All season long, the Jets have heard about the high expectations attached to their team. Only 4-12 one year ago, the Jets certainly did not expect to capture attention in a city that was suddenly ruled by the Super Bowl Champion Giants. But try as they might, the Jets refueled hope through free agency, trades and with the addition of one legendary figure. Within just a few short months, they were transformed from a pretender to a contender and now the results are beginning to show.
With yesterday's 26-17 defeat of the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Jets improved to 5-3 on the season and jumped into a three-way tie atop the AFC East. Such a fast start would presumably be enjoyable for a team which began last season with only one win through its first eight games, correct?
"It's not any fun, we're just trying to take it one game at a time," defensive end Shaun Ellis said of the Jets' position in the division.
Surely the Jets are beaming with joy following yesterday's divisional road win, but they also know their role. With eight games still remaining in the NFL season, the Jets have a long road ahead of them if they are to become the first team other than the Patriots to win the AFC East since 2002.
"We've just got to keep on controlling ourselves and as long as we control ourselves, good things will happen. We can't worry about who wins and who loses, we've just got to keep a steady approach," Ellis said.
Running back Thomas Jones, who carried the ball 12 times for 69 yards and added a touchdown in yesterday's win, invoked a more positive approach while keeping the division in sight.
"It feels good to be in this position, but we've still got a lot of football left so we're not really thinking about [first-place] much," Jones said.
Last season the mood was not as pleasant at this point in the Jets' locker room, seeing as how the Jets were 1-7 in their first eight games. However, Jones knows that a few wins can make a considerable difference.
"Obviously our record's better so that makes all the difference in the world," Jones said of this season's mood compared to last year. "When you're winning football games and you're above .500, it makes you feel a lot more optimistic about the season and gives you a lot of energy in the locker room."
Through the first seven games this season the Jets maintained their pattented 'one game at a time' approach, but the results came few and far between. Even in victories over the Bengals and Chiefs, the Jets were criticized for their inconsistency. But even with the struggles, the Jets came away with wins.
"We knew it was going to be a tough ride, but we just have to continue to grinding it out," Ellis said of the team's season to date.
Yesterday, after the Jets played what Head Coach Eric Mangini labeled the "most complete game" of the season, there were plenty of positives to point to.
"It's more being pleased with the way that we played on Sunday and the style that we played with, having a complete effort, finishing the game, all three phases, finishing the game, it being complementary football," Mangini said.
Jenkins Impressive Both On and Off Field
Following Brett Favre's interception which was returned by cornerback Jabari Greer 42 yards for a touchdown, nose tackle Kris Jenkins walked over to Favre for a short but concise pep talk. Today, Mangini praised Jenkins' leadership qualities.
"He's been extremely impressive in terms of his commitment individually to do things within the framework of the defense, and that's not an easy transition going from a 4-3 penetrating guy to a 3-4 two-gap read-and-react guy, and he's done that well; he's embraced it," Mangini said.
Elam Proves Teammates Wrong
On Saturday, Jets Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson gave a test to the Jets' defensive backs which included an assortment of questions that Mangini said were "not all just straight football questions." One of the questions included, "If we pick the ball off and go 99 yards for a touchdown, who is most likely to do the following." Coincidently, Mangini said each player chose Abram Elam as his answer. Well yesterday Elam returned Trent Edwards' pass 92 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
"When I got to the sidelines, I had to let [my teammates] know that there wasn't no stopping me once I got the ball in my hands," Elam said today.
Elam said both cornerback Justin Miller and Henderson were the first people he walked up to following the touchdown return because "those were the ones that were cracking smiles during the meeting Saturday night."
But once Elam intercepted the pass, he could only think about reaching the endzone.
"I had a clear field ahead of me and the last thing I wanted to do was get caught on national tv," Elam said with a laugh.
Jets Win with "Complementary Football"
The following two Monday's have been full of smiles for the Jets, considering their two-game win streak. However, even though the Jets' win over the Chiefs counted the same as yesterday's win over the Bills, yesterday was a bit sweeter for the Jets.
"Any time we win, I'm happy about it. I'm happy about this game because of the way that we won in terms of the way that we played as opposed to the opponent or the situation," Mangini said. "But it's how we played; it's complementary football, it's complete football, it's being able to finish, being able to handle adversity, it's good situation awareness."
Linebacker David Harris (groin), kicker Mike Nugent (right thigh) and safety Eric Smith (head) all missed yesterday's win over Buffalo due to injury. Today, Mangini was asked about each player's status and responded, "They're one week further along than they were and we're really hoping that they're going to continue to make progress."