This past week was Chapter 3 of the Jets' West Coast Chronicles. And it was perhaps natural, if not somewhat misplaced, for reporters and fans to ask the players about the effects of traveling three time zones for the third time in this Frequent Flier Miles of a season to tackle the San Francisco 49ers today.
"It takes more effort than traveling to Buffalo and playing a football game," said guard Alan Faneca. "You have to stay on top of what your body is telling you like what time it actually is. It takes a little more effort, I would say."
"It's different air out there," offered cornerback Darrelle Revis. "I don't know how to explain it, but it's different. And even in Oakland, the field was a little slippery."
Interesting observations, but don't be misled. The Jets aren't. They were asked questions and they answered honestly. Yet they all know that this game is about more than body clocks and respiration and footing.
"It doesn't sneak up on us," head coach Eric Mangini said. "We're not heading on a safari or anything. It's the West Coast. It's three hours. I don't see the big deal. It's hot in Miami — we knew that going down in September. It was going to be cold in Green Bay a couple years ago when we went up there. What's the big deal?"
The big deal instead is on what the 8-4 Jets must do in this game. They must find a way to make the 4-8 Niners' record match their nickname. The Green & White's viability for the rest of the season depends on it.
At the moment they sit atop the AFC East standings by a game. Running the table in the final quarter of the regular season assures them of a division title and a home game in the playoffs, and could still keep them in the running for a first-round bye. But anything less, coupled with hot finishes by the Patriots and Dolphins, could shut them out of the postseason.
Such is the insecurity for any NFL team on the verge of playing Game 13.
Many fans fret that the Jets lost valuable momentum along with their five-game winning streak with Sunday's 34-17 home loss to the Broncos. But that's not how the people in the locker room see it.
"We felt confident going into that game," said guard Brandon Moore. "We're still a confident team. It didn't work out the way we wanted it to work out. We'll get past it and move on."
That's exactly what the Jets did in a similar spot two seasons earlier, in Mangini's first season as an NFL head coach. Coming off solid victories vs. Houston and at Green Bay, they came home and suffered a lackluster 31-13 loss to the Bills. Momentum lost? No, batteries recharged. They won their last three to nail down a wild-card berth.
However, history has a conflicting trend for this game with the 49ers. Since 1998, the Jets' performance against teams with records four or more games worse than theirs is mixed. They've won four, lost four.
And when they go on the road to play such an opponent, the outcome is worse. They've lost their last three. Here are those three games (records before the game in parentheses):
1998 at Indianapolis — Colts (1-8) 24, Jets (6-3) 23
2002 at Chicago — Bears (3-10) 20, Jets (7-6) 13
2004 at Buffalo— Bills (2-5) 22, Jets (6-1) 17
Needless to say, history provides trends but not predictions. Many of these Jets were not part of those Jets in '98, '02, '04 or '06. These Jets can make their own history. But to do that today, they needed to take their coach's cue during the past week's practice toward San Francisco.
"You watch them on tape, you see the inherent toughness in all three groups, the motor with which they're playing, the improvements that they've made in terms of turnovers offensively, sacks offensively, the big plays that they make consistently," Mangini said. "You can look at numbers or you can look at what is there on the tape and what you see each day. I always stress that the tape is what is important, not any statistic."
There is no question that Shaun Hill has been more productive, more careful with the ball at quarterback than since he became the starter in Game 10. No question that RB Frank Gore is dangerous or that coordinator Mike Martz, as Mangini said, "has always been a proponent of filling the skies with footballs," and that the Jets have struggled against the pass, as their drop to No. 30 in pass defense shows.
And there is no question the 49ers have a force in the middle of their defense in second-year LB Patrick Willis, unofficially the NFL's second-leading tackler and a player who may well be channeling the fire and drive of the team's interim head coach, Mike Singletary.
Still, the Jets are pretty good themselves, in fact were starting to finally attract national attention as a major player in the AFC until their stumble vs. Denver.
"The bottom line is, you can be beat any week," QB Brett Favre said. "I have no idea what Denver will do this week. I have no idea what San Francisco will do. I hope I know what we will do. We play our type of football, what has gotten to us this point.
"We are going to get their best, so we have to play our best. We're not good enough yet to think that we can play average and get away with it."
But the Jets have shown themselves to be good enough to be able to prevail today. Nothing against the 49ers or the weather or the rigors of playing 3,000 miles from home.
"We've just got to come out and put all that aside," said safety Kerry Rhodes. "We need a win."