Forewarned is forearmed. So the Jets returned to work and practice at the Atlantic Health Training Center today aware of the post-bye-week trends in the NFL and under head coach Rex Ryan as well as the trending upward that the Buffalo Bills have been doing in 2011.
The Jets say they're ready for the hurdle ahead.
"It's a historical reference, but it doesn't have to be repeated," NT Sione Pouha said about the Jets' 0-2 record after bye weeks under Ryan. "This is a new team, a new year. If anything, that's more of a motivational factor to break that tendency."
"We just have to make sure that we come back and focus in and get back into a rhythm as quick as we can," said guard Matt Slauson. "I think that's kind of where we were lacking over the last two years. Everybody gets away and kind of rests a little bit and you fall out of that rhythm. And as far as today went, we were right in it, right in a groove, everything was going great. I'm really pleased."
Fullback John Conner said he's recharged his batteries along with his teammates.
"It was really good to get to go home, visit the family, go to Homecoming," Conner said. "My legs felt really good. I think everybody was moving around really good."
Ryan's message to the team last week set the stage for his message to the team today upon their return and their practice on the outdoor turf field (with all their grass fields under up to a foot of snow that fell Saturday in North Jersey).
"Oh yeah, guys were flying around," Ryan said. "You feel that energy."
The energy is needed not just because of the Jets' losses to Jacksonville in '09 and Green Bay last year. This year, it may be because of the residual effects of the lockout and the odd offseason, or it may be a statistical anomaly. But heading into tonight's San Diego-Kansas City game to wind up Week 8, teams in their first games back after their bye are 8-10. That's a .444 percentage, which isn't winning football on its face but also isn't winning football compared to those 18 teams' combined record in all other non-bye games, 52-54 or a .491 percentage.
Then consider that teams playing their first games after their bye weeks on the road have underperformed even those numbers: 3-7 (.300) compared to 25-33 (.431) in all other games.
So that trend doesn't bode well for the Jets as they make their annual venture to Ralph Wilson Stadium. But at least they're aware of the numbers. Forewarned, you know the rest.
The Jets also have to be alert for the new, improved Bills. One year after beating them by a combined 76-21, they are preparing to take on a Buffalo side that is 5-2 for the first time since 2008, is outscoring its opponents by nine points a game, is tied for the most takeaways in the NFL at 18 and has a plus-9 turnover margin. Defense looking vulnerable? Well, it was until shutting out the Redskins, holding them to 178 yards and sacking John Beck nine times.
"We know what this game represents," Ryan said. "We've got Buffalo coming up, one of the hottest teams in league, tied for first in our division. We've got to play at their place so we've got to be excited about playing the No. 1-rated team in our division, them and New England."
And of course the Patriots come to MetLife Stadium the week after the Jets go to Buffalo.
Ryan was asked if he changed anything up for his team this week after the bye.
"We're ahead of the game right now as far as the preparation goes for Buffalo," he said. "We were running Buffalo plays today [for the first teams]. We have a head start that way. Our coaches are obviously way ahead of the game."
But are the Jets ready to buck the bye tendencies, continue their Bills trends and come out of this game no worse than a second-place tie, a game off the Patriots' lead. (Or perhaps a three-way tie for first if the Pats falter against the Jets' MetLife partners, the Giants.)
"We know we put our backs against the wall," Leonard said of the Jets' season of streaks — two wins, three losses, two wins. "We have to come out swinging. We can't come out flat. We have to play well for the next couple games and see what happens after that."
What happens is either the Jets will be back in the thick of things in the AFC East, or two to three games off the pace. It's a most important week to return to work in the NFL.