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No more panic as Jets pull out late victories

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NEW YORK (AP)

These nerve-racking New York Jets sure have a flair for the dramatic lately.

Maybe that deflating loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos nearly three weeks ago rubbed off a little.

''We're a team that just wants to win and get in the playoffs and see what happens,'' coach Rex Ryan said Monday on a conference call. ''Our goal is intact, even though it looked really bad a few weeks ago.''

Since allowing Tebow to march down the field 95 yards for a winning touchdown, New York has pulled out two victories in the fourth quarter.

Last week, it was an impressive winning drive with just over a minute left against Buffalo. On Sunday, the Jets scored three touchdowns in the last 5 minutes to pull away from the Washington Redskins 34-19 and keep pace in the AFC playoff race.

''We have a lot of games left,'' guard Matt Slauson said, ''and we can still do this.''

But the Jets (7-5) are certainly living dangerously with these slow starts and frantic finishes. Then again, it's nothing new for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has led New York to 10 fourth-quarter comebacks or overtime victories in less than three seasons.

''Everybody believes in him and it's just a matter of time, a matter of do we have enough time for him to come back, because we think he's going to get it done,'' Ryan said.

The Jets have several issues to improve on, such as improving their running game to help Sanchez and increasing their defensive pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But they're feeling pretty confident and, finally, somewhat consistent. The offense is suddenly humming with a few new wrinkles added - including a handful of wildcat plays Sunday - behind an offensive line that has allowed no sacks in two games, despite facing a Redskins pass rush that ranked among the league leaders. The defense has also been able to come up with some plays to close out games.

If there's a glaring weakness the last few weeks, it's surprisingly the special teams unit, which has a league-high six fumbles on returns.

''It hasn't always been perfect here,'' Ryan said. ''Our first year here, we really struggled to make the playoffs, but we always believed that if we could get in there, we could do some damage. That's what we plan on doing this year.''

That's a far cry from the feeling around the team when the Jets trudged off the field in Denver and wondered how they let one slip away so badly. It was their second straight loss and they knew their playoff hopes were suddenly in serious doubt.

''There was a point after the Denver game there where it seemed like the panic button had been pressed a little bit,'' Slauson said. ''There were a couple days, and also the three-game losing stretch at the beginning (of the season), things weren't going the way we all expected them to go.''

Especially for a team whose coach had guaranteed a Super Bowl appearance after two straight trips to the AFC championship game. Five days after being in position to take over the AFC East, losses to New England and Denver had the season on the brink.

''We know we're a better team than how we played in some of these games earlier this year,'' Ryan said, recalling his message to the team at the time. ''But we also know what we have to get better and we have to work at it. You can't just assume it's going to happen. You have to hit the practice field with a purpose every day, and the same thing in meetings, or the same thing will happen to you.''

Nose tackle Sione Pouha thought that, to a man, the players took that to heart.

''I would describe it more of an urgency to get things done,'' Pouha said. ''Slaw talked about pressing the panic button. The more important part is how you react to pushing that button. Are you going to fold under pressure or get yourselves ready to perform?''

The schedule might be New York's biggest ally with four games left against teams without winning records: Kansas City (5-7), at Philadelphia (4-8), against the Giants (6-6) and at Miami (4-8). The Jets say they need to win them all, especially since they're in a group of five teams going for two wild-card spots - and another loss and needing to rely on tiebreakers would likely leave New York out of the mix.

''This team has plenty of confidence,'' Ryan said. ''We don't lack for confidence, not one bit. We think we can beat any team in this league. Obviously, we've lost five games, so that's not always a fact, but we believe going into every single game that we're going to win. We're capable of beating anybody in this league. We just have to put it together.''

Notes: After Jeremy Kerley muffed a punt at Washington, Ryan said the sure-handed Jim Leonhard would likely by the team's primary returner the rest of the season. ''He can catch it in a hurricane,'' he said of Leonhard. ''This time of year, the weather has a tendency to pick up and things. I would just, right now, feel more comfortable having Jim Leonhard back there.'' ... TE Matt Mulligan was caught on CBS cameras during the broadcast Sunday angry at someone on the sideline after he was called for a false start penalty. Ryan said he wasn't sure what happened, but brushed aside any controversy. ''It's never a personal thing, even if things do happen,'' he said. ''It's not like getting punched in the face or something.'' That was an obvious reference to the sideline fight between his father Buddy Ryan and Kevin Gilbride in 1993, both Houston Oilers assistants at the time.

Tagged: Broncos, Jets, Jim Leonhard, Matt Slauson, Tim Tebow

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