FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets were supposed to be dead by now.
Following a 34-0 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4, the vultures were circling and ready for the Houston Texans to bury New York's season -- and maybe even the Rex Ryan era -- in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football.
All of that would be really strange ... if we hadn't seen it twice before. It happened in 2009. It happened again in 2010.
"I know we're the only team in the history of the NFL to overcome two three-game losing streaks to make it to the playoffs," Ryan said, in a hallway near the practice field at the Jets' facility on Wednesday. "We've been down this road before. It's not fortunate, we wish it was a smoother path, but it's not. Our guys only know one way, we put maximum effort out there, we believe in each other, we try to get better each day. And we don't have all the answers, but we know our formula works for us."
But the popular perception that the circus-like atmosphere from the summer, or the head coach's bravado, would abruptly turn a struggling team into a five-alarm house fire has proven false already. And if you look at the Jets' history over Ryan's four years, maybe it was silly for anyone to expect that kind of meltdown in the first place.
In 2009, as Ryan said, the Jets went through two three-game losing streaks, part of a 1-6 stretch that dropped New York to 4-6. Four weeks later, they suffered a crushing home loss to the Atlanta Falcons, after which Ryan thought they'd been eliminated from the playoff picture. They wound up in the AFC title game that January.In 2010, in a game billed as the biggest in the history of the Jets- Patriots rivalry, Ryan's 9-2 team promptly laid an egg, getting blown off the Foxborough turf by a 45-3 count. The Jets looked listless in Miami the next week, losing 10-6. A month later, they went back to Foxborough and beat the Patriots to advance to another AFC title game.
"Rex has a lot to do with it," longtime Jets guard Brandon Moore said of the team's resilience. "His sermon is always, 'I believe you can do it, that's why I brought you guys here -- I know you can do it. We're gonna stick to the formula and show everybody else what we're really made of.' It's all about that. It's not, 'Oh, you lost two games, don't go out there and screw it up again, make sure when I watch the film I don't see this and this.' No.
"It's, 'I believed when I said it in training camp, I believed it when I said it in Week 1, and I believed it when I said it last week, even though we lost.' It's that message. Guys buy into it."
Now, that's not to say Moore doesn't understand the criticism: "A lot of noise has come out of this building, a lot of attention has been paid to what's gone on here, for whatever reason -- some our own fault, some media-driven. But when you play elite teams and you don't play well, it changes opinions of what they think you are and what you're capable of doing. We haven't played well against elite teams."
And other guys understand, too. Bart Scott told me that deficiencies in the run defense and the lack of quarterback hits have made this version of the Jets look different than the ones that made the AFC title game. He also acknowledged that the team needed to shore up those areas, and that the defense must return to being the kind that mystifies opposing passers.
But the Jets haven't used those potholes as an excuse to go careening off the interstate. So here they are, still standing, with a big game Sunday.
"We got dominated by San Francisco, but San Francisco can say the same thing about getting dominated by the Giants," Scott said. "It's not what you do when you get beat, because everybody in this league is gonna get beat. It's what you do after you get beat. You have to look in the mirror, and you can't feel sorry for yourself, or about the injuries. It is what it is. You adjust to what's going on and move forward."
To the surprise of many, that's just what the Jets have done.
At the very least, they've put themselves in a position to play for first place a month-and-a-half into the season, which is more than many expected during their carnival of a summer. And more than just about anyone expected two weeks ago -- except, of course, for the folks who really count.
"People misread the passion of this football team," Ryan said. "I mean, I understand, I'm the biggest culprit of it. You may think it's a negative. But I have dreams. And I'm passionate about them. You're gonna experience some low times, it's not always gonna be an easy path. It might be a little bit crooked. That's the way it is. But we believe in what we're doing, we believe in the people in here, the type of character we have as a football team. That's what you have to have."
Players on the spot
San Francisco 49ers OL Alex Boone: This is contingent on Joe Staley's status. (He suffered a concussion on Sunday and must pass a battery of tests to play tonight.) If Staley can't go, Boone moves over from guard, and will have to deal with the Seahawks' outside pass rush, a daunting task indeed. But it also could be a proving ground for Boone, a guy who slipped through the cracks early in his career for off-field reasons. But also a guy San Francisco coaches love.
Detroit Lions S Louis Delmas: Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said this week that Detroit could blitz much more freely against the Philadelphia Eagles with Delmas back in the lineup for the first time this season. Expect more of the same Monday night, with the Lions looking to test the Chicago Bears' leaky line. But also, expect the Bears to take shots downfield at Detroit's shaky corners, something that will make Delmas an important piece in mitigating potential damage.
Baltimore Ravens ILB Dannell Ellerbe: This one is fairly simple. Ellerbe's flashed considerable potential, but hasn't been the most consistent or dependable player on Baltimore's roster. And now, Ray Lewis is hurt, which means Ellerbe jumps in next to Jameel McClain on the inside of the Ravens' 3-4. In the four games Lewis missed last year, the pairing largely worked. It will need to over a longer period of time now.
New York Jets S LaRon Landry: When New York signed Landry in the spring, the Jets told him they needed help covering tight ends. He told me Wednesday that they didn't specifically cite the Patriots' tight ends, but Landry said it wasn't hard to read between the lines. This is the week. Rob Gronkowski had eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns the last time these teams met. So, yeah ...
Coaches in the spotlight
Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles: Bowles, who is taking the place of recently fired Juan Castillo, played in the NFL and has served as an assistant coach in the league for a long time. But he hasn't called a defense since he was at Grambling in the late 1990s. Years later, when Bill Parcells went to the Miami Dolphins, he brought Bowles in as assistant head coach, with Paul Pasqualoni imported to run the defense. We know Bowles can lead. We'll find out if he can scheme. He has the advantage of a bye week before the Eagles host the Falcons in Week 8.
New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: New England ranks first in the NFL in total offense, third in passing offense and fourth in rushing offense. At times, the Patriots have looked unstoppable. So what's the problem? McDaniels' group needs to figure out its true identity, what it falls back on in crunch time. The Patriots have failed to close strong in each of their three losses, and this offensive uncertainty is definitely a contributing factor.
Something to spot on Thursday night
The San Francisco 49ers' home-field advantage: This isn't about Candlestick. The four-day turnaround isn't easy on players' bodies, especially when there's travel involved. In this season's first five Thursday night games, road teams are 1-4. And now we have the Seattle Seahawks fresh off an emotional home win. Coming back with another big effort would say a lot about Pete Carroll's team.
New York Giants linebackers: It's not like these guys have been immune to criticism. Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins offers a proving ground. Being able to track down Robert Griffin III provides one challenge. Washington's zone-running game and option concepts bring another. And seeing how these guys play RG3, because he'll be in the division for quite a while, could well play into how each club sees its future.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.