Jets know there’s still hope after crucial win

Two games in five days? That’s a cinch for Mark Sanchez.

After all, the New York Jets rookie quarterback once played a junior varsity game on a Thursday and started a varsity game the following day as a high school sophomore. So, playing the Buffalo Bills four days after beating the Carolina Panthers is no big deal, right?

“This is a lot higher level than that,” a smiling Sanchez said Monday. “These guys are a lot better. I just really need to get ready.”

The Jets quickly put their 17-6 victory over Carolina behind them, barely able to relish their first win at home since Week 3. They took the field Monday for a light practice in preparation for their game against the Bills on Thursday night in Toronto.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Sanchez, whose sore left knee that knocked him out for four plays Sunday shouldn’t hamper him. “This is a huge turnaround for us, and it’s quick. We have to make sure we don’t get caught up in the aftermath of the last game. We’re excited about the win, but we need to move on.”

Humbled and refocused, the Jets (5-6) boosted their playoff hopes with the victory and could get back to .500 against a Bills team that stunned Miami 31-14 on Sunday.

“We can’t focus on the future and what could happen five or six weeks down the road,” fullback Tony Richardson said. “We need to focus on what’s in front of us. Right now is another opportunity to go out and try to play well against a Buffalo team that really put it on Miami.”

The Jets told anyone who’d listen in the offseason that they had one of the best teams in the NFL, and that teams would fear them week after week. They were right for the first three games, when they started 3-0. Things fell apart quickly, though, as New York dropped six of its next seven and all the big talk was nothing more than hot air.

“A lot had been made of the swagger and all of that stuff, but at the end of the day, we’re just trying to stockpile wins now,” right tackle Damien Woody said. “We’re not worried about the swagger and that stuff.”

With seven teams at 6-5 or 5-6 in the AFC, the Jets are still in the playoff mix despite all their troubles. That includes all the second-guessing of first-year coach Rex Ryan, Sanchez’s mistakes, injuries to key players and safety Kerry Rhodes being demoted.

“It would be huge to get two wins in a short period of time because then we’d have kind of a little mini-bye week, get guys rested up and go into that stretch run in December,” Woody said. “We’ve got some critical games in December, so if we can get this one, that would be huge for us trying to attain our goal at the end of the season.”

A good performance Thursday could also go a long way toward furthering the development of Sanchez, who had his worst game against Buffalo in Week 6. Sanchez threw five interceptions and had an 8.3 passer rating in the 16-13 loss, but isn’t looking for revenge this time around.

“That’s not good for a quarterback to think like that,” he said. “You just have to play these plays smart like I did last game and take care of the football. It’s not, ‘This guy intercepted me last time, I’m not throwing at him.”‘

This will mark the second game since Ryan announced he was taking a more active approach on the offensive side of the ball. It seemed to work Sunday as Sanchez was efficient while using a color-coded system developed by Ryan to better manage the game. The colors – red, green and yellow – are to remind Sanchez of game situations and to make sure he has a certain mindset in a given moment. For instance, red means to be extra cautious, while green means Sanchez should let loose and take a shot.

Ryan said the system, which he thought of himself, will be used again Thursday.

“You know me, I’m dyslexic,” Ryan said. “I figured it out. Just kind of came around it one way or the other, and it made sense to me. So, I figured I’m going to my weakest student and it made sense to me. I figured it made sense to him.”

The Jets‘ defense, ranked second overall in the NFL, came up big against Carolina with four interceptions – two each by Rhodes and Darrelle Revis. One was returned by Revis 67 yards for a touchdown. It was the type of tone-setting performance New York had been lacking for weeks, and what the Jets need if they truly intend on making a playoff push.

“We have to take care of our business and that’s it,” Ryan said. “We put ourselves in this situation. … We know we have to win. That’s all we’re focused on.”

NOTES: Ryan said S Eric Smith would start again in the base defense after leading the team with eight tackles in place of the demoted Rhodes, who didn’t speak to the media Monday. … LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson tweaked a hamstring against Carolina and was limited in practice.