Jets' playoff hopes rest with running game

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
7:54
PM ET
Shonn GreenAP Photo/Kathy WillensShonne Green had a season-high 129 yards on 24 carries in the Jets' win over the Chiefs.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Forget about quarterback Mark Sanchez. He's not going to single-handedly carry the New York Jets.

Don't worry about New York's defense. That group will be there when it matters.

The most important factor that will determine the Jets' future this season is their up-and-down running game.

Memo to tailbacks Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson: It's your time.

New York's ground game was dominant Sunday in a 37-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, with Greene and Tomlinson combining for 251 total yards and two touchdowns.

The Jets won their third straight game, improved to 8-5, and currently hold the sixth seed in the AFC. New York simply must continue winning to make it to the playoffs for the third time under head coach Rex Ryan.

New York, which had three rushing touchdowns, imposed its will against Kansas City by winning the battle on the line of scrimmage. The Jets' run-to-pass ratio was 2-to-1 (42 runs, 21 passes).

"That's how you win games in December, because there's going to be a lot of cold games, a lot of snowy games and you have to be able to effectively run the ball," Jets guard Matt Slauson said. "It's really nice to see that our confidence is building as a unit on offense. We really feel like we're starting to be able to do whatever we want, and everybody is executing well."

The Jets' offense is going in the right direction because the running backs are trending upward. Tomlinson said he had a feeling things would go well Sunday following the coin toss.

New York won the toss and uncharacteristically took the football; Ryan usually defers to the second half. But lately the Jets have relied too much on fourth-quarter comebacks, so Ryan's message was clear.

"That kind of set the [tone] for us to start fast," Tomlinson said. "Once we got that first touchdown, we really felt like it was going to be a good day for us."

Greene's first run was for 31 yards and led to New York's first touchdown. He finished with a season-high 129 rushing yards, just his second 100-yard game of the season, and led the Jets in receiving with 58 yards. Greene often has been criticized this season for not making enough big plays, but he averaged 5.4 yards per carry against the Chiefs and carried the offense.

Tomlinson added 64 total yards and a touchdown. His best play was a 19-yard touchdown reception from Sanchez before halftime. This was Tomlinson's second game back from a knee injury, and he appears to have fresh legs for the final stretch of the season.

Also keep in mind that New York was without its most dynamic running back, Joe McKnight, who missed the game with an elbow injury. McKnight adds big-play ability to the backfield and on special teams that the Jets don't get from Greene and Tomlinson.

The Jets haven't had all three running backs healthy for a while. But they could have their full group of running backs together as early as next week.

"It can be really dangerous," said Jets fullback John Conner, who blocks for all three. "Shonn is pounding it and running real hard. LT and Joe have great speed and quickness. That's going to cause some problems for defenses in the future."

The immediate future looks bright for the Jets if they can continue running the football. There was a point earlier in the season when the running game was one of the weakest areas of the team.

"We're built for this," Slauson said. "Unfortunately, it took us a little bit to get it going. But everything is meshing great now, working really hard and it’s coming together now."

Despite the team's many struggles this season, New York has found a way to control whether it makes the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), Tennessee Titans (7-6) and Oakland Raiders (7-6) all lost in Week 14. That gives the Jets a one-game lead in the wild-card race with three weeks remaining.

The Jets needed a lot of help and they got it. Now, they must hold their spot by staying focused and continuing to win.

"You've got the Eagles, the Giants and Miami to close it out. There are no easy games," Ryan said of the Jets' remaining schedule. "As far as being overconfident, we're always confident -- period. Overconfident? I don't think so."

The Jets have their swagger back at just the right time. Much of it has to do with their ability to run the football.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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