Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets weren’t expected to win many games this season. Now, with five remaining, they can’t afford to lose.
The Jets (5-6), once perceived as one of the NFL’s biggest surprises, have dropped two straight for the first time. The feel-good vibes are fading away, and so are their playoff hopes.
On Wednesday, several players weren’t shy about characterizing Sunday as a make-or-break game.
“Definitely, no question,” linebacker Quinton Coples said. “At the end of the day, we must win all these regular-season games. That’s our plan, that’s our approach.”
Technically, the Jets still are tied for the second wild-card position in the AFC, but they’re tied with five other teams, including the Dolphins. The Jets already have lost to three of those teams and they have a 2-6 conference record, worst in the AFC — factors that would hurt them in tiebreaker scenarios.
“We have to win the rest of them,” linebacker Calvin Pace said.
Coach Rex Ryan, once known for his bold predictions, didn’t use the words “must-win,” but he didn’t try to downplay the importance of the game — a sentiment he shared with the team.
“Clearly, we recognize this is a huge game for us,” he told reporters. “Whether it mathematically eliminates you, it probably doesn’t, but our urgency is the fact that we feel we need to win this game, absolutely.”
Not many expected the Jets to be in contention come December, but they changed the landscape with big wins against the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. They reached the bye week at 5-4, fueling playoff chatter and praise for Ryan, who was considered a lame duck at the start of the season.
But their offense was dreadful in back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens, with fans clamoring for rookie quarterback Geno Smith to be benched. Smith has 22 turnovers, including six in the last two games.
Ryan has stood behind Smith, although he didn’t rule out the possibility of backup Matt Simms receiving some first-team practice reps before the end of the week.
“It’s creating a sense of urgency for this team,” wide receiver David Nelson said of the recent struggles. “This is it. You can’t get yourself in a 5-7 hole.”
Nelson said the current situation “lights a fire under our guys. The last couple of weeks, we were leading (for the second wild card). Now it’s all or nothing.”
Several players said they sensed a sharper focus before and during practice, with Nelson calling it their best Wednesday practice of the season.
“I just don’t want guys to panic,” said Colon, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “That’s the worst thing you can do.”
- Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
- Syracuse University graduate