The Jets find themselves in uncharted waters. Riding a three-game win streak at home for the first time in Eric Mangini's reign, the Green & White look to push it to four this afternoon when they host the St. Louis Rams.
"I hadn't given it much thought. The main thing is we want to win at home," says DE Shaun Ellis, who in his ninth season is the longest tenured Jet. "We want to be a good, good home team and make it tough for teams to come in and play. We want that loudness and the fans hounding our opponents."
If the Jets can defeat the 2-6 Rams today, then recent history suggest the playoffs may be on the horizon. The last two seasons the Jets won four consecutive regular-season games at the Meadowlands — in 2002 and '04 — they earned postseason trips.
"If you can establish home field, then opponents will know that it's tough to get a win in that stadium," said right tackle Damien Woody, a 10-year vet who picked up a pair of Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. "You just want to continue to play a winning brand of football at home and on the road but especially at home. You don't want anyone coming in your house and getting a victory — that's just a mindset you have to have."
When Tony Richardson was in Kansas City, former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer had a simple formula. If you held serve at home and went 8-0, then a .500 road record at the minimum would get you 12 wins and that number is going to get you into the playoffs.
"There's something to be said about playing at home," Richardson said this week on his newyorkjets.com radio show, "Paving the Way with T-Rich." "There's a lot of momentum and there's a lot of energy. We have to protect our house and it will be no different this weekend."
St. Louis has collected just one road victory this season in four tries. After being wiped out in their first two away from home by an average margin of almost 30 points, they upset the Redskins' in the nation's capital and then dropped a 23-16 decision to the Patriots in New England.
But the Rams have lost their last two games, to the Pats and by 34-13 to the Cardinals last week in St. Louis. They also have serious medical issues in the backfield as their top three running backs — Steven Jackson (thigh), Antonio Pittman (hamstring) and Travis Minor (concussion) — did not practice this week.
"We're in a situation right now where we just lost two games in a row, we're going on the road to play a good football team, with maybe the best quarterback that ever played the game," interim head coach Jim Haslett told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You're down, you're injured, you've got a bunch of nicks and bruises, and who the heck knows who's going to play?
"This should be a great challenge for us to see if we go up and respond."
Critics have suggested the Jets haven't won pretty enough at home their last two times out as they outlasted the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-14, on Oct. 12 and survived a Kansas City Chiefs fourth-quarter scare with a come-from-behind 28-24 win two weeks later.
But W's are hard to come by in this league and the Jets are starting to warm up at home.
"We've been getting an incredible amount of energy from our fans. I think we've been feeding off of that — the defense has definitely been feeding off of that," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "The fans have been doing a great job, not that they haven't in the past. But we're just feeding off of it now, we're taking advantage of it now and it's bringing us a lot of wins."
But more energy will be needed in these final two months of the regular season. Ellis, who has ignited plenty of applause in '08 with seven sacks, said the Green & White have a 12th man when the Meadowlands is really rocking.
"I think our fans are great, man. We just need them to be riled up the whole game, the whole game, regardless of how the game's going," he said. "I think they're waiting on us to force the action a lot, which is expected. But we feed off their energy. They're part of us, man. They're our team."
Since the 1970 merger, the Jets have finished with a 6-2 home record three times (1979, '81 and '84) and went 7-1 in both '85 and '98. After next season, the Jets' current stadium will become a parking lot for a brand new state-of-the art facility opening in 2010.
But the Jets can bring it down on their own by producing a couple of more memorable moments with their faithful. Ellis proudly smiles and bobs his head when recalling the magic of '02 when the Jets improbably claimed the AFC East with a 42-17 trouncing of Brett Favre and the Packers on Dec. 29 and then the 41-0 playoff shutout of Peyton Manning and the Colts on Jan. 4, 2003.
"It was great. I can't explain it, man," Ellis said. "The stadium was like a rock concert. It was loud. You couldn't even hear yourself talk and that's how I see our home crowd being. You could hear the ground vibrating and the ground was shaking. It was awesome, it was like that the whole entire game."