The Jets were a deflated bunch in their locker room early Monday morning, but they have to be up this evening in Denver as they face off against the Broncos. After an extremely short week of preparation and a four-plus-hour plane trip to the Mountain West, they'll attempt to regain their swagger one mile above sea level.
"These are games that if you win, you feel great that they're on your schedule. If you lose, then it was terrible," said head coach Rex Ryan of the challenging turnaround following the 37-16 loss to the Patriots in Week 10. "The main thing is you have to find a way to win and obviously it's going to be a big challenge."
Days after struggling against one of the best pure passers in NFL history, the Jets will encounter a quarterback who does most of his damage on the ground. Tim Tebow is no Tom Brady, but he's found a way to win three of his four starts since taking over the offensive controls in Week 7.
"This team is hot. They've won three out of their last four games," said Ryan. "They're feeling pretty good about themselves without question. They have the ability to run the football and they're playing really well on defense."
The Broncos have implemented an offensive system featuring read and triple options — plays that football fans are more accustomed to seeing on Saturday afternoons. Tebow is completing just 44.8 percent of his passes, but he's averaging 6.7 yards a carry.
Unconventional, Yet Effective
"He's 3-1 as a starter, he's winning football games. Maybe for the NFL he's a little unconventional, but he's getting the job done," said Jets backup QB Mark Brunell, the 19-year vet who played Tebow for the Jets' first defense in practice this week. "He's doing what they're asking him to do and the defense is playing great. How can you argue with success? They're winning football games and they feel very good about where they're at right now."
Defensively the Jets talked all week about playing assignment football. They're going to stack the box and dare this less-than-precision passer to beat them down the field. If Tebow throws the ball a lot, the visitors will be almost impossible to beat.
"It's important for you to do your job, but it's equally important for you to trust that the man next to you is doing their job, too," said NT Sione Pouha. "Everyone has a role."
The role of Mark Sanchez will be to rebound against a Broncos team that is surrendering 26 points a game. He didn't concern himself with the Tebow hype before the team departed for Denver on Wednesday.
"He's doing a great job, but that's the last thing on my mind," Sanchez said. "Their defense is tough and they have a lot of veteran leadership. They disguise a lot of looks. If any team is going to be ready to play on a short week, it will be them."
"Frustrating ... Personal"
After yielding five sacks to the Pats, including 4.5 to Andre Carter, the Jets have to protect better against a Broncos team that ranks ninth in the NFL with 24 sacks. While Elvis Dumervil has just a pair of sacks, rookie OLB Von Miller has flourished in the spotlight with eight sacks and two forced fumbles.
Turnovers converted a close battle between the Jets and the Patriots into a rout. Sanchez was intercepted twice and if you add a muffed punt return into the mix, the miscues led to 17 second-half Patriots points.
"You don't like losing, you don't like playing poorly, and you don't like not playing well enough for your team to win," said the third-year QB. "That's frustrating, it's personal. You want to go out and put your team in the right position. At times I did and at times I didn't, so it was just inconsistent. That's the biggest thing."
The Jets have run the ball well over the last five games as Shonn Greene has averaged 4.4 yards a carry. Greene can be a key road factor this evening, keeping those pass rushers honest and setting up Sanchez to make plays down the field. A lot of wounds against the Pats were self-inflicted and the Jets need better consistency.
"On second down we were just awful," Sanchez said. "Our big push was to be good on first down. Well, that's great. You get 6 yards on first down, well, you can't take a sack on second down and bring it back to third-and-11, third-and-14. Then we get a penalty on a pushoff on Plax. It was like, 'Man we can't get out of it.' "
Sunday's Past, Thursday's Now
There's nothing the Jets can do about that contest anymore. The best thing they can do in Week 11 is get a lead, tee off on Tebow and give Bronco Nation a reason to go home early.
"We're in it to win it," Pouha said. "Obviously it was a disappointing one on Sunday, but the fact of the matter is we have a game on Thursday."
If the Jets are able to move to 6-4, the road ahead doesn't appear loaded with potholes. The Bills have lost two in a row, the Redskins have dropped five straight, and the Chiefs have lost back-to-back contests and are down to their backup quarterback.
Seven one-game seasons remain and the Jets are far from out of it.
"We'll get better, I'll be more accurate, and we'll be ready to play," said Sanchez.