By: Mark Cannizzaro
Go ahead and daydream, Jets fans.
Let yourself in.
Go ahead and go … there.
To borrow from former Colts coach Jim Mora’s memorable 2001 postgame visceral rant: “What’s that? Ah … playoffs? Don’t talk about … playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game. Another game.’’
There was no talk of the playoffs coming out of the Jets locker room after they battered the Bills, 34-21, Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated.
The Jets, after all, are 4-5 and just ended a three-game losing streak and are still in last place in the AFC East.
But there’s more to this than the numbers.
Firstly, during the Jets’ three-game losing streak they held second-half leads in all three games (two touchdown leads in two of them) and lost by seven points to the Super Bowl champion Patriots, three points to the Dolphins on the road and three points to the Super Bowl runner-up Falcons.
Secondly, even the most ardent Jets detractor cannot deny that that Jets are an improving team with developing young talent that has become one of the surprises the NFL.
And thirdly, take a look at the AFC standings. It’s not exactly a conference loaded with dominant teams.
Take away the 6-2 Patriots, who lead the AFC East (what else is new?) and will win it yet again, the 6-2 Chiefs, who lead the AFC West and will likely stay there, and the 6-2 Steelers, who lead the AFC North and are the heavy favorite to win that division, and what you have are a lot of teams that are just like the Jets: In the mix.
Every team has its issues, even the aforementioned division leaders.
So, why not the Jets?
Because they were supposed to go 0-16 and be tanking for a college quarterback that analysts will overrate so grossly by NFL Draft day that he’ll be touted as the next Brady-Rodgers-Brees hybrid?
Too soon to talk playoffs?
It’s never too soon to talk about the playoff picture in the 16-game NFL season, in which trends and teams’ fates changes weekly (just ask the Texans, who lost Deshaun Watson for the season to a non-contact knee injury in practice Thursday).
Are we saying the Jets are going to make the playoffs?
But, given where the Jets stand right now in the middle of the muddle of nine AFC teams that are either at .500 or within in a game of it on the north or south side, you cannot argue that they haven’t at least inserted themselves into the playoff conversation.
Because they have.
As we stand right now, a 4-3 team is an AFC wildcard team.
Should the Jets go to Tampa on Nov. 12 and beat the Buccaneers, who at 2-5 entering Sunday’s game against the 5-2 Saints in New Orleans are one of the disappointments in the league this season, the Jets get to 5-5 in time for their bye week.
If that happens, the Jets will have matched their 2016 win total with six games still remaining in the season. With Thursday night’s win, they surpassed the over-under mark of 3 ½ wins that Las Vegas oddsmakers set for them before the season.
The potential back-to-reality aspect to this is the Jets remaining schedule isn’t exactly conducive for a second-half run. After Tampa Bay, the Jets have home games against the Panthers (who are 5-3), and Chiefs. Then they play road games in Denver (3-4) and New Orleans. They close the season with a home game against the Chargers (3-5) and a road game at New England.
Whatever happens in the next two months, though, the Jets have made themselves relevant in a season during which they were expected to lead the league in irrelevance.
Asked what the Jets “showed’’ people with their convincing win over the Bills as home underdogs, the always-understated (and that’s an overstatement) Jets coach Todd Bowles said, “I don’t know if we showed them (anything). I know we showed ourselves that we’re going to play hard and fight, and if we correct certain things we have a chance to win some ballgames. I think the guys know that, so I’m proud of what they’ve seen for themselves.
“As a whole, we’re getting better,’’ Bowles went on. “I still think we have another gear to get to.’’
If the Jets find that gear, they have a chance not only to make the playoffs, but to become one of the most compelling storylines to this NFL season.