The Jets, coming off a short week, went into the thin air and the loud orange stands to take on a team desperate to get a victory to right its own season. The Green & White didn't play their best game, but today they can claim the NFL's best record.
"Five-and-one is good enough to be in first place and to have the best record in football," head coach Rex Ryan said on a conference call. "So absolutely, it's hard not to say we're not the best team in the league. We're certainly at that level right now. The record says we're the best team in the league. But I think we can really improve in all aspects."
True enough, after the high expectations and intriguing moves of the offseason, "Hard Knocks," opening their new stadium and dropping their tough opener to the Ravens, the Jets have won five in a row and own the NFL's best record by winning percentage, with New England and Pittsburgh at 4-1 a half-game off their early pace. It's the latest in a season the Jets have had the league's best record since they opened 5-0 through the first six weeks of 2004.
"It feels good. It's where we expected to be," said safety Jim Leonhard of the Jets' 5-1 mark, which by winning percentage is the best in the league (ahead of New England and Pittsburgh at 4-1), and is a gift each player can take into the bye week ahead. "We're not going to jump up and down like we've proved anything yet, but we're closing out games, making plays."
"It's good to get that done," added tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. "It's another step toward our goal."
That's surely the most important thing the Jets can take with them as most of them scatter today from the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center to all corners of the country. The goal is not accomplished. As Grandmaster Brick put it, "It's all about the endgame." And for the Jets to set the stage for the kind of season they expect, they have to believe what they said today before they departed.
"We need to improve as a team, and I think we will," Ryan said. "We have an opportunity to get better and better as the year goes on. ... Can we get better defensively? Absolutely. In my opinion, this defense is not close to where it'll be at the end of the year. I think we'll have the best defense in the league then, but we just want to win."
For several reasons the defense hasn't reached its lofty heights of last year. The overall defense is ranked 14th in the league, the pass defense 22nd, the third-down "D" 25th. So perhaps it's significant that Darrelle Revis, who made a late arrival and subsequently experienced hamstring problems, will be one of those players who won't be leaving North Jersey for some home R&R.
"I'm here the whole week. I can't go anywhere," said Revis. "I think it's best for me to stay here and get this knocked out and get ready for the second half of the season."
"I hope he gets some time away," Ryan said of his cornerback, "but I think he's going to stay here and for the most part get that hamstring physically ready to go as best he can. He's close right now. The way he came out of the game I thought was big from a confidence standpoint. I thought he was able to finish on plays. He might not be 100 percent right now but he's getting closer to it."
Otherwise, the Jets' health seems strong. LB David Harris suffered a banged-up, perhaps broken nose and TE Dustin Keller got an MRI today for a wrist injury suffered at Denver, but both finished the game.
Bye weeks will cause angst for the fans of a team on a roll. In a sport that exists weekend to weekend, having a week off will always be seen by some as hurting momentum. But Ryan, needless to say, has no worries that his players will maintain their edge and their growing sense of purpose.
"This is the kind of team I envisioned us having, a team that truly plays as a team," he said. "I'm proud of the way the team has come together. They encourage each other, work hard against each other on the practice field. It's really a team atmosphere and that's great. And again, I really believe our defense will get better, I think our offense will get better as well, and our special teams have been pretty good. Like Mike Westhoff said, 'Oh, I know we can get better."
"Right now, for us," said Revis, "the sky's the limit."
And the players will return to work a week from today to keep up with their quest to touch the sky.
Coordinators' Corner, Radio Edition
All three Jets coordinators, Brian Schottenheimer for the offense, Mike Pettine for the defense and Mike Westhoff for the special teams, will be the guests on tonight's edition of "Inside the Jets." The show, hosted by Bob Wischusen, will be held at Grasshopper Off the Green Bar & Restaurant in Morristown, N.J. The show will be aired tape-delayed on 1050 ESPN Radio due to the baseball playoffs but can be heard live on 1050AM ESPN Radio.