There was no letdown last game for the New York Jets, who will try to avoid letting up Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Jets (8-5) hold the second wild-card spot as part of a tie with Pittsburgh and Kansas City, but they would miss the playoffs if all three teams ran the table. With such possibilities so far off in the distance, though, coach Todd Bowles continues to stress the importance of his team focusing on what it can control.
"Everything else will take care of itself," Bowles said. "We don’t go into the season rooting for a certain team, so I’m not going to end the season rooting for a certain team. I’m just going to root for us and hope we do well."
New York pounded three-win Tennessee 30-8 last Sunday, its third straight victory and one of its most complete efforts of the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns and Mo Wilkerson had three of the team’s five sacks to give him a career-high 12 as the Jets limited the Titans to 24 rushing yards.
Fitzpatrick has been the driving force in the three-game surge, totaling 930 passing yards and nine TDs without an interception while adding 66 rushing yards on 13 carries – five of which extended drives with first downs. His 25 touchdown passes are a career high and four shy of Vinny Testaverde’s 1998 single-season team record.
"It’s great," said Fitzpatrick, who has 19 red-zone TD passes without taking a sack or throwing an interception. "But I’m focused at the task at hand. Things change so quickly in the NFL, so you have to take care of your business each and every week and things take care of themselves."
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker caught touchdown passes in the same game for the seventh time this year, tying a single-season NFL record, and their 20 combined TD catches have equaled a franchise record for a receiving duo. Marshall is one scoring reception shy of matching his 2013 career high and needs five catches to surpass Al Toon’s single-season mark of 93 set in 1988.
After being perceived as a locker-room disruption last season when Chicago came undone, Marshall is embracing the role of veteran leader, trying to keep the young Jets mentally grounded for the stretch run.
"This is a huge week for us," he said. "We are continually trying to get better in all three phases. We have a lot of young guys. This is the week for veterans to really step up and put their foot on the pedal and push everybody because Dallas is going to give us their best shot."
Chris Ivory is 86 rushing yards shy of 1,000, and fellow running back Bilal Powell has emerged as a receiving threat out of the backfield. That’s led to Fitzpatrick targeting the tight end on 4.5 percent of his 445 attempts, easily the lowest mark in the league.
Powell has been targeted 18 times the past two games, totaling 13 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. In four games since returning from an ankle injury, Powell has 20 receptions for 211 yards, while tight ends Kellen Davis and Jeff Cumberland have one catch for eight yards between them on four passes thrown in their direction.
Tight end may be the only offensive position at which the Cowboys (4-9) own a distinct advantage as the ageless Jason Witten has team highs of 65 receptions and 594 yards. His five catches for 40 yards, though, did little to prevent Dallas from being routed 28-7 at Green Bay on Sunday.
That’s partly because the Cowboys failed to force a turnover and yielded a season-worst 230 rushing yards. The inability to create takeaways has plagued Dallas, last in the league with eight after finishing second in 2014 with 31.
"I think one of the most disappointing things for our team this year is our inability to take the ball away, particularly after we had the success we had in doing that last year, and how much that contributed to us winning a lot of ballgames," coach Jason Garrett said.
Darren McFadden ran for 111 yards, but he might be hard-pressed to find holes in a stout Jets run defense that yields a league-low 78.9 per game and has given up 110 total during the winning streak.
Matt Cassel again struggled, finishing with 114 passing yards and an interception, but Garrett is sticking with him.
"I think the evaluation is who gives us the best chance to win on Saturday night," Garrett said. "We still feel like Matt Cassel is that guy. He’s done some good things for our team over time that he’s started for us this year. Has he played perfectly? Absolutely not and no one knows that more than he does. No one knows that more than we do."
It’s been a difficult season for injury-plagued Dez Bryant, who caught one pass for nine yards Sunday and whose 42.9 percent pass catch rate is the lowest among any player targeted at least 60 times.