- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's been such a long, antic-filled, often teeth-grinding road for the New York Jets just to get to the playoffs. Maybe they deserved to finally get a laugher like Sunday's 38-7 season-ending romp over the highly cooperative Buffalo Bills. Their swagger even made a comeback. But now the real reckoning begins.
From the opening day of training camp, it's been Super Bowl or Bust for the 2010 Jets. And the funny thing is, after all the talking Rex Ryan and the players did in the preseason, after a midseason tear was largely forgotten following their 45-3 humiliation by New England a month ago and after the funk that loss plunged the Jets into for most of December, the best way for this year's Jets to go into the postseason tournament is to look backward as they go forward.
To be the playoff team they can be, the Jets need to return to the formula they used during their playoff run in '09.
Ryan did his part by stepping to the postgame podium and showing he hasn't been cowed by all the past instances this season when the Jets' play didn't keep up with all the checks their mouths wrote.
But the always excitable Ryan stood up Sunday and boldly wrote another check anyway.
"I thought we'd win it [all] last year. I think we're gonna win it this year," Ryan said. "Regardless of who we play, we think we're better than any team out there. ... We want to win the Super Bowl. And we want to do it right now."
The win over Buffalo was meaningless for the Jets as far as their No. 6 playoff seed was concerned. And it was "only" against a Buffalo team that started backup quarterback Brian Brohm and played as if it couldn't get to the offseason fast enough. But the victory did raise the Jets' record to 11-5. And it did leave some of them -- not just Ryan -- talking big again.
When Jets linebacker Jason Taylor was reminded that to get to the Super Bowl the Jets first three playoff games could be against quarterbacks who have six Super Bowl titles between them -- Indianapolis' Manning, New England's Tom Brady and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger -- Taylor looked amused and said, "Then we'll go play Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger. That's just the way it shakes out.
"It's not going to keep me up at night."
How do the Jets feel about a rematch with the Colts, who the Jets led at halftime of last season's AFC title game before Manning brought them roaring back to win?
"We owe them one," Jets tight end Dustin Keller said.
The '09 Jets team had less talent than this year's team does, but it had a pretty straightforward, highly-effective winning formula that the 2010 Jets have only been able to recapture for stretches this year.
When Ryan talked this week about getting back to "Jets football" after a 1-3 record in December, what he meant was the '09 Jets ran the ball more effectively than this team does, and the '09 Jets had a more punishing, big-play defense than the '10 team has mustered. The '09 Jets also saw quarterback Mark Sanchez play far beyond his years and never more strikingly than opposite Manning in the AFC title game. That performance sparked a lot of talk that Sanchez , even as a rookie, didn't find any game too big for him -- if anything, the bigger the game, the better Sanchez played. Being on the road didn't seem to bother the Jets, either.
But Sanchez's reputation took a bit of a hit after the Jets' 45-3 loss at New England a few weeks ago. Sanchez looked rattled and overwhelmed at times.
He threw three interceptions and finished with 164 yards passing.
Then he went out and played well two weeks later in the Jets' must-win in Pittsburgh, where the Jets had never won.
That victory turned out to be the win that saved the Jets' playoff hopes.
Looking now to the playoffs, Ryan would be a glass-half-full guy even if the Jets had lost to Buffalo Sunday while resting a slew of regulars. That's just how he is. But look, as bad as the Jets' loss to New England was, overall the Jets are 2-2 against the Patriots since Ryan and Sanchez arrived last season. They're 1-1 against Indy and Manning, and they're 1-0 against Pittsburgh.
That's 4-3 in the past two seasons against the other powers in the AFC.
So Ryan isn't all bluster. There really is no one the Jets can't beat on a given day.
That's more of the sort of backward thinking the Jets should carry forward with them now, too.
The Jets have a lot of reasons to like their chances. Taylor, who tied former Giants great Lawrence Taylor on the NFL career sack list Sunday, wasn't in New York for the Jets run a year ago. Neither was wideout Santonio Holmes, who had a touchdown catch against the Bills, nor cornerback Antonio Cromartie and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Cromartie and Tomlinson were among the slew of regulars Ryan deactivated yesterday, along with Darrelle Revis and backup halfback Shonn Greene. Still the Jets' defense forced six turnovers, and the Jets beat the Bills by 31, though Sanchez played only the first series of the game and didn't attempt a pass to protect his sore passing shoulder.
Sanchez, who didn't deny he may need offseason surgery for a cartilage problem, said he'll be ready for the playoffs.
"It's going to be all about just trying to win four games in a row now," Sanchez said.
The Jets have already done that twice this season. If they do it again, Ryan will look like a prophet. They'd be Super Bowl champs.
"This game was about getting back to what we do," Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said after the win over Buffalo.
Just in time.
Let the tournament begin.
21hEric D. Williams
2dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo