FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For 40-plus years, they've been known as a hard-luck franchise. Now people are calling them lucky -- and that isn't sitting well.
The New York Jets don't appreciate those who believe their 7-2 record -- the franchise's best start since 1986 -- is the product of good fortune. Yes, they've had a remarkable number of victories decided in the final seconds -- five -- but they're taking a Branch Rickey approach.
Luck is the residue of design.
"Good teams are always the lucky teams," coach Rex Ryan said Monday with a hint of sarcasm. "I hope we're lucky all the way through to the Super Bowl, because we'll take it."
They did it again Sunday, beating the Cleveland Browns on Santonio Holmes' 37-yard touchdown reception with 16 seconds left in overtime. In four other wins, the game-winning, game-saving or game-tying play occurred with 34, 90, 73 and 0 seconds left in regulation.
They're the Last-Minute Men. Just don't use the other "L" word.
"It's hard to go smoke-and-mirrors all the way to 7-2," right tackle Damien Woody said.
Even though the Jets have been sloppy at times, benefiting from some tremendous breaks, they're winning games they used to lose. Do it once, and you're lucky. Do it twice, and it's a coincidence. But five wins in the final seconds? That, folks, is called a trend.
The days of style-point wins are over. This is the age of parity in the NFL. No team is dominant. The idea is to stack as many wins as possible, grab a high seed in the playoffs and hope you get hot at the right time. That's what it's all about.
There's no room for quibbling, especially for Jets fans. Any fan bemoaning the team's M.O. should be forced to watch a video loop of "Same Old Jets" moments from the past, the equivalent of a month in solitary.
"This is the NFL. Who cares what somebody else says?" Holmes said. "We want the W and we're going to walk away with the W, regardless of how it looks."
Using a cooking analogy to describe the Jets' run of lu ... er, success, Holmes said, "We could've been flipping burgers. If we're the team that cooks all our burgers first, and the other team was right there, two seconds late, they lose and we're the winners."
There's one aspect of the Jets' streak that is being underplayed. Because of their high profile, they're getting every opponent's best shot. To the mediocre teams, the Jets are a league power -- a trash-talking, chest-thumping power. Everybody wants a piece of them.
Call it the "Hard Knocks" Effect. Consider:
The Detroit Lions did the same, hyping the Jets game as their Super Bowl, and look what happened to them: After blowing a 10-point lead in the final three minutes and losing in overtime, the demoralized Lions responded by falling to the previously winless Buffalo Bills.
It'll be interesting to see how the Browns rebound this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"Because of the way we carry ourselves as an organization, because of 'Hard Knocks' [HBO's reality show that featured the Jets in the preseason], because of all the fanfare we've been given up to this point, teams are bringing their A-game against us," Woody said. "It's almost like we're Super Bowl champions. We're not the champions, but people are playing us that way."
The Jets have no one to blame but themselves for raising expectations -- they coveted the attention -- so they can't use it as an excuse. And they're not. But these games are mentally and physically draining. Woody was a member of the New England Patriots' first Super Bowl team, 2001, and he said the following year was the toughest of his career. Every week, they played the role of the hunted.
The Jets feel like the hunted, sans the crown. They keep winning, and don't dare call them lucky.