With the 29-14 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday afternoon, the Jets gave up a lot more than New York City bragging rights. They also lost control of the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoff race.
Now they are in the midst of a difficult scenario that begins with a true must-win game in Miami on New Year's Day. The holiday season got off on the wrong foot, but the Jets can still cling to hope that the New Year will bring with it a berth in the postseason.
"A lot of inconsistent play and execution," said LG Matt Slauson of the Jets' performance against Big Blue. "We didn't execute in such a large way that it created big plays that hurt us. We reviewed every single play about 20 times, made all the adjustments, and now we're moving on."
Standing in front of the Jets are the Dolphins, who have turned around an 0-7 start to the season by going 5-3 in their last eight. The first step on the Jets' crumbling road to the playoffs begins with defeating Miami.
"They're doing an amazing job," said Slauson. "We even noticed it the first time we played them. They've had a lot of really close games with a lot of good teams. We're definitely going to be challenged this week."
Even if the Jets defeat the Dolphins — something they have done in four of their last five visits to Miami Gardens — they need losses by the Bengals, Titans and either the Broncos or Raiders. Besides the Jets, only the Titans play at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, potentially turning New Year's Day into an excruciating afternoon for the Green & White and their fans.
Right now, the Jets can worry only about the Fish and nothing else. The extra day of preparation this week allowed the team to stew over its loss a bit longer. The healing process needs to take place quickly, however, as time is running out on the season. TE Dustin Keller said just how fast the Jets need to get back to work.
"Immediately," said Keller. "We have to move on. A lot of things have to happen, but it's still possible to get into the playoffs. We have to handle our business on Sunday and see what happens with the rest of the league."
Keller was targeted a career-high 18 times on Saturday in what became a pass-dominant approach by the Jets and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. QB Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass 64 times, also a career high.
"I was kind of surprised," said Keller. "Going into the game, I didn't have a good feeling we were going to throw nearly that many times."
The Jets ran the ball effectively, gaining 105 yards on only 25 carries. It was not the kind of balanced attack head coach Rex Ryan strives to have. The imbalance was partially due to the Jets finding themselves in a hole and needing to make up points fast. At that point, the Giants were afforded the opportunity to "pin their ears back" and attack Sanchez.
"When you get in that situation, they throw the run read out the window," said Slauson. "They dialed up some exotic blitzes. It's a difficult situation to be in. Plus, they're one of the best pass-rushing fronts in the NFL. They're going to win a few."
On the other side of the ball, the Jets defense held the Giants to six three-and-out drives and allowed QB Eli Manning to complete only nine of his 27 pass attempts. Normally that's a recipe for victory, but several big-yardage plays by the Giants offense were crushing blows to an otherwise solid defensive performance.
"It's all about execution," said DT Sione Pouha. "If it's not 11 guys, then there is a dent in your armor that teams can capitalize on. You can't have nine or 10 guys executing. Everyone has to be doing it 100 percent of the time and for 60 minutes."
The G-Men hit seven plays that went for 20 or more yards. Conversely, the Jets failed to convert a single offensive play that went for more than 15.
"At the end of the season, you'd think we'd have everything figured out," said Keller. "For one reason or another, that's not the case. It's something we have to get a lot better at in the future."
For now, the future extends only until Sunday. There is plenty of work to be done until then. Hopefully, there will be more work in the following week, but that decision ultimately falls into the hands of other teams.
"We'll all look at ourselves and see where we can contribute to the game," said Pouha. "Whether it's a small or significant difference, we all have to improve ourselves so when we take the field we can help each other as much as we can."