This is not where the Jets had hoped to be in Week 17. The goal was to win the division and earn a home playoff game. Instead, they are treading water with tired arms. But that won't stop the Green & White from fighting.
"More than the physical side, there's an emotional side to this game," said QB Mark Sanchez. "As much as you want to shut it off, you have to give yourself a little perspective and understand what's at stake. "
What's at stake on Sunday is the Jets' 2011 season, which has become a win-and-pray scenario. With last week's loss, the Jets surrendered control of the sixth seed in the AFC. A victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday would be one step toward regaining that control.
"You don't want to give yourself too much perspective, because then you lose your edge," said Sanchez. "And not zero perspective where you're just driving yourself into a wall. I'm trying to stay in the middle. We have a big game ahead, and we don't control our own destiny, but we control the outcome of this game."
The Dolphins are hoping to play spoilers to their long-time rivals when the Jets visit Sun Life Stadium on New Year's Day. After starting the season 0-7, Miami has won five of its last eight and is ranked third in the NFL in rushing defense and eighth in rushing offense.
"Their record is in no way indicative of this team and their talent," said Sanchez.
Working in favor of the Jets is the calendar. Since Sanchez joined the league in 2009, January has been kind to him and his teammates (includes playoff games):
Category Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan W-L 7-2 6-6 7-5 5-6 6-2 Comp % 60.2 49.0 57.1 55.0 59.5 Yards 2042 2037 2851 2009 1218 TDs 16 11 17 9 9 INTs 6 14 16 12 3 Rating 93.7 60.9 77.3 66.3 91.1
In Week 6 the Jets beat the visiting Fish by a score of 24-6. Sanchez threw for 201 yards and a touchdown and added another touchdown on the ground and the offense converted 40 percent of its third-down opportunities.
Last week the Jets converted only 19 percent of their third downs against the Giants. The lack of conversions has plagued them all season. Their 34.7 percent for the season ranks 22nd in the NFL.
"We've all taken turns making mistakes on each play," said Sanchez. "When nine or 10 guys do it right on the play, it doesn't work. We have to be more consistent. I really think that's been our Achilles heel."
The lack of consistent offensive play has been frustrating to players on both sides of the ball, and with possibly only one more game remaining, time is running out.
"That's why we have the coaches and players we do," Sanchez said. "I'll look in the mirror and figure out where I screwed up, leave no stone unturned when it comes to correcting. You're not going to fix everything in one game. Strive to fix it all and be perfect — but at the same time, don't throw it all out the window when it doesn't work on one play."
Two straight subpar performances from Sanchez have drawn significant criticism from fans. He has completed only 53 percent of his passes and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in those games. As the heat intensifies, the QB remains cool.
"You win and you're the best in the world. Lose and the sky is falling," Sanchez said. "Win, lose or draw, I'm the luckiest guy in the world, I promise. Lucky, blessed, privileged, whatever you want to call it, I'm thrilled about this job."
Perspective. It may have taken most of the season to find it, but it appears Sanchez has now developed the kind of perspective that should be of great help come Sunday.
"I don't think we've hit our potential this year, that's for sure," he said. "That doesn't mean we can't accomplish a lot of the goals we set out to accomplish. We've got a chance. We just have to win on Sunday."