Commentary

Jets face a critical stretch after the bye

Wins over the Bills and Patriots could mean first place; two losses would be disastrous

Updated: November 2, 2011, 2:00 PM ET
By Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- From Super Bowl favorite to loser of three straight games, the New York Jets have had a rocky season. But on the first day back at the training facility after a bye week, coach Rex Ryan let his players know that they still control their own destiny.

"It's right there in front of our face," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "All we have to do is go and get it as a team. That's why he let us know. That's the focus. Win these next couple of games, and we'll be right back where we want to be."

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Danny Wild/US PresswireThe Jets hope to be doing a lot more celebrating in the second half of the season.

The 4-3 Jets are a game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East, and the Patriots (5-2) are coming off an ugly loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a trip to Buffalo to play the Bills (also 5-2) coming up this week, followed by a prime-time home game Nov. 13 against the Pats, the Jets could walk away in two weeks' time as division leaders, or be all but eliminated from postseason contention.

"We know where we're at, in terms of being one game back and still fighting for first place," Revis said. "Out of all the stuff that has been going on, it's kind of surprising, it really is. But we are making strides, and we're on a two-game winning streak. We didn't win on the bye ... but we're back, and this is a good game for us to get our third win [in a row] and especially because it is on the road as well."

The Jets haven't fared well after their bye during the Rex Ryan era. Last season they suffered a 9-0 loss to eventual Super Bowl winners Green Bay, and in 2009 the Jets lost 24-22 to Jacksonville.

"I mean I know we came off the bye and held Green Bay to nine points," linebacker Bart Scott said. "On the other side we didn't score a lot of points but sometimes it's about two good opponents playing each other as opposed to coming off the byes. But you want to go all out in practice."

Scott said the Jets had a good practice on Monday, hard considering that the rules have changed on how many full-contact practices teams can have. The Jets had a good win over the San Diego Chargers before the break, and they don't want to lose that momentum.

"We just have to make sure that we come back and focus in and get back into a rhythm as quick as we can," left guard Matt Slauson said. "I think that's kind of where we were lacking over the last two years. Everybody gets away and kind of rests a little bit and you fall out of that rhythm. And as far as today went, we were right in it, right in a groove, everything was going great."

Defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis won't have to worry about getting back in the groove, since he didn't hit the Bahamas like Scott, fly to New Orleans like Joe McKnight, or go home for a spell like Revis. With a sprained left ankle, the Jets' third-round draft pick spent the bye week in beautiful snowy Florham Park, getting round after round of treatment for his injury.

"It was long days, just me, [Mike] DeVito and the trainers and [Isaiah] Trufant. But you know, the way my ankle felt last Monday [compared] to today? A 180. So it was worth it."

Ryan said he wasn't sure whether Ellis would play against the Bills, but he did say that Trufant and DeVito should be ready to go. A few other banged up players, such as Nick Mangold and David Harris (ankle sprains), were limited in practice.

"I'm fine. I had a week off, so I'm good to go," Harris said. "No setbacks."

Teams coming off a bye were 5-1 this past Sunday, including the New York Giants squeaking past winless Miami. Before that, teams were 3-9 following a bye this season.

Six days off is a long time in terms of the NFL season. Not every team gives players such a generous slice of vacation, but Ryan's philosophy is that the extra rest will pay off down the stretch of the season.

"I think it's good for guys to get away and get rested," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We have a pretty tough challenge ahead of us. Buffalo is playing well and I think they really have their team going well. I was impressed with some of the [things] they have going on in the passing game. The one thing that I will say about them is that they're playing good, efficient football on offense. Fred Jackson is probably one of the best running backs playing right now. A lot of big plays. And this is going to be a tough challenge, but I think it's one that we definitely are up to."

Ryan said that he did not see a letdown in practice.

"Guys were flying around," Ryan said. "You feel that energy. We also know what this game represents. You have Buffalo coming in, one of the hottest teams in the league, tied for first in our division. We have to play at their place, so you have to be excited about playing the No. 1-rated team in our division, them and New England."

It is simple math. Two wins, and the Jets could potentially lead the division. Two losses, and even the wild card would be a reach. It's that simple, and the Jets are aware that a post-bye letdown isn't an option if they want to reach their goals.

"We know what's at stake," Pace said.

Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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