The Jets' mantra all week was "8-and-5," and "Get to 8." You could even throw in "Don't Be Late to Eight."
After this afternoon's dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium, eight is not enough.
The Jets rocked Kansas City, 37-10, in the game they've been waiting for. Mark Sanchez continued the offense's recent red zone excellence by passing for two touchdowns and rushing for two more — the first QB in franchise history to score such a daily double.
Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson teamed up for a major day of tailback yardage to position the offense for all five scores, and the defense amassed five sacks to keep a touchdown-less lid on the Chiefs' struggling offense until 13 minutes remained in the game.
Thus the Jets are at eight, as in wins, and their hope, dream and goal of continuing their drive toward the AFC playoff grid with wins 9, 10 and 11 in the final three weeks of the regular season remains very much alive — especially after 1 p.m. losses by fellow wild-card competitors Cincinnati and Tennessee and Oakland's late-afternoon loss in Green Bay.
"We just have to keep focusing on the next opponent," said head coach Rex Ryan, whose Jets improved to 6-1 at home and 8-4 from Dec. 1 on in their three regular seasons under Rex. "That's what we've done. We don't worry about the rest of the league. We just have to take care of ourselves. If we don't take care of ourselves, it's not goiong to matter what the rest of the league does, so we have to take care of our business."
"I think we understand the importance of these games late in the season," said Sanchez, whose 13 TD drives vs. Buffalo, Washington and KC are the most in a three-game span in his career. "It looks like we're getting some help from outside, which is huge for us, but we've got to control what we can and be good these next few games."
One negative could be the status of S Jim Leonhard's right knee. He had it twisted on the Jets' only takeaway of the game in the second quarter when WR Steve Breaston had a hold of his leg, left the game gingerly, was carted off and didn't return. Ryan said he didn't have an update on Leonhard's injury at his postgame news conference.
The Jets controlled the Chiefs throughout. They didn't stop after building an imposing 28-3 first-half lead on Sanchez scoring tosses to Santonio Holmes and then Tomlinson — for his first home touchdown as a two-year member of the Jets — plus rushing TDs by the QB early and late in the half by Greene, who wound up with his first 100-yard rushing game of the day at 129 and added 58 on three receptions for a career-high 187-yard offensive day.
"We try to make that a point every week," Greene said of him and Tomlinson trying to take control of any given game such as this one. "Game in and game out we want to try to put the game on our shoulders and help our team win."
Then at the end of a six-play, 90-yard drive that was more yellow flags on Big Red than big plays by the Green & White, Sanchez put an exclamation point on the day with a diving QB keeper on third-and-goal from the 3 to make it 35-3, Jets. That was their largest third-quarter lead since they held that 40-0 advantage against St. Louis in 2008.
The Chiefs cut into that advantage on Tyler Palko's needle-threading 24-yard touchdown strike past three Jets defenders to WR Jerheme Urban with 12:58 to play. And Palko also had a fourth-down throw to a wide-open Dwayne Bowe in the end zone that was overthrown and that Bowe couldn't pull in on the backline.
But those were not details to sweat over today, especially with the whipped cream they put on the top of this Sundae best, a defensive charge led by DT Sione Pouha that overwhelmed RB Jackie Battle in the end zone for a safety — the third defensive safety this season and sixth in the last two seasons — to put the Jets ahead, 37-10, with 3:37 to play.
"We had a nice game out of our special teams," Ryan toted up. "The yards aren't great, but 5-for-5 in 'the Money Zone.' And I love the 42 rushing attempts. I thought the defense was impressive. I guess this would be our best game so far this year."
But it has to be better still to overcome the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday and get to No. 9 ... No. 9 ... No. 9.
A Dominating First Half
The Jets may have surprised many followers by winning the opening coin toss and electing to receive — only the fourth time Ryan has done that in his three seasons at the helm. What happened after that the Jets want to make less and less surprising — an opening-drive touchdown march.
Shonn Greene got it started on the first play from scrimmage with a 31-yard burst off right tackle, his longest run since the 2009 playoffs at San Diego. Sanchez hit three completions, then got a holding call against Javier Arenas for first-and-goal at the KC-1, setting the stage for No. 6's fourth TD run of the season and 10th of his career.
It also marked the second consecutive game the Jets drove for a TD on their opening drive after going nine games without.
The Jets defense was on its game early, stopping Kansas City on a three-and-out on its opening drive, then on three plays on the next series. However, the Chiefs were close enough to set up Ryan Succop for a 53-yard field goal, which he eased over the west crossbar to cut the Jets' lead to 7-3.
With the offense playing it close to the vest, the defense came up with one of those big plays they talked about. On third down Palko tried to find WR Steve Breaston deep down the middle but instead the left-hander found Leonhard in double coverage. Leonhard left the game with a knee injury but the Jets were in business at the KC-38.
On the next play, Greene, enjoying a monster yards-from-scrimmage first half, motored 36 yards with a Sanchez screen pass to the 2. Two plays later, Sanchez went to the end zone, seemingly throwing behind Keller — but his target was Santonio Holmes on the end line for the 4-yard TD strike and Holmes, third game in a row with a scoring grab.
The Chiefs went three-and-out as Bart Scott ripped up the middle off Pouha's strong rush to sack Palko on third down. And the Green & White offense was in business again as Greene and Tomlinson took turns catching and receiving all the way to the 7, from where Greene burst through the middle and muscled his way to paydirt.
The Jets' 21-3 lead with 3:56 left in the half was their largest first-half edge since they went up, 27-0, over Cincinnati in Week 17 of the '09 season — the famous "Win And We're In Game."
But they weren't done.
The D pitched another three-and-out ended with a Palko sack — this one split between DT Marcus Dixon low and LB Calvin Pace high — then took rookie Jeremy Kerley's 26-yard punt return to the Chiefs 35 back to their favorite West End Zone house in four plays.
The deal was sealed on Tomlinson's landmark score. He took the latest crisp execution of the Sanchez/Jets screen game 19 yards to the end zone. It was LT's first touchdown as a Jet. He had scored his first nine TDs (eight rushing, one receiving) on the road.
"I couldn't believe it took that long," Tomlinson said as he maneuvered his way through the winning locker room. "It was good to finally get it."
With Pouha getting into the act, ending the first half with his first sack of the season, the Jets were luxuriating in an incredible first half of football, holding edges in yardage (253-4), first downs (16-1) and possession time (20:34-9:26).
Leonhard's pick was his first of the season and the eight of his career. ... Six Jets split the five sacks of Palko, with DT Sione Pouha leading the way with his first-half-ending sack and his late safety tackle. ... The defense held KC to 65 yards on 21 carries, with ex-Jets RB Thomas Jones gaining 12 yards on five carries. "It was weird having to play against your old teammates," said TJ. "I had mixed emotions obviously. Jets fans showed me a lot of love, which I appreciated."
The Chiefs were hit for 128 yards on 11 penalties. The Jets were just 3-for-17 in the penalty department. ... The Jets' 249-yard yardage edge at halftime was their largest first-half margin since at least 1988. They settled at a 314-221 margin for the game. ... The Jets now hold the series edge over the Chiefs by 18-17-1, including playoffs.