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Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: November 17, 3:10 PM ET
Gang must rebound quickly in Denver

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In our best Col. Jessep voice, we offer this statement about the New York Jets:

They can't handle prosperity.

Maybe it's not in their DNA to lead, maybe they can't function under the weight of expectations. Regardless of the reason, the Jets are in that oh-so-familiar position, preparing to embark on the long road to the playoffs. It starts Thursday night in Tebow Town.

The Jets seem to embrace this role. You get the feeling they'd rather wait in line at the cash lane instead of zipping through a toll booth via E-Z Pass.

"Have we done the wild-card route before? Absolutely," Mark Sanchez said. "Is there anybody who knows how to do it better? I don't think so."

The Jets want to win the AFC East, want a home playoff game, but, following Rex Ryan's lead, they've all but conceded the division to the New England Patriots. They still have a solid chance to make the playoffs as a wild card, but it's going to take some work.

And the work begins against the Broncos.

"We have to just go out there, have fun and give it to these guys, not give them a chance to make plays," Santonio Holmes said. "Shut them out if we can, score about 60 points if possible. Keep these guys buried down in the ground as far as possible, and I think that will jump-start our offense and defense from this point on."

The Jets (5-4) are better than the Broncos (4-5), no question, but the gap could be closed because of the unusual circumstances -- or "inconveniences," as former coach Herm Edwards used to say.

Specifically, we're talking about an 1,800-mile road trip, a game in high altitude and played after only three days' rest.

The Jets must have done something to anger the NFL office because a Sunday night/Thursday night turnaround, with the second leg on the road, is just plain mean, a scheduling rarity. Maybe this is the league's idea of payback for all the time and money it devoted last season to investigating the team's transgressions -- namely the Sal Alosi and Ines Sainz cases.

From final whistle to opening kickoff, the Jets will have had only 92 hours to prepare for Tim Tebow and the Broncos' unconventional, read-option offense. The way this week has gone, the team bus probably will get a flat tire on the way to the stadium.

But, as we said, the Jets thrive on adversity. So, in a weird way, this road trip from hell sets up perfectly for them, right?

To their credit, the Jets haven't complained (at least not publicly) about the situation, but it has been a mental and physical strain. With LaDainian Tomlinson and Jeremy Kerley out, they've been forced to coach up a couple of newbies, rookie running back Bilal Powell and wide receiver Eron Riley, an ex-Bronco.

As their bodies and psyches healed from the New England beatdown, the Jets prepared for an unfamiliar opponent and its college-style offense. Antonio Cromartie said it probably will take a couple of series before the defense gets acclimated.

Ryan said it's similar to the Wildcat, with Tebow conjuring up memories of his legendary college career at Florida. In Sunday's win over the Kansas City Chiefs, scatter-armed Tebow completed only two passes but Denver rushed 55 times. The Broncos average 158 rushing yards per game, second in the league.

The Jets' defensive plan: No matter what, think run.

"You're looking at formations or personnel groupings that tell you it's going to be a pass, and it's not with this group," Ryan said. "So, that's a little different, but you better be sound and obviously assume he's running with it."

At times, Tebow will run the triple option, faking to the fullback, sprinting out and running himself, or pitching to a receiver. It puts a tremendous burden on the outside linebackers and defensive ends to maintain their containment.

Nose tackle Sione Pouha said they will employ "man-coverage" principles up front. In other words, nothing fancy, just beat your man. At the same time, you don't want to get too simple because the beauty of the Jets' defense is its ability to confuse quarterbacks. On a short week of preparation, its scheme can be hell for a young quarterback like Tebow.

"The blitz packages of the Jets will give him trouble because I don't think Tebow has great field vision other than his initial reads," said an opposing scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The versatility of the defense will be tested as never before. On Sunday night, it had Tom Brady and the Patriots' sophisticated passing attack. This time, it will be three yards and a cloud of Tebow.

Likewise, the Jets' offense will be challenged by the Broncos' pressure schemes. They employ five-man rushes at the third-highest rate in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In Monday's offensive line meeting, "it seemed like the pressure tape went on forever," Matt Slauson said.

On Monday, coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wasted no time, jumping immediately into Denver prep, not even mentioning the previous night's game. Maybe that was a good thing. Short week, short memory.

There's still time to make something out of this season.

"Being involved with [the wild card] the last couple of years, you can kind of see the writing on the wall," Sanchez said. "It's going to be us, maybe somebody from the North, fighting for that wild-card spot. These next seven games are huge. We've got to win these, and it starts Thursday."

In Tebow Town.