Jets approaching final three games as 'do-or-die'

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

Jim Leonhard is just like most New York Jets fans.

He sneaks an occasional peek at the remaining schedule, does some quick math in his head and analyzes his team's playoff chances.

``It's just human nature,'' the Jets safety said Monday. ``You're going to kind of look ahead and see the situations that can unfold. The biggest thing is we need to win. If we lose a game, we really put ourselves in a bad position.''

After a convincing 26-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday and a few other teams losing, the Jets (7-6) are still in the middle of the AFC playoff mix. They've won three straight games, the defense has been dominant, and they might even get injured quarterback Mark Sanchez back this week after Kellen Clemens filled in adequately against the Buccaneers.

``We just wanted to get back to the basics, play good defense, stop the run, run the football and complete some passes along the way,'' defensive end Shaun Ellis said. ``I think when we started doing that and we cut down on the turnovers and created turnovers on defense, it was a winning formula for us.''

Still, New York knows it needs to win each of its last three games to have a realistic shot at the postseason.

``They know how I feel,'' coach Rex Ryan said. ``Our official stance is it's improbable right now.''

What about the ``unofficial'' stance?

``All I've got to say is it's improbable,'' Ryan said of the playoff possibilities. ``That's the way everybody will approach it right now. Our stance is we believe we're going to win every game. That's the way it's been since Day 1.''

Even if the Jets beat Atlanta, undefeated Indianapolis and Cincinnati, they still could miss out because of tiebreakers after some frustrating losses to Miami and Jacksonville earlier this season.

``You always look back and reflect on those games,'' Leonhard said. ``Now that they are a few weeks behind us, you realize the hole that it put us in, one, and how we've approached the last few weeks, how we'll approach the next three weeks, is do-or-die.

``It's playoff atmosphere around here for us.''

New York has certainly played that way the last few games, with solid wins over Carolina, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. Those opponents might not exactly be elite teams, but instead of falling flat, New York has turned it up a notch.

``I think we're motivated and have put ourselves in a better situation so that we can start talking again about the playoff race and the things we can do,'' left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said.

The Jets are certainly no shoo-ins, and they'll need plenty of help even if they can finish the regular season with a flourish. They're tied with Miami and a game behind New England in the AFC East, but both teams currently have tiebreakers over them. Denver (8-5) holds one of the wild-card spots, while Jacksonville has the other despite being tied with New York, Miami and Baltimore at 7-6.

``It's one of those situations where we know we have to win and the room-for-error thing goes out the window,'' running back Thomas Jones said.

Just being able to talk about the playoffs at this point is an accomplishment considering the Jets were 4-6 a few weeks ago and considered by many to be done.

``Even this last game, I was reading in the paper that somebody picked us to lose, so you can easily fall into that trap,'' Ferguson said. ``It's good to focus on the team you have and really rely on the people in the locker room.''

That includes Ryan, who preached confidence and belief even through the toughest moments earlier this season.

``People jump off the bandwagon,'' said Jones, second in the AFC with 1,167 yards rushing. ``There's not as many people watching you at practice. It's pretty obvious when you're 4-6, no one really thinks you're in the position to win out. Rex believed in this team from the beginning of the year.''

The Jets' recent success has been a byproduct of their top-ranked defense and rushing offense, which have both taken over games the last few weeks.

New York limited Tampa Bay to 124 yards of total offense, didn't allow a first down until the third quarter - on a penalty by linebacker Bart Scott - and held the Buccaneers to 0-for-14 on third downs.

``It was kind of amazing,'' Leonhard said.

``I've been on some good defenses with the Jets,'' said Ellis, the team's longest-tenured player, ``but not anything like this.''

The Jets also know they've got to keep it going for at least three more games.

``Considering everything that happened during the first part of the season, as long as we can finish up strong,'' Ellis said. ``It would be a disappointment (to lose), but as long as we know we did what we had to do in the end to try to get into the playoffs.''

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