EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At the team meeting Saturday night, Rex Ryan paid homage to his first New York Jets team (2009) in an attempt to inspire the current one out of its funk.
In a typically passionate speech, Ryan mentioned how the '09 Jets overcame injuries and adversity, rebounding from a 4-6 record to make the playoffs and reach the AFC Championship Game.
"Keep believing," the coach told the team, players said, sounding like he was reading lyrics from a Journey song.
Ryan's '09 reference was prophetic because Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Jets played a football game straight out of his first season. They bullied the Indianapolis Colts 35-9, using Ground & Pound and a suffocating defense -- their old staples -- to record a must-win and snap a two-game losing streak.
It sets up an unexpected, yet delicious storyline next weekend in Foxborough -- a first-place showdown against the New England Patriots. How crazy is that?
"You'd rather be on top of it, but right now we're looking up at them," Ryan said a couple of hours before the Patriots dropped to 3-3. "But here we come."
He paused, smiling.
"I don't feel like tugging on Superman's cape today," Ryan said. "Maybe tomorrow."
That the Jets (3-3) are within an arm's length of Superman is a rather stunning development, no doubt due more to the Patriots' unexpectedly slow start than anything the Jets have done. But it doesn't matter how you get the shot, it only matters what you do with it.
Thanks to the Colts, young and weak on both sides of the ball, the Jets will make the trip to New England with a restored sense of confidence. After a month of ugly football and key injuries, they needed the made-to-order Colts in the worst way. This was a get-well card.
It was a get-well day for the embattled Shonn Greene, who rushed for a career-high 161 yards and three touchdowns in one of the best days ever for a Jets running back.
It was a get-well day also for the embattled defense, which recorded four sacks and four takeaways and made franchise quarterback Andrew Luck look like … well, a rookie. And for the embattled Mark Sanchez, who survived another week of Tebow-Mania with a performance that can be best described as efficient and mistake-free -- two 5-yard touchdown passes, no turnovers. It was the first time in 17 games the Jets played a turnover-free game.
Get this: Sanchez threw only 18 passes for 82 yards. The last time the Jets won a game with so few passing yards? It was the 2009 finale, Sanchez's rookie year, when the offense was the epitome of Ground & Pound.
"This felt like 2009 and 2010," tight end Dustin Keller said. "But that's what we're capable of."
The Jets loaded up on tight ends and they hammered the undersized Colts, amassing a total of 252 rushing yards. In the previous four games, their total was 297. Instead of their usual array of power runs, they changed it up a bit. They used more zone runs, creating cutback lanes for Greene, who looked quicker than ever.
Basically, they beat down the Colts the way the San Francisco 49ers beat them down a couple of weeks ago.
"We want to be a team that nobody wants to play," Ryan said.
Greene, virtually invisible over the past month, ran like a man with something to prove. He ran through tacklers and around them, spinning out of a tackle by safety Antoine Bethea on his second touchdown run. He was all bull with a hint of ballerina, a command performance.
Defensively, the Jets' young line finally asserted itself, with Quinton Coples (1.5 sacks) and Muhammad Wilkerson playing like first-rounders. The Jets nearly equaled their sack total from the first five games. When Luck did throw, he was haunted by cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who made an interception and shut down Reggie Wayne.
"We believe we're a good football team," said wide receiver Chaz Schilens, mocking those who proclaimed them dead. "We have ups and downs like every other team. Last time I checked, the Green Bay Packers were 2-3 and no one calls them a terrible team."
Let's be honest: The Jets were terrible for a month, but the league is about survival, especially in the watered-down AFC. You have to beat the bad teams and hold your own against the elite. The Jets haven't defeated an elite team since the 2010 playoffs, when they knocked off the Patriots on the road.
Now they get the Patriots on their turf.
From Schilens' perspective, no one should be laughing at the Jets anymore.
"When we get to full strength and when we get clicking with the parts we have right now, it's not going to be funny, especially for the other teams," he said.
Let's keep it in perspective. The Jets still have issues, but at least we can remove the adjective "embattled" from the big names and underachieving units.