EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took 13 games for the bully in the New York Jets to reappear, but they finally got to swagger around the field and flog someone else for a change Sunday.
How long had it been since they could say that?
They finally played the sort of complete-game laugher they'd hope to unspool a lot more often when they started this year amid the usual Super Bowl guarantee from Rex Ryan, and his talk of finally pulling off a changing of the guard in the AFC East. Now let's see if the Jets can stay at this dominating level for the rest of their playoff push, and not just against a listless Kansas City Chiefs team that's going nowhere.
The Jets finally looked like a powerhouse team Sunday after a steady diet of narrow escapes and galling losses and stretches in the season in which they seemed to be making headway, only to backslide again.
But even the Jets' enthusiasm about their 37-10 win at MetLife Stadium was tempered because it came with some buzz-killing asterisks. Safety Jim Leonhard, the quarterback of their defense, was likely lost for the season with a knee injury he suffered after making a second-quarter interception. And, as even the Jets knew deep down, routing the 5-8 Chiefs isn't exactly as exciting as blowing out, say, the Packers.
The Chiefs are a comprehensively lousy football team right now. Their emergency quarterback, Tyler Palko, plays in a pretty high state of emergency most of the time because, well -- how can this be put politely? -- at best Palko is not very good, and at worst he trends toward god-awful. Especially when he's required to run or pass.
After the game he admitted that it often seemed to him like the Jets had 12 or 13 defenders.
"You've got to enjoy it any time you win," cornerback Darrelle Revis said afterward, speaking in the Jets' noticeably low-key locker room, "but this is just a weird moment of history repeating right now, with Jim being out again like he was [when he broke his leg] late last year."
So applaud the Jets for improving to 8-5 and taking care of business like any self-respecting, wannabe bully should in the NFL. But don't go overboard about what it signifies until the Jets show they can do it again in their last three games at Philadelphia, against the Giants and then at Miami.
The Jets control their playoff destiny now, thanks to losses Sunday by the other AFC teams they're fighting with for a wild-card spot -- Cincinnati, Oakland and Tennessee. If they win their last three games, they're in.
And this is the sort of dominating win the Jets can build on.
It felt good to them to get a little taste of being the bully again against anyone. The offense scored on its first drive, which is a rarity, and then it added three more touchdowns in one nine-minute spurt in the second quarter to put the game away.
And the Chiefs were so bad, their first-half offensive stats read like this: The Jets outgained them 253 yards to 4 (that's not a typo). The Chiefs managed only one first down in the first two quarters, and Palko went into halftime with minus-15 net passing yards. By then the Jets' defense already had three of its five sacks, and Palko's longest completion had gone for only 5 yards.
But there was more slapstick to come. Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop whiffed -- just completely whiffed -- on an attempted onside kick after Kansas City scored its only touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs also dropped a touchdown pass. Then, with just under four minutes to play, fullback Jackie Battle was tackled for a safety.
Everything that could've gone well for the Jets did, except for Leonhard's injury.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was hitting his underneath receivers, if still not feasting on longer passes to wideouts Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. Then again, he hardly needed to. The long gains the Jets were ripping off on simple screen plays and little crossing routes over the middle kept the first downs coming. Sanchez finished with four touchdowns -- two passing, and two short TD runs, one on a bootleg he sold completely.
Suddenly offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wasn't being booed at home anymore.
"Things were clicking," Sanchez said.
Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said the way the offense started the game -- "their mindset, their tempo, their physicality ... just everything" -- inspired him and the rest of the defense. "I was proud of them," Pace said. And Jets offensive guard Matt Slauson said: "Our defense played absolutely great. Our special teams played great. I think it was our most complete game of the year as a team. And at this time of year, that's what you want. You can't ask for more."
That didn't stop Ryan from trying.
When asked if he appraised playing the Eagles next week any differently now that Michael Vick is back from a rib injury, Ryan blinked and then laughed and drew out every syllable of, "Wellll ... yeee-eah."
Ryan emphasized several times that winning in Philadelphia will be tougher. But still, routing Kansas City did put a little bounce back in Ryan's voice.
"We wanted to jump out early on them today," Ryan said, "and we thought we could."
It's the sort of thing a bully says when he's feeling good.
Now let's see if the bully in the Jets can stick around.