The New York Jets are preparing for their huge game this Sunday when they host the New England Patriots for first place and seeming control of the AFC East. The Jets enter the game at 5-3, playing their best football of the season. But it hasn't been an easy or predictable road to five victories for the Jets. Their season has taken the form of three different streaks. Home wins over the Cowboys and Jaguars started the season, and were followed by a three game slide with road losses to the Raiders, Ravens and Patriots. At 2-3, the Jets were searching for wins and an identity, and fans and media were wondering if the team was on its way to a disastrous season.
But a reprieve came in the face of the winless Dolphins on a Week 6 Monday night at MetLife Stadium, and Darrelle Revis' 99-yard interception return touchdown in the first quarter of the game seemed to have allowed the team and its fanbase to take a collective deep breath. The Jets easily, if not beautifully, defeated the Dolphins to get back on equal terms. And perhaps Revis' now-famous spat with WFAN's Mike Francesa gave the team a little bit of its swagger back. Under Rex Ryan, the Jets have always been a talky bunch, and their three-game slide early on had put a muzzle on things. It's naive to think that Revis' resistance towards Francesa did anything to actually galvanize the team on the field, but since then the Jets have looked more like the two-time AFC Championship Game finalists than at any other point this year.
For the past six quarters of football, the Jets have outscored their opponents, the San Diego Chargers in the second half of Week 7 and the Buffalo Bills in Week 9, 44-11. That second half against the Chargers was vintage Rex Ryan-defense, forcing turnovers and pitching a shutout while the offense found its game. Mark Sanchez tossed three touchdowns to Plaxico Burress in the game, and the Jets had made a pretty definitive statement in the AFC.
But in the NFL, a statement only lasts a week. Next up was the rival Bills, in Orchard Park, with the upstart Bills and their surprisingly excellent offense making them favored against the Jets. But the Jets proved who the varsity was, decimating Buffalo 27-11. The Jets' defense continued their form from the second half of the San Diego game throughout the bye week. They made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like a backup quarterback, and Fred Jackson was stalled as the Jets battered him around and forced him to fumble.
So how do we truly categorize the 5-3 Jets? It's very hard to say, as both the Jets' offense and defense have been up and down when you take their first eight games as a whole. Most recently, Ryan's defense seems to be back to where it was the past two playoff runs, and the offense has found its way through an improved running attack spearheaded by Shonn Greene. Jets fans hope that the the worst came in their three game losing streak in Weeks 3-5. This Sunday's game against the Pats could prove to be a springboard, with the likes of the Broncos, Bills, Redskins and Chiefs up next. Losers of two straight and with the worst statistical defense in football, the Patriots are as vulnerable as ever.
Win or loss on Sunday, the Jets have played their way back into true contention in a wide open AFC.