Another piece to the Jets' improbable postseason puzzle fell into place Thursday night when Indianapolis outlasted Jacksonville. So now the Jaguars have a loss more than the Jets and the Colts are sitting pretty at 14-0 and waiting for the Green & White a week from today.
Any thoughts on that big matchup, Coach Ryan?
What, are you kidding?
"No, no way at all. We don't do that," Jets head coach Rex Ryan responded to that tough question that apparently had to be posed. "I watched the game but no, I wasn't trying to come up with a game plan, nothing like that. We have to get past Atlanta and that's no easy task."
True enough, but Ryan's game plan for the Falcons — which features the NFL's No. 1 defense, the league's No. 1 rushing offense, the return of rookie QB Mark Sanchez under center, and cold and snow for their guests from the South — will be no easy nut for the Falcons to crack, either.
The ultimate goal for the Jets is to win their latest one-game season to make that game against the undefeated Horseshoes very meaningful. And if such AFC opponents as Miami (at Tennessee), New England (at Buffalo), Baltimore (vs. Chicago) and Denver (vs. Oakland) do their parts as well, the Colts game could be as meaningful as could be for the Jets in Week 16.
But first things first. Week 15.
"It's all you can ask for," linebacker Calvin Pace said of the 7-6 Jets' opportunity today against the 6-7 Falcons. "We need some help from a couple of other teams, but we just have to worry about handling our business and win these last few games. It's not a task that's not achievable."
Love that double negative, Calvin. And it would be a doubly positive development if the Jets left no doubt in the Falcons' minds why they're "the one."
On defense, the run has been one of the best in franchise history as the Jets are ranked first in the NFL in yards per game and per play, in points allowed and in three-and-out drives. They've also allowed no opponent TD passes and had eight interceptions in the last three games — a plus-8 INT-to-TD margin that's the best three-game figure in franchise history — and have allowed no conversions on their last 24 third-down plays covering virtually all of the Buffalo and Tampa Bay victories.
"That was a clinic they put on in terms of third-down efficiency against Tampa — it was very impressive to watch," said Falcons coach Mike Smith, the one-time defensive coaching partner of Ryan with the Ravens. "Up front, they are very strong. I like their two outside linebackers/defensive ends. They have played both those roles. The two inside linebackers are playing really well. Arguably the best corner in the NFL is No. 24, (Darrelle) Revis. I think his production has been outstanding this year.
"They create a lot of issues. It's going to be a big challenge for our offensive staff to put together a game plan to slow them down. They are going to come after you."
TE Tony Gonzalez among other Atlanta offensive weapons will test the Jets' third-down excellence. But presumably, that plan would be enhanced by the return of one or both injured offensive cogs, QB Matt Ryan (toe) and RB Michael Turner (ankle). With Chris Redman at QB and Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling splitting the featured back carries, the Falcons lost two at home — big to Philadelphia and by a field goal to still unbeaten New Orleans. But both Ryan and Turner remained limited at Friday's final Falcons practice of the week, questionable for Sunday and gametime decisions.
As for the running game, the Jets have been leaning on it to great effect, averaging a league-leading 2.198 yards with an offense that has been 57.3 percent ground-based — the most run-heavy offense in the NFL this season and the third-most run-heavy offense in franchise history.
Part of the reason for that is Sanchez, the rookie whom Ryan and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are trying to bring along slowly and skillfully in the passing game while the Thomas Jones/Shonn Greene running attack wears away at opposing eight-man boxes like a toothache. But with the Falcons coming in 23rd against the run and 30th against the pass, there could be opportunities both on the ground and through the air to catch the Falcons napping.
That is, if the weather doesn't get in the way. The latest weather forecasts Saturday night peg the nor'easter coming up from the southwest to leave 6 inches of snow on the Meadowlands turf.
Again, Rex Ryan says no, no way at all.
"I don't care if we don't throw the ball or he throws it 30 times. We've just got to win. This football team — we need a win. We're preparing like crazy to get this win. I think our fans are going to be a huge difference, too. The fans have never left us, it's just that we haven't played at home for a while, it seems. This is going to be great for us to get back and play this game in our stadium, in front our fans in our conditions."
And with what has become their football. As venerable fullback Tony Richardson, one of the unsung heroes of that running game the Green & White have hitched their wagons to, said about this one-game season:
"Coach Ryan's done a great job of preparing us. I don't really sense any nervousness in our locker room. None of the scenarios matter if we don't win. We've just got to lay it on the line and play Jets football. That's just been our formula and we're not going to get away from it."
And that includes not looking ahead to Indianapolis until it's time.