The New York Jets were winners in the standings without even taking the field over the weekend.
The coaches and players returned Monday from a bye-week break with the Jets sitting just one game out of a playoff spot, despite a 4-6 record and four losses in their last five games.
“We definitely still have high hopes,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “And people are coming to practice with high energy and feel pretty positive about the rest of the season.”
That’s because the AFC playoff picture is a jumbled mess at the moment.
At 5-5, Baltimore holds the sixth and final postseason spot. But Buffalo is also 5-5 after a 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Miami, the Jets, Cincinnati, Houston, the Chargers and Oakland are all 4-6.
“I think everybody knows that we still have a chance at a run for the playoffs right now,” Williams said.
The Jets hardly face an easy task with their final six games, starting Sunday at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers (7-3).
Next up is another home game against Kansas City (6-4), then they’re at Denver (3-7), at New Orleans (8-2), home vs. the Chargers and at New England (8-2) to finish the regular season.
“We are playing some good teams coming up,” right guard Brian Winters said, “but the ball’s in our court and we can decide what we want to do with it.”
New York is coming off a tough 15-10 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 12, when the Jets couldn’t get much going on offense or defense despite the Buccaneers being without quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans.
That had some fans and media counting them out in the big picture, even if the Jets hit the break still a confident bunch.
“We never got down or anything,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “We know what type of team we are and we know what type of players we’ve got.”
Losses by Buffalo, Miami and Oakland on Sunday put New York right in the middle of things again, something that wasn’t lost on the players as they got back to work.
“I think it energizes us more than anything,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “We can’t look back, obviously. Every team that has lost any game this year, across the league would look and wish they had it back, especially if you are in the AFC. But more than anything, it energizes us to know that we’re still in the thick of things here with the last six weeks to play, and we just have to go out and play good football.”
That’s much easier said than done, of course. Especially for a team that has been frustratingly inconsistent all season.
Blown fourth-quarter leads, lack of a steady pass rush and way too many penalties have all been major culprits in New York’s 4-6 mark.
“I mean, heck, I feel like we can beat any team that we line up against,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a matter of what New York Jets team shows up. The one that played dominantly in every phase of the game? Or the one that might shine offensively and not show up defensively?
“If we want to keep winning all these games, we’ve got to try to find a way to win all three phases. Otherwise, chances are slim for us.”
The goal, as coach Todd Bowles said, is for the Jets to win all of their remaining games and to let everything else play itself out.
That might seem far-fetched at the moment. But they haven’t lost by more than seven points in any of those defeats, a 24-17 decision against New England being the biggest of those losses.
“We believe we could be in a better situation with having let some of those (games) get away from us,” McCown said. “But more importantly, we’re sitting here right where we wanted to be with six games left to play as far as in the playoff hunt.
“So, that’s all you can ask for. Now, the challenge is up to us, and we have to go meet it.”