Three straight losses followed immediately by three straight wins. The ebb and flow of the NFL season works in strange ways. A loss to the New England Patriots on Oct. 9 sent the Jets to a 2-3 record. Now at 5-3, they share the AFC East lead with the Pats and Bills.
The sudden turnaround comes as no surprise to the Jets, as they have maintained high expectations throughout. With a consistently strong defense and superior special teams, the Gang & White offense has repaired itself after sputtering out of the gate.
According to head coach Rex Ryan, a healthy, motivated offensive line has made all the difference.
"Nick Mangold is the best center in football — having him out was a great loss to us," Ryan said. "Brandon Moore is back to being that dominant right guard. Wayne Hunter is playing excellent. Then with D'Brickashaw [Ferguson] and [Matt] Slauson, I love that group. If I'm going to hang my hat on something, it's going to be that offensive line."
The protection provided by the unit has helped the Jets average 320.7 net yards of offense over the three-game winning streak. With 130.7 of those coming on the ground in each of the wins, they have been able to return to their familiar style of attack.
"I believe our job up front, whether we run the ball or pass the ball, is going to determine how we do," said Mangold. "Either we give Mark [Sanchez] a chance to get the ball to some of our playmakers or we let LT and Shonn run around."
Lately, the team has been able to do both. Mangold himself has been an integral part of the improvement since his return in Week 5 from a high ankle sprain. On Wednesday, Ryan called him "the Darrelle Revis of centers," an accolade the humble pivot man found too strong.
And Greene said Mangold "is a very important part of our offense, not just for the offensive line, but he's like a second quarterback for us. He makes a lot of calls, adjustments, and it's good to have him back."
Whether it's due to Mangold or merely coincidence, Greene has averaged 86.3 yards rushing per game since the center returned. He averaged only 39.3 over the first four games of the season.
"It gives the other guys confidence up front," said Sanchez. "We have such a great relationship on and off the field. When we're playing games, we're having fun. He's a good leader on that offensive line, so we love having him back."
Now that the line has been restored to full strength, the offense as a whole has also returned to the roots of its success. That is to say, a healthy diet of runs with a methodical aerial attack.
"We've been balanced," said Sanchez. "Whether it's 30-plus pass attempts per game or in the 25-28 range, I just think our team works this way. Runs set up the passes, passes set up the runs."
Heading into Sunday night's tilt, the Patriots will bring with them the statistically worst pass defense in the league, surrendering an average of 314 pass yards per game. The Jets are now faced with an important question of whether to attack New England's weakness or continue to use what has worked over the last three victories.
"We'll take our shots," said Moore. "I don't think we need to get away from what wins us games."
At the end of the Jets' losing streak, Ryan introduced a new team motto that implored his club to "Stack Bricks." A new groundwork needed to be laid, piece by piece, day by day, to return to the win column. Those bricks have built a 5-3 record and a new sense of confidence. The bricklayers on the offensive line have certainly had a hand in that construction.