as critical in the long run as there being hope, period.

You didn't need to be drinking shots on Sunday to see the Jets' glass half-filling again. The offensive line, still representing the strength of the team even as Mark Sanchez holds the ball begging again to be stripped — Ninkovich this week, Mark, don't be a nincompoop! — attacked the Rams like they were the guys giving out the anonymous quotes.

The Jets, whose running game should be better than what's it's been, got important yards on the ground, as they will have to do to Thursday night to get the game into the twenties, where New York can always take its best shot.

In St. Louis, the defense resumed tackling superbly, confusing a quarterback, in this case Sam Bradford, like Rex Ryan creations of yore. The brain lock of triple coverage on one guy in the end zone, none on two others, on the Rams' opening drive was quickly addressed, and the Jets defender thereafter looked like their old selves.

It wasn't just their old guys, either, which is most important going forward. If the drafts are drying up, the Jets are going to shrivel and die for the next several years. The fixation on the starting quarterback notwithstanding, the Jets don't bounce back quickly in 2013 if they still need too many things fixed.

Kyle Wilson, the first-round pick in 2010, is playing increasingly solidly as a starting cornerback. Bilal Powell, who barely had been on the field since becoming the Jets' 2011 fourth-round pick, scored two touchdowns and looked like a good instinctual runner, particularly on the second score from 11 yards, when he read the blocks perfectly. Joe McKnight, the fourth- rounder in 2010, ran a nice timing route and caught a beauty of a touch pass from Sanchez, making a contribution beyond special teams.

The Jets didn't need any production from the Wildcat and Tim Tebow, so the locker room backstabbers could go back under the rock from which they came, at least during Thanksgiving week. New York only had 124 yards rushing but impressively ran the ball down the Rams' throat to put the game away, what you have wanted to see all along.

"It's not that much different than New England with their depth that they can throw at you with [Danny] Woodhead, [Stevan] Ridley, firing those guys in there," said Ryan. "Each guy has a little different physical set.

"I think it is the ideal scenario for us because we have three very capable backs. Instead of just throwing one guy in there all the time to take all the hits, protections, routes, when you have three guys coming in, it helps.

"Bilal, normally absolutely tremendous in protection, is the one that gave up the strip sack, which is strange, because normally he'll hit a defensive back right in the mouth. The next time he gets the Mike linebacker right in the face, what we've been used to.

"Obviously, you see that he has some run ability as well. We know he can catch the football out of the backfield. We're excited to get him back."

Jeremy Kerley, the third-round pick in 2011, caught three passes and looks reliable. On defense, Mo Wilkerson forced a fumble and appears increasingly like a disruptive force that can anchor the defense, what you hope a first-round defensive end will do. Quinton Coples, the 2012 first-rounder, has not looked out of place as his feet soak in their first NFL season. Demario Davis, the 2012 No. 3, already is getting on the field for significant downs.

Of course then there are NT Kenrick Ellis (third round, 2011) and WR Stephen Hill (third round, 2012), whose bodies have betrayed them, in Hill's case specifically his hands.

"He can get separation from people," said Ryan "The fun part and the easy part of the job is to catch the football, but right now we just have to keep working every day and I think he'll do that."

Unless Tony Sparano can figure out more ways to utilize Tim Tebow, the offense still needs one more dynamic presence going forward, even assuming Holmes comes back strong and we resume seeing more Good Sanchez than Bad Sanchez.

But there is increasing reason to believe that the Jets have not drafted poorly the last few years after all. Going forward, there is more relief in that than they can expect to receive from teams playing wild-card contenders. Beat the Pats with some young guys continuing to step up, then the Jets will be aiding themselves more and relying on help less.

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