In any successful season, there are defining moments that later on upon reflection, stand out.
For the 10-6 Jets, who are riding a six-of-eight-game winning streak into Sunday's wildcard playoff game against the 12-4 Patriots, a couple of those moments occurred right around the time they played and defeated, the Patriots on November 12 at Gillette Stadium.
The Jets' defense was tired of being pushed around, tired of blowing leads and scored upon more frequently than the Harlem Globetrotters' foil the Washington Generals.
"We didn't want to be known as a defense that allows a lot of points and blow leads late in games,'' Jets' safety Kerry Rhodes said.
So, during the Jets' bye week, which fell exactly at the midway point in the season with the Jets 4-4 and at a crossroads, they did a lot of self-scouting and self-evaluating and looked not only in the mirror, but at a lot of edited films the coaches put together that highlighted all of the mistakes the players were making.
The coaches showed the film in a team meeting
Jets' DE Shaun Ellis called it "a pow-wow.''
Rhodes called it "a truth session for us.''
"We, as a group, collectively saw what we had to improve on after the bye week and we adjusted,'' Rhodes said. "We knew what we were doing wrong and who was doing things wrong. There was no sugar-coating it. We knew what we had to do and we all bought into it. Coaches had their say-so and players had their say-so. It was a group thing.''
The Jets charged out of that bye week "pow-wow'' and punched the Patriots right in the face in their first game of the second half of the season in what turned out to be a galvanizing moment for them.
The Jets entered that game in New England having yielded 193 points in the first eight games of the season, an average of 24.1 points per game.
Including their 17-14 win over the Patriots, they gave up an NFL-low 102 points in the second half of the season, an average of 12.8 points per game.
"Everyone knew we weren't playing as well as we wanted to,'' Rhodes said. "We all took the criticism; we took the coaching. It was the truth. We knew we were messing up.''
The Jets felt something different in that win over the Patriots. They blitzed Tom Brady with some disguised looks and banged him around. In fact, they ended the game with an Ellis sack of Brady to stop an attempted New England rally.
"I've never seen (the Patriots) not be prepared for things,'' Rhodes said. "As a group we disguised a lot and moved around to different spots and we had them off guard a bit.''
Indeed, the Jets sacked Brady four times, but harassed him numerous other times.
"Before Mangini got here, they (the Patriots) were always a step ahead of us for whatever reason,'' Ellis said. "Now it's kind of like we do what we do and we're a smart football team also. It inspires confidence to have Mangini here. We're a confident football team anyway, but it helps to have someone who's familiar with them on our side.''
Asked why he believes the defense began to click after that bye-week skull session, Jets' linebacker and quarterback of the defense Jonathan Vilma said, "We knew what to do, it was really more that we wanted to take it to the offense instead of the offense taking it to us. We wanted to dictate to the offense how the game was going to be played.''
Jets' linebacker Matt Chatham said, "I know our approach on the field was dramatically different after the bye week. To be able to pressure and do the things we've been able to do these last eight weeks, you have to have a higher accountability. You can't pressure if you don't know if everybody's covered. It's worked.''
For it to work Sunday, the Jets must have great coverage in the secondary and make sure their blitzers get to Brady.
Jets' veteran defensive end Bobby Hamilton said he believes the 20-13 loss in Cleveland on Oct. 29 was the turning point for the defense, which suddenly aggressively went after the Browns.
"Even though we lost that game, you could see right there at that moment how the defense came together,'' Hamilton said. "Look at what we did in second half of that Cleveland game. We came together as a complete team. You could feel the energy of each player on defense and how they came together as one.''
Eric Mangini, while he does point to the bye week as a big turning point, said he believes it's been more of a gradual process.
"No process ever comes down to one moment where you can point to and say, 'that was it,' '' he said. "It's an accumulation of a lot of reps, a lot of time, a lot of work. What seems like a real transformation, may be a quick transformation, is the effect of a lot of time and effort to get to that point.’’
Mangini joked that “we didn't have enough time to cover all of’’ the mistakes on film during that pow-wow, but it was a helpful session that the players took to.
“We went through as a staff and we evaluated first the offense and defense met and then we met collectively as a group and discussed the different things that had come up,’’ he recalled. “Then we addressed it on tape, went outside, walked through those things, then went to the field and actually practiced those things against very similar looks.’’
Mangini called the players’ improvement “the mark of true professionals.’’
One thing to look for in Sunday’s game is the kicking game.
The Jets would seem to have an advantage with kicker Mike Nugent having made his last 18 field goals and 23 of his last 24 attempts since missing two in the opening game of the season. Nugent is 24 of 27 on field goal attempts for the season.
Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who was avoiding the media for much of the week in New England, is 20-of-26 on field goals and has missed two of his last five attempts