The bye week has not been friendly to the Jets since the Rex Ryan era began. In each of his first two seasons as head coach of the New York Jets, his team has come out of the bye week completely flat. In 2009, the Jets followed the bye week with a home game against Jacksonville. Sitting at 4-4, they had every reason to be prepared to make a second half move for a playoff run. Instead, they gave up 123 yards on the ground to Maurice Jones-Drew and an efficient afternoon to David Garrard on their way to a 24-22 home loss, the famous game where MJD took a knee rather than score a TD, leaving the Jets without no time to respond. The Jets would lose the next week to the Pats at Foxborough before finishing the season with five wins out of six and a whole lot of help to get into the playoffs as a wild card.
In 2010, the Jets were riding high on a five-game winning streak and sitting tied atop the AFC East with the Pats at 5-1 when the eventual champion Green Bay Packers came to town. Despite outgaining the Packers 375-251, the offense turned it over three times and failed to score a point, losing 9-0. You may remember this game for the fake punt by current Giant Steve Weatherford, who decided to take off from deep in Jets territory on a 4th and 18. Great decision, Steve.
In both cases, the team seemed to sleep through the game the way many of us do on the Monday after a vacation. The tackling left something to be desired, and the Jets' offensive and defensive lines were unable to control the line of scrimmage. Now, in year three of Ryan's tenure, the Jets face the two game stretch that will determine whether or not they are really contenders for an AFC East title and that elusive home playoff game.
This Sunday, the Jets make the trip to Buffalo to face a fast improving Bills team that is off to a 5-2 start in 2011. The Bills have used the vastly underrated Fred Jackson, the accuracy of Ryan Fitzpatrick, and an opportunistic defense to get off to their best start in three years. The current Bills team doesn't seem like it will wilt like the 2008 version that collapsed to 7-9. They are 5th in the NFL in point differential. Fitzpatrick is on pace to throw for almost 4,000 yards and 28 TD. At his current pace of a little more than 153 yards a game from scrimmage, Fred Jackson would finish with the second-highest total from scrimmage in the history of the league.
Of course, the defense still gives up a ton of yards, ranking 26th in the league. The difference has been turnovers, where the defense has forced a league-leading 18 turnovers, with the team sitting at a +9 for the season. There is an element of fortune in the turnover game, and surviving through a whole season relying on turnovers can be difficult, it can be done. The 2009 Saints come to mind as a team that was able to get turnovers throughout the season, all the way to a championship.
I feel like there can (and quite possibly will) be a 10-win team that doesn't make the playoffs in the AFC in 2011. The Jets have a chance to position themselves nicely with a win on Sunday. If the team that showed up in the second half against the Chargers two weeks ago makes the trip upstate, the Jets should be able to handle their business in Buffalo.
Shonn Greene ran with a purpose against San Diego, cracking 100 yards for the the first time in 2011. Plaxico Burress made good in the red zone, rescuing yet another uneven performance from Mark Sanchez. I feel like the way Sanchez handles these next nine games will go a long way in determining his development and future with the franchise. Either he can develop in to the kind of accurate thrower that every team seeks, or we are looking at a 56 percent passer who will always hold the offense back. There are still times in the game where he struggles to see the whole field, and I don't know what else has to happen for this to improve. We are about 40 games into the Mark Sanchez experience, and at some point soon he will be close to a finished product. I like the 12 TD to 6 INT ratio, but his accuracy still keeps the Jets from being more efficient offensively.
Are we prepared, as Jets fans, to look back at this era feeling like we had a team that could have won championships if they had a better player at the QB position? Hopefully, Sanchez can develop to the point where we can truly use him as an asset, but he's not there yet. For now, we will all settle for someone who is judicious with the ball and gives his skill people a chance to excel. There will be plenty of opportunities this week against Buffalo (and next week against the Pats) for Sanchez to step forward and lead his team to lots of yards and points. Neither of those defenses are going to be mistaken for the Ravens anytime soon.
If both New York City teams win this weekend, we will have a three-way tie for first in the AFC East, which seemed impossible after the three-game losing streak a few weeks back. The team recognizes how important a win would be, not just for the standings, but for their confidence, as a team that hasn't won on the road yet in 2011, despite being one of the best road teams in the NFL over the last few years. If the defense can control Fred Jackson and continue to run the ball efficiently, they should be able to get a victory over the Bills.
Kickoff in Orchard Park is at 1 pm on Sunday.