It's the most wonderful time of the year. As many welcome the holiday season and celebrate its spirit with family and gift-giving, the Jets are aiming to increase their grip on a playoff berth. They do not expect to receive any presents this month. Instead, they are looking to play Grinch for the rest of the AFC wild-card candidates.
"After we got beat by Denver, that might have wiped out some teams," said head coach Rex Ryan. "With us, we know what we have to do. We have to roll up our sleeves and get after it. We have to be better on the practice field, better in the meeting rooms and classrooms."
The Jets' record is unblemished since the loss to the Broncos, and they have pushed their way into the sixth seed in the AFC playoff grid. While the preseason goal of winning the AFC East is essentially off the table, the Jets can still find themselves in the tournament. Once there, they know they can make some noise.
"No team has played in more playoff games than the New York Jets have over this two-year period," said Ryan. "Not Green Bay, not anybody. That's going to help us. We have to get there first, obviously, but that's going to help us."
The loss to Denver dropped the Jets to 5-5 and temporarily out of the playoff picture. Since then, the Green & White have done everything right. The next step is a showdown late this afternoon (4:15 p.m. ET kickoff) in Philadelphia to face the Eagles.
Dreamy Talent, Nightmarish Record
Heading into the 2011 season, recent free agent signee QB Vince Young dubbed his new Eagles squad "the Dream Team." However, instead of the visions of grandeur that swept over the City of Brotherly Love, a nightmare has unfolded. The Birds sit at 5-8 and are almost on their last playoff breath.
Record aside, Philadelphia's talent cannot be ignored. The Eagles feature several elite athletes and have given opponents fits at times. They pose a challenge — but one the Jets are looking forward to.
"It's actually exciting to play against these guys," said CB Darrelle Revis. "You hear a lot about them during the season. Usually we play them in the last preseason game and all of our starters are sitting on the bench. It will be fun to finally play against them."
Another notch in the win column would inch the Jets closer to the playoffs while simultaneously erasing a winless record against the Philadelphia franchise. The Eagles are the only NFL team the Jets have never beaten, with no wins in eight all-time meetings and 0-for-4 at Philadelphia.
This time around, the hot Jets roll into chilly Philadelphia on a mission. As the calendar year and the football season wind down, the Green & White are at their best. According to Ryan, the team was built with that goal in mind.
"I think it starts with the people you have on your team," said Ryan. "I always like to have a big running back. I think that helps you in these later games. I also think it's the way we handle our strength and conditioning. We also give them the bye week off, and the trainers, masseuses, chiropractors and everything we provide them pays off this time of year. I truly believe it. I think we're fresher than most teams we play."
Greene's Time of the Year
RB Shonn Greene thrives in the latter stages of the regular season. He has rushed for 633 yards in December over his career, and with two games remaining in the month, it should pass October as his most productive month as a pro.
Greene has dealt with a sore rib since the Jets' last loss, in Denver, but is running harder than he has all season. He is averaging 98.3 rushing yards over the last three games and figures to factor in heavily again today. He has become the embodiment of the squad's turnaround.
"We understood what chances we had early in the season and we kind of squandered some opportunities," said QB Mark Sanchez. "We've taken this road before, and it may be more difficult, but we want to get into the postseason, take our shot and make a little run here."
With a resounding 37-10 Week 14 dismissal of the Chiefs, along with losses by the Titans, Bengals and Raiders, the Jets find themselves in control of the final AFC Wild Card spot. Three weeks remain in the regular season, and they know that position still hangs in the balance. Today they control their own destiny, but by no means is the postseason a lock.
"Nothing has changed," said Sanchez. "All of our games are must-wins and we needed to win a lot of games in a short period of time here. That's our focus, and that's the way the guys approach it each week."
"Hands Full This Week"
This is hardly the first time the Jets have had to scramble in December to guarantee games in January. Each of the last two seasons they have squeezed into the playoffs via the fifth or sixth seed. Having to play their best under dire, cold conditions is nothing new.
"It's important in late November and December to be playing your best football," said Sanchez. "Right as the year ends we have to be at our best. These games help our experience together, but they're not always the same. Each team is a different challenge, and we have our hands full this week."
On paper, the Eagles have an impressive roster. But the games are played on the gridiron, where their record says they are 5-8.
"Last time I checked, talent on paper never won a ballgame," said WR Santonio Holmes. "Those guys feel the same way, that they have enough talent to win ballgames. It's going to take them a little time to regroup and get everybody in the right position to play football the way those guys want to."
The Jets are looking for their ninth win of the season, a number they reached in only 11 games last season. A 2-5 start to 2011 has made the road treacherous, but with the prospects of a four-game win streak on the horizon, the homestretch looks a bit smoother.
"We're happy to be where we're at right now," said Holmes. "Obviously, we wanted to be better. The five losses earlier in the season have done us some justice because it allowed us to regroup and focus on the little things that we needed to get corrected each week. Thus far, we've done the little things that we need to do to win late in ballgames."