Suddenly soaring Jets can take control of AFC East

BY foxsports • November 8, 2011

Rex Ryan sensed the turning point of the season at perhaps the New York Jets' darkest moment.

Nearly a month ago, the Jets came off the field at New England following their third straight loss and things appeared on the brink of spinning out of control. Ryan thought otherwise, insisting he saw some signs of encouragement in a 30-21 defeat.

It sounded like classic coach-speak at the time, but he might have actually been onto something. After all, the Jets haven't lost since.

''We definitely have been getting better these last three weeks,'' Ryan said, adding that this is the best Jets team so far this season. ''But we're going to see how much we've improved.''

The Jets (5-3) have turned things around with three straight wins, the latest a 27-11 victory at Buffalo on Sunday. Now they face their biggest test: a home game against the Patriots (5-3) with first place in the AFC East on the line. Win this one, and the suddenly soaring Jets will be right near the top of the short list of the conference's top teams.

Just as good ol' Rex said they would.

''We've known all along that it's going to come down to November and December,'' safety Jim Leonhard said. ''We had our rough patch early this year, but we came out of it and now everything's in front of us. We know we need to play well.''

As he did before the season opener against New England two years ago, Ryan is calling on the fans at MetLife Stadium to make their presence felt.

''The fans are coming off a bye week and they had a road game, so our fans are rested,'' Ryan said. ''We're ready for a huge performance, and we need you.''

It's a bit of role reversal for the Patriots, who will come to New York looking to prevent their first three-game losing streak since the 2002 season when they lost four in a row and finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

''Their backs are against the wall, just like we were a couple of weeks ago,'' Leonhard said. ''They'll come out swinging. There's no doubt about it.''

The Jets were landing back home in New Jersey just as Eli Manning threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left to give the Giants a 24-20 win over the Patriots on Sunday.

Many of the Jets players were checking their cell phones for the score, while general manager Mike Tannenbaum was trying to get someone to put on the live feed of the game on their iPad for everyone to hear.

''It shows the kind of team the Giants have,'' Ryan said. ''That's an excellent football team because you don't beat New England unless you're a heck of a football team. Especially there. ... They've got a lot of heart, three offensive starters out and found ways to win. They won that game for themselves, without question. But I will say this: If we can, I'd like to pay them back. That certainly helped us as well.''

It created a three-way logjam at the top of the AFC East between the Jets, Patriots and Bills - and put New York in control of its destiny.

''This is the tops,'' Ryan said. ''If you want to win your division, you've got to beat these guys.''

So much for those gloom-and-doom prognostications just a few weeks ago.

''I don't know who would've counted us out,'' Ryan said, taking a veiled swipe at the media. ''But we certainly didn't count ourselves out. We knew that our team could improve.''

Added linebacker Aaron Maybin: ''You leave it up to the media, and they'll say that you're written off at a few points during the season.''

The victory over the Bills showed that Ryan's big, bad defense is back, and the Jets' offense is suddenly rolling, too. There were a few mistakes early, especially in the first half Sunday with the offense, but the second half was a dominant performance.

Those who thought the Bills were about to take charge in the AFC East were silenced by the Jets and their defense, in particular.

''Today was the first time I saw the New York Jets defense look like what I thought the New York Jets defense was going to look like all season long,'' Cris Collinsworth said on NBC's ''Football Night in America.''

New York held Buffalo's solid offense to 287 net yards, and kept Fred Jackson from making any game-changing plays. The Bills also went 3 for 11 on third downs, and turned the ball over three times.

''We were flying around, guys were making a lot of big plays, getting after the quarterback, getting interceptions,'' Leonhard said. ''It was a complete game and we played really well. We have to translate that to this week.''

The offense got the job done, too, after some early hiccups. Ryan's ''Ground-and-Pound'' approach was again in full force as Shonn Greene ran for 76 of New York's 126 yards on the ground. The Jets had 24 first downs and were an efficient 6 for 11 on third downs.

''We got our confidence back,'' Leonhard said. ''I think we've gotten back to what's worked: Run the football and be physical on defense. If we do those two things and someone beats us, you kind of tip your cap to them and move on. We lost games out of character. We let teams do things that we normally don't let them do. We feel we got back to playing the brand of football that we're used to and wins for us.''

The Jets have just a few days to prepare for their next game after they play the Patriots with a Thursday night game at Denver. They'll worry about that, though, after their showdown with New England.

''Both teams are going to be humming for this one, no question,'' Ryan said. ''You can sugarcoat it all you want, but they know they need it and we know we need it. Both teams are going to be hungry.''

Notes: Ryan said both Greene and TE Dustin Keller, who left with head injuries - Keller returned after clearing balance testing and an exercise stress test - should both be fine to play Sunday. ... DE Mike DeVito, sidelined the past two games with a knee injury, is expected to return against the Patriots. ''We'll need him,'' Ryan said. ''We have to have him.''

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