No doubt tonight's Jets-Houston game at MetLife Stadium will be as tough as they come for the Green & White.
The Texans arrive to town undefeated, with the top-ranked defense in yardage and points allowed and the No. 2 scoring offense. The Jets enter their home office down two stars, otherwise battered and bruised, and trying to get their mojo back after their home shutout loss eight days ago against San Francisco.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for us," head coach Rex Ryan said during the week. "We have to find a way to keep scrapping and see what happens."
Last week the scrapping didn't work out too well against the 49ers, and WR Santonio Holmes joined CB Darrelle Revis on the sideline as frontline Jets to suffer devastating second-half injuries in back-to-back games.
Add to that the Jets' health heading into their first primetime game of the season. Twenty-five players were on their largest one-week injury list in at least the last decade. Four main contributors — TE Dustin Keller (hamstring, three games), NT Sione Po'uha (back, one game), WR Stephen Hill (hamstring, three games) and FB John Conner (knee, one game) — have missed a combined eight player-games in the first four weeks and all are doubtful for the Texans.
Still, the Jets insist, against the odds, that they are ready to get it on against the next smoking-hot team on their schedule.
"I think it's just part of your personality," said QB Mark Sanchez. "We have a lot of guys in here, a lot of good competitors. If you're a good competitor, you come back, you come back swinging, you come back fighting, and the only way to do that is have a great week of practice. I'm thrilled about our effort the last couple of days and we have to keep working and nail it down for Monday."
Perhaps, just perhaps, the Texans are coming into a Meadowlands buzzsaw. In the last decade, all 25 teams that lost a home game by 34 or more points, came back the next game to play better. Ten of those teams won their next games. It has something to do with that competitiveness, that professional pride, and it no doubt has something to do with getting hit upside the head when one never saw it coming and being ready to not let it happen again.
A Call to Action
For the Jets' defense, the loss was accompanied a few days later by CB Carlos Rogers' incredulous radio remarks that he thought the Jets, on defense in particular, quit in the second half of their game, that they were "ready for the showers."
"I think it was good our guys got to see that," coordinator Mike Pettine said late in the week. If it comes from the media, if it comes from a fan, if it comes from some other source, that's one thing. But when it comes from a peer, you have to kind of stop yourself and say, 'Wait a minute, is this the effort?' If it's being perceived as this, than we need to take action."
Pettine took action. Even though he said he didn't take Rogers' remarks as "malicious," he used them as bulletin-board material — or, more accurately, PowerPoint pop-outs — at the midweek defensive meeting. His players read the comments in silence.
The offense's problems have been as well documented: a "ground and pound" running game 31st in the NFL's rushing rankings, Sanchez accuracy that has been under 47 percent for three straight games, a unit coming off a deflating seven three-and-outs, four turnovers and no points, and a receiving corps that, even when Holmes was well, never seemed to have the same cast together from week to week.
But as Sanchez said, the O forcefully and purposely set to work on its shortcomings this week. Coordinator Tony Sparano is hopeful that whether Keller and Hill return or not, Sanchez and his pass-catchers will be primed to break out.
"Jeremy Kerley is getting better and better, stronger and stronger right now," Sparano said. "Chaz Schilens is getting better and better out there every day. I think those players with more reps, they're darned good football players. Part of this game is all about opportunity. Here's an opportunity for players to step up, and that's what we have to do."
Also worth revisiting: Ryan's "Nosebleed Thursday" practice, courtesy of an idea from OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo, in which both first units went at each other as hard as good coaching sense and the new CBA would allow for one extra eight-minute period. The bloody noses and jolted psyches that resulted should stand the home side in good stead for the physical nature of this game.
Some Other Points to Ponder
Also not to be overlooked will be the buzz in the stadium as fans prepare to honor two Jets greats of the past, WR Wesley Walker and DE Mark Gastineau, who will be enshrined in the team's Ring of Honor during halftime ceremonies.
And does AFC East first place mean anything? A win will keep the Jets tied for the top spot in the division with the Patriots at 3-2.
Then there are the Texans themselves, who might just be what the doctor ordered.
How's that again? Well, there are a few of those historical coincidences that tell us that the Jets righting their ship in these fairly dark hours is not just fantasy football.
For instance, the Jets have never lost to Houston. They're 5-0 since the Texans rode into existence in 2002. Three of the wins were of the pull-away variety. Two were fourth-quarter comebacks. Ryan's and Sanchez's first game as head coach/quarterback of the Jets in 2009 was the 24-7 opening-day road victory over the Texans.
Also, prior to Sunday and the 49ers, the last two times the Jets had been shut out at home were in 2006 by Chicago and 2010 by Green Bay. Each time this blanking by a visiting NFC opponent was followed within three weeks' time by a triumph over Houston — 26-11 in '06, 30-27 in '10.
And will this be the game that Sanchez and Tebow join forces to rally the Jets in crunch time? Both have comeback wins over Houston, Sanchez in that '10 game and Tebow for his first win as an NFL starter that same season, by 24-23 over the Texans.
This game won't be played on the pages of the franchise's history book, of course. The Jets will need all this and then will have to dig deep for the effort needed to overcome QB Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster and WR Andre Johnson on the Houston offense, DE J.J. Watt, LB Brian Cushing and company on the defensive side.
For the first time in these teams' short rivalry, Houston is a touchdown favorite, and for good reason. And the Jets have good reason to come out with guns blazing.
"Without question our pride was hurt a little bit. Our football team, that's not typical New York Jets game," Ryan said of last week's rout. "We're going to come back the way we know how. We're not covering up. We're going to be throwing punches."