In December the Jets saw their record slip from 9-2 to 11-5, starting with a Week 13 loss in Foxboro. The 45-3 defeat at the hands of the Patriots was a three-hour period that impacted the final stretch of the season and even prompted Rex Ryan to bury a football from the game in the ground at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
On Monday the Jets head coach opened up about the reason his team suffered such a difficult loss.
"For whatever reason," Ryan said, "I did not have my team prepared the way it should have been prepared and that falls down on me. As a coach, it's your job to get your players to play at the highest level possible and that's taking away some of the gray area. They do a great job with their matchups. We have to do a great job, whether it's a complex plan or not, it has to be simple."
On Tuesday, however, the players who actually don the green and white jerseys had the coach's back. Many of the Jets in the locker room noted that while Rex's vow to perform better as a coach is important, the most crucial aspect of Sunday's AFC Divisional Round game against the Patriots will be the players' execution of the playcalls.
"I think it's all of us," fullback Tony Richardson said. "I think we all shared in that. When you have a game that doesn't go in your favor in that big of a landslide, I think we all have something to do with that."
Some players went even further in defending their coach and looking inward at their own mistakes. According to defensive tackle Sione Pouha, the defenders who gave up six touchdowns place plenty of the blame at their feet.
"I think it was totally execution," Pouha said. "We all had a game plan in place. We came in and we had practice on Monday and we came in and we had meetings. We had practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We had practice. It's all about how you execute the game plan. I think each man took responsibility in some way, shape or form that they did not execute."
As a result of the Week 13 rout, many forget that the same Jets team defeated the Patriots, 28-14, at New Meadowlands Stadium in Week 2. The Green & White will certainly be cast as the underdogs in the third act of this divisional drama, but the team that has carried a target on its back all season is used to playing well when it faces adversity. The Jets weren't favored Saturday night in their wild-card win over the Colts, and many times throughout the season they've needed game-winning drives or crucial defensive stops to pull out victories. When the going gets tough, Ryan's group is resilient.
"I think we play better with a chip on our shoulder," guard Brandon Moore said. "That definitely helps, I think. We've been trying to prove people wrong all year. We'll definitely use it as motivation but I think that we use a lot of things for motivation."
So where can the Jets draw optimism as they head into the 14-2 Patriots' den? They have a confident defensive-minded head coach and a defense that was third in the NFL in yards allowed, a clutch young quarterback in Mark Sanchez who has led the offense on five game-winning drives this season, and a physical running attack that has averaged 4.6 yards per carry in both New England games. The Jets are fully equipped to find themselves in the AFC Championship Game for a second consecutive season.
All they have to do is deal with their division foes, the Patriots.
"We understand the task at hand," Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold said. "And we know that this is a big game coming up just as last week was and our guys are working hard. We got a good start today."