Several weeks ago, it was nearly impossible to have a conversation about the Jets without mentioning one of two things: drops and penalties.
During the second week of the season, on a rainy Thursday night in New England, our receivers (unofficially) dropped six passes, and we lost to our division foes, 13-10.
"You can't afford to drop the ball that many times, there's no way," head coach Rex Ryan said a few days after the Patriots game. "You're leaving a lot of plays out there. If we would have caught half of those balls we dropped, the outcome might have been a lot different."
The following week, Buffalo came to town. The referees threw a flag on us 22 times, marking off 20 of those penalties. But the players refused to throw in the towel and became just the second team in NFL history to win a game with 20 penalties or more.
"We don't want our team to be associated with penalties, no question," Rex said following our 27-20 win over the Bills. "That's not who we are. I want a physical football team but I also want to be the least penalized team in the league, not the most penalized team. It's not acceptable."
A dose of JUGS machines and pushups may have been just what we needed.
In our past four games combined, we've had just one drop, unofficially. And our 150 penalty yards marked off against us in our past three games combined are less than the 168 yards vs. the Bills.
A trio of linemen offered three different theories on how this team's been able to turn the tide since our franchise-record 20-penalty day.
"I would say that the pride factor has been something that's really elevated our success as far as getting rid of the penalties," T Austin Howard said. "Taking the mentality of 'Hey, I'm not going to be the one that makes the team lose yards or get a penalty.' It's the guys individually taking responsibility for their actions."
Eighth-year veteran C Nick Mangold's take on the situation focused on, well, focus.
"A lot of our mistakes were focus errors, or lack of focus," he said. "I think that when you start paying attention to it, knowing the snap count, knowing the formation, watching the ball on defense, these are all things that you control so our guys focused on it and made it a point of emphasis and have done a good job with that."
As for our first-round rookie on the flip side of the ball, DL Sheldon Richardson believes the solution lies with "knowing what you can get away with and knowing what you can't. You can get away with a little bit in the trenches," the Missouri product added with a laugh. "It's different for every position."
The 5-1 Patriots will take on the 3-3 Jets this Sunday at MetLife Stadium for the 2013 rematch.
"We already dropped one to them," Mangold said, presumably with no pun intended, "so we need to correct the mistakes and get a whole heck of a lot better if we're going to try to go out there and get the 'W' this weekend."
For whatever it's worth, we have *five *wide receivers who did not play at New England in Week 2 but could be active Sunday — Jeremy Kerley (out with a concussion in September), David Nelson, Michael Campbell, Josh Cribbs and Greg Salas.
What a difference a month makes.