Following consecutive wins that helped New York's playoff chances go from dim to promising, the Jets will have to rely on a backup quarterback to improve those odds.
Kellen Clemens will start in place of the injured Mark Sanchez on Sunday when the Jets visit the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time this decade.
New York (6-6) appeared to be on its way toward missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season after dropping six of seven following a 3-0 start.
The Jets revived their postseason chances quickly, following that rough stretch with a 17-6 win over Carolina on Nov. 29 before beating Buffalo 19-13 at Toronto four days later.
They were also helped by last week's losses by New England, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Houston and Baltimore. The Jets are tied with Miami for second in the AFC East - one game back of the Patriots - and are in the thick of the wild-card race.
"I think you can make assumptions that our morale was down, but that was an assumption," coach Rex Ryan said. "We still had a belief. I don't expect anyone else to believe it and I said that back then. Everybody in this building believes in this football team, that we can still accomplish things.
"This team is close. We're close to being a special football team. Nobody can deny that."
Ryan won't have his rookie quarterback in the lineup after Sanchez was forced to leave against the Bills because of a sprained right knee suffered while diving headfirst for a first down. The injury occurred just days after the Jets employed New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to teach Sanchez how to slide.
Ryan made the decision to have Sanchez not play this week after seeking the advice of team doctors.
Clemens hasn't started since a 13-10 win over Kansas City on Dec. 30, 2007, and has appeared in 20 games over four seasons. He went 3-5 as the starter in 2007.
Clemens was limited to two passes against Buffalo while getting sacked three times and fumbling once. He may not have to throw the ball much this week with the Jets relying more on the NFL's best running game, which is averaging 168.6 yards.
New York might benefit from facing a Buccaneers defense that ranks 31st in the league against the run, surrendering 160.1 yards per game.
Tampa Bay (1-11) has lost 15 of 16 dating to last season, and rookie coach Raheem Morris rejects the notion that a losing culture has settled into the locker room after last Sunday's 16-6 defeat to the Panthers.
"You're talking about young guys who are going to bring you through this thing," Morris said. "You're talking about young guys who are going to get better and better ... and grow together. If we were around here and were a veteran team and we had (an acceptance of losing), it would be a problem. But right now, we're a bunch of babies that are going to grow up together and get better together."
Josh Freeman is one of those young players, and the rookie quarterback has shown flashes of strong play. He completed 23 of 44 passes for a season-high 321 yards last week but also threw five interceptions, with three halting drives inside the Carolina 8-yard line.
He has seven TD passes and 10 interceptions in five games as the starter.
"There's progress in the games and how we're playing. We've just got to make better decisions at the end and we've got to make better plays at the end," Morris said. "We're still looking for that guy to stand up and be the closer. We've got one at quarterback. He just didn't have a good day in the red zone."
The Jets are 8-1 all-time against the Buccaneers, winning the last six meetings. They posted a 21-17 victory in their last trip to Tampa on Sept. 24, 2000.