The fourth quarter of the Jets' season begins today as the Green & White will host the Miami Dolphins in a late-afternoon contest at New Meadowlands Stadium. After suffering one of the worst defeats in franchise history six days ago, the 9-3 Jets have an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth this evening with a win and some help.
Since head coach Rex Ryan began Dolphins week by burying a gameball on Wednesday, the Jets have insisted that their 45-3 loss to the Pats is behind them. They get another rival today, a 6-6 Miami club that, barring something slightly miraculous, will miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons under coach Tony Sparano.
"It's going to take everything we've got and we know that. Miami is hanging on," said Ryan. "They're in a similar situation that we were last year. They're going to give us everything they've got. We've got to be good enough to beat them."
Tired of slow starts by his offense, Ryan plans on taking the ball first if his team wins the opening coin toss. He has always deferred in the past, but the Jets have scored an anemic 26 first-quarter points — the least in the NFL through 12 games — and just three points, on Nick Folk's 27-yard field goal in Cleveland back in Week 10, over their last seven. LaDainian Tomlinson's 1-yard score against the Bills in Week 4 was the last time the Jets scored a touchdown in the game's first 15 minutes.
"Obviously we want to start fast and by getting out there fast, I think it allows us to," said Tomlinson of the change in philosophy. "Sometimes when you sit down first and you watch the defense and you're ready to go and you're ready to get out there, it does take you away from that tempo. I think it will be a good thing."
"We need to get going as an offense, man," added WR Jerricho Cotchery. "We need to get going early on in games. The defense has started fast pretty much for a while now and we've been inconsistent. I can't remember the last time we started fast. We have to start fast as an offense and any time we do that, with the defense we have, you're putting a lot of pressure on the opposing team."
Despite giving up 31 points to the Jets and 41 points to the Patriots in back-to-back home losses back in Weeks 3 and 4, the Dolphins are only surrendering 19.8 points a game. They have the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and have been solid across the board, ranking fourth in passing (201.2 yards per game) and ninth in rushing (99.6). Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has nose tackle Paul Soliai playing well and the linebackers include OLB Cameron Wake (league-leading 12 sacks), playmaking ILB Karlos Dansby and impressive rookie OLB Koa Misi (3.5 sacks).
"They're a physical group, big guys who really can dominate the line of scrimmage," Tomlinson said of the Miami front seven. "They allow their linebackers to run free unblocked because of the guys up front. For us, we have to do a good job of fundamentals and make sure we perform our technique to the best of our abilities."
Ryan, who Baltimore's D-line coach when Nolan was the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2002-04, had a well-publicized lunch date with Mark Sanchez on Thursday to discuss strategy. After starting the year with eight TDs and zero interceptions through the first five games, Sanchez has thrown 11 interceptions and eight touchdowns over the past seven games.
While the Jets probably won't lead the league in rushing for a second consecutive season, they're averaging a healthy 148.4 yards per contest. And now that it's December and harsh conditions are upon us, they'll likely put the ball in the hands of Tomlinson (176 carries, 788 yards, 4.5 avg.) and Greene (153-639-4.2) more to grind out yards, wear out defenses and keep their own D off the field.
"I think it's a good rock to lean on," said C Nick Mangold. "We want to make sure it's a good foundation for this offense and I think we have the running backs to be able to do that."
Offensively the Dolphins have been scoring-challenged. Only three teams average less points per game (17.9) and Chad Henne and company could only muster 10 in a home loss to the Browns last week. But the turnover-prone Henne, who has 15 interceptions in 11 games but is expected to get WR Brandon Marshall back this week, has put up decent numbers against the Jets in his first three starts, completing 58 of 91 (64 percent with five TDs and one INT.
"He's having a transitional year and that's to be expected with young quarterbacks," said former Dolphin Jason Taylor. "He's a talented kid and when he's confident and feeling good, he can make all the throws and do everything he needs to do to be a successful quarterback.
"Obviously our job is to make him uncomfortable, put the heat on him and make him make some mistakes. That's what we plan to do, but he's played well against this team. We didn't do enough good things in Miami to take him off-balance a little bit, but we won the game. He should have no lack of confidence coming in to play against us based on his history, but we plan on making it difficult for him."
To win, the Jets will have to play with more passion and resolve than they displayed on Monday night. The Dolphins, who came to town on Friday to practice at the Giants' practice facility and take in a showing of "Lombardi" on Broadway, are 5-1 on the road and they're intent on finishing strong.
"Jets-Dolphins games are always down to the wire, always tough and always hard-fought," said Mangold. "We're excited about it, love the rivalry and it's going to be a big test for us with two division games in six days. It's going to be a tough task."
"Whenever we play them, they're always hungry," said Cotchery. "We expect the same thing coming in on Sunday. Their backs are against the wall, and especially against a hungry team we're going to have to raise our level of play up a couple of levels. It's going to be a fun game."