Commentary

Go ahead and start believing, Jets fans

This version of Gang Green giving long-suffering supporters reason for optimism

Updated: October 15, 2010, 7:57 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They've overcome bad injuries, bad weather, a bad offensive game, a bad defensive game, bad clock management and bad behavior off the field.

And yet here they are, one of the hottest teams in the NFL, visiting the Denver Broncos Sunday with a chance to tie their longest winning streak of the century -- five games.

These are your New York Jets, flawed but fearless -- a good team even on bad days. They know how to win, an acquired trait seldom associated with this franchise.

The Jets' 9-2 record over the past 11 regular-season games is the best in the league, and it could easily be 11-0. There was that last-second loss to the Atlanta Falcons last December (Tony Gonzalez!) and the one-point defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

Do you believe in this team? Or are you reluctant to buy in because of the heartbreaks of seasons past?

"We're trying to rewrite history, not relive it," safety Jim Leonhard said. "Rex [Ryan] has tried to change the mentality. We're not Little Brother anymore, we're not second fiddle to any team. We feel like we've put together a team that can do special things. We're going to walk it, we're going to talk it. On Sundays, we have to prove it."

This team is far from a juggernaut, but it has perfected a winning formula. The Jets have become like the New England Patriots of 2001 and 2003, a mature team that rarely beats itself and figures out how to win with a play or two in the fourth quarter. The Jets have more playmakers on offense than those early championship teams in New England, but you get the drift.

Consider: The Jets have turned their two bugaboos from last season (too many turnovers and three fourth-quarter collapses) into positives. They've gone four consecutive games without a turnover, tying an NFL record, and they've pulled out three games that could've gone either way in the fourth quarter.

"We learned a lot last year, and we've carried over some of those lessons to this year," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said.

What the Jets are doing is really simple. It starts with a good plan from the coaches, and here's all the proof you need on that: They haven't allowed a first-quarter point in five games, the longest stretch in team history. That means they're well-prepared.

They're also not doing dumb things with the football. Remember Shonn Greene's fumble in the second quarter of the opener? That was the Jets' last giveaway -- 274 minutes, 9 seconds without a turnover. You can't help but play winning football when you protect the ball that well.

Much of that, of course, stems from Mark Sanchez, who hasn't thrown an interception in nine months. As a rookie, he committed 23 turnovers in 935 plays -- one every 40 snaps. This season, it's zero in 310 plays, a ridiculous improvement.

"For the most part, when you look at his decision grade, it's far and above what it was last year at this time," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "His decision grades are clearly in the high 80s to 90s, and last year it was probably high 60s, low 70s -- a big, big jump."

The Jets have experienced some slippage with their pass defense, largely because cornerback Darrelle Revis has played in only 2 games because of a balky hamstring. They've been able to overcome some bad numbers, thanks to timely interceptions and sacks, but their resourcefulness will be put to the test by the Broncos (2-3).

If the Broncos were any more pass happy, they'd be in the Arena League. Kyle Orton is averaging 48 pass attempts over the past three games, with an underrated corps of wideouts that could produce three 1,000-yard receivers -- Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney. It's a New England-like passing game (coach Josh McDaniels' roots) that attacks all parts of the field.

The Jets realize their defensive stats might not look pretty, especially if Revis doesn't play, so they will have to take a complementary approach. They should be able to keep Orton under the 300-yard mark if their running game plays keep-away, controlling the clock. A big play or two on special teams, which is becoming a weekly occurrence, also would help.

There will be other challenges. Coming off a Monday night game, the Jets have a short week, long travel and the altitude factor in the Mile High City -- a bad combination. Looming is a one-week vacation, Ryan's promise to the team for its bye week.

Distractions? You bet, but the Jets have a way of dealing with this sort of stuff; it's almost part of their DNA. In seasons past, this would be a clunker, for sure. This team adapts.

Go ahead, it's OK to believe.

"It's human nature. [Fans] just don't want to buy in because they've been disappointed before," Leonhard said. "I understand, but this team is different."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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