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Top Rankings Buoy Jets in Playoff Chase


Even though not all the outlying precincts have reported in, it's still quite impressive that the Jets at the moment are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, passing defense and rushing offense.

And the Jets players to a man said what one would expect: They'd trade all those 1's in for a few more W's.

"It's a testament to the system that Rex brought in and everybody buying in," linebacker Calvin Pace said this morning about the defense's top ranking as the NFL heads into the final game of Week 13, Baltimore at Green Bay tonight. "But to be honest, it would be better for us, in my opinion, to have more wins and be sitting a little bit better at this point in time."

"It's gratifying," tackle Damien Woody said of the offense's king-of-the-hill status among the league's rushing attacks, "but the ultimate goal is winning football games. I'll take winning a game over being the No. 1 rush team in the league."

As the Jets return to practice today after a long weekend of savoring their win over the Bills in Toronto, they know there's nothing they can do about their 6-6 record. But they're encouraged that their high standing in some of the league's key categories bodes well for their push down the regular-season home stretch and that help from favorable outcomes in other games could help them find their way into the AFC playoff grid.

"It's always great to be still alive this late in the season," said LB Bart Scott. "We've just got to take care of our beds, I appreciate the help but we've still got four games to go. This is not a time to start watching what other people do. You have to take care of your business and hopefully you earn a chance, but if we don't, it's nobody's fault but our own."

A few notes on the No. 1 rankings: Nothing's official until the Ravens and Packers are finished. The Jets' top ranking in rushing yards per game appears to be safe. But since Green Bay's defense is No. 2, the Pack would unseat the Jets if they hold the Ravens offense to less than 220 yards.

But let's say that Baltimore moves the ball around the frozen tundra tonight. Then the Jets would have a major distinction. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this would be the latest in a season that the Jets have led in total defense since the 1968 Super Bowl team finished No. 1 in the AFL, allowing 240.2 yards per game.

Wherever the ranking comes in this week and in the four weeks to follow, Scott said the defense's performance is a good thing.

"It's something to be proud of, something to hang our hats on, something to build off of," he said. "I know in trying to establish a tradition, it's important to get the first one so we can see what it looks like and this can be our measuring stick. Hopefully, we can continue to have success this season and try and establish this as the norm and not something that is unexpected."

The Jets historically have done some highly regarded running, from 1998-2004 with Curtis Martin toting the leather. He finished his fine career by leading the NFL individually in 2004 (the Jets ranked third that season). And back in 1979, the Green & White, with a potent committee of Clark Gaines, Scott Dierking, Kevin Long and Bruce Harper leading the way, had their last league-leading rushing attack.

Tony Richardson said today that this year's success hasn't been surprising inside the locker room.

"Back in the summer, things were written that 'You guys can't run the ball, Thomas [Jones] is getting old, you're getting old," said the ageless fullback, who chronologically will turn 38 years old in 10 days. "It's just the ebb and flow in the league. All of a sudden you're No. 1 in the league. But even though we ran for 300 yards against Buffalo [in Week 6], the fact that we didn't win the game, that takes a lot away from that. We have to keep working hard, keep sawing wood."

Richardson said he's seen "looks I've never seen in my career" from defenses trying to stop the Jets' running game, whether it's nine in the box, safeties at LB depth, different run blitzes. But he credits the Jets coaching staff and so does Woody, who also likes that the offense has hitched its wagon to the offensive line.

"We know how essential our running game is to our team, especially our offense with the young corps of skill guys we have," Woody said. "We always say put it on our shoulders. We said that earlier in the year when we were still finding our way in the running game. That's the challenge we look forward to every week — put it on us. We want to make this thing as easy as possible for Mark [Sanchez] and the guys on the perimeter because they're still going through growing pains and stuff right now."

Sanchez has some knee pain as well. There's no word yet today on his condition, although on Friday, after dismissing his players for the weekend, head coach Rex Ryan said he was "optimistic" that his rookie quarterback's right knee would be OK to go on Sunday at Tampa Bay. Ryan will give another update this afternoon before the Jets practice, which we'll report on after his news conference.

Then the team will return Wednesday to continue its usual work week of preparing for the next opponent, sawing more wood, and trying to position themselves for the playoffs. And if a No. 1 or two comes along, so much the better.

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