Commentary

Jets will be lucky to make playoffs

Rex Ryan's middling team needs good fortune as it goes for broke in final five games

Updated: November 29, 2011, 8:47 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan doesn't believe in the L-word, not when it's used to describe a victory. If he heard someone mocking his, um, fortunate win over the Buffalo Bills, he'd probably be tempted to yell back, "Shut the luck up." We know he uses that phrase, or a close variation, when he's fired up.

"I don't care if I'm known as the luckiest coach in the league," the New York Jets' coach said Monday with a hint of sarcasm. "That's great. As long as we win, that's fine with me."

But here's the deal: To continue winning, to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, the Jets are going to need more luck. Because the way they're playing right now, there's no way they can make it without some breaks along the way.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireThe Jets need more breaks like this dropped pass by Stevie Johnson in the fourth quarter.

They're an average team that came within a Stevie Johnson drop of losing to the Bills, who entered the game with a three-game losing streak (all blowouts) and without their best player, injured running back Fred Jackson.

It still took a death struggle to fight them off, proving the Jets (6-5) are quite capable of losing to any team at any time. Their best ally -- the so-called easy schedule -- doesn't look so fluffy anymore.

They get the Washington Redskins this week, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles -- all non-contenders with serious quarterback issues -- but does anyone really believe the Jets are going to run the table?

Well, maybe they can. But only if Mark Sanchez develops some consistency.

Only if the defense, which nearly let Ryan Fitzpatrick pull a Tim Tebow, plays with a killer instinct.

Only if the kicking units don't turn every return into a hold-your-breath adventure.

The Jets are leaking oil in a few areas, which is what happens to average teams. They've played 11 games, and they're still talking about correcting fundamental mistakes on defense and cleaning up miscommunications on offense.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer preaches the "me to you" relationship between the quarterback and receiver. Sometimes it resembles "Hey, you," like on that Sanchez-Santonio Holmes oops moment in the fourth quarter. The pass went here, Holmes went there.

They got it together for the game-winning touchdown, keeping hope alive for at least another week. But hope won't last long if the Jets continue to sputter. Ryan admitted as much, acknowledging the team has to get better.

Give him some credit: He's not sugar coating. But he also needs to keep things in perspective with regard to the big picture.

"We have to prove it on the field, but I absolutely think we're a playoff team," he said. "And then when we get there, anything can happen. The main thing is to get there. It's tough. It's hard to get to the playoffs every year ... but that's certainly what we plan on doing. I think we'll be a dangerous team when we get there."

Sometimes you wonder if they have a sense of entitlement, like they're supposed to be in the postseason based on the success of the last two seasons. Sometimes they play like it, especially on defense, which almost blew a late-game lead for the second straight week.

"Every year carries a different spark," said Sione Pouha, the savvy nose tackle. "The first year, it was the new-feeling kind of spark. Last year, it was a 'Now they're going to do it again' type of spark. This year, I don't know what the story is going to be."

It will be a whale of a story if they make it to another postseason. It has to start with Sanchez, who became the first Jets quarterback since Joe Namath in 1968 to throw four touchdowns and complete less than 50 percent of his passes in a game.

Namath lost that game -- he had five interceptions -- so give Sanchez props for winning, for composing himself for that final drive. But it never should've come to that.

Sanchez was 11-for-27 before the game-winning drive despite having optimal conditions -- great pass protection, facing a banged-up secondary. He'll never have it better than that, yet he needed a step-ladder catch from Plaxico Burress to pull out the win.

"Mark Sanchez is not our problem," Ryan insisted. "He's one of the strengths of our team."

In a weird way, that vaudevillian fool -- Johnson -- did the Jets a favor. His crass end-zone celebration, mocking Burress' accidental, self-inflicted gunshot from three years ago, took the spotlight off the Jets.

But only for a day.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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