Bill Kostroun, Associated Press
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Everything seems to be falling into place — again — for Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.
They've got a three-game winning streak, the offense is finally clicking and the defense is shutting down opponents. The teams they're competing with to make the postseason also lost Sunday.
"It's playoff time right now," Ryan said. "That's how we've approached it every game."
It's beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when the Jets appeared out of the mix late in the season, only to bounce back, get a couple of breaks and make it all the way to the AFC championship. After all those struggles and moments of panic earlier this season, the Jets (8-5) suddenly control their playoff destiny.
"Our approach doesn't change," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "We're still in a fight for the playoffs. I mean, one game could change everything for us."
Such as this week at Philadelphia, when the Jets take on the Eagles (5-8) in a matchup that appeared a lot sexier in the summer when New York lost out to the NFL's "Dream Team" on getting prized cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The Jets aren't taking the game lightly, though, not against a team with Michael Vick that still has an outside shot at getting to the postseason.
"I think we understand the importance of these games late in the season," quarterback Mark Sanchez said after the Jets' 37-10 win over Kansas City on Sunday. "We understood, especially my rookie year, and this year we missed opportunities early in the season and anytime you do that you want to try to make up for them. And guys understand that, we understand the kind of wild-card race we're in.
"So, I think we just find a way to click, and that's important late in the season."
Tempering the Jets' excitement, though, was the news Monday that starting safety Jim Leonhard is out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
"(The mood) is kind of mixed because of what happened to Jim," center Nick Mangold said. "He's a great leader, a great player for us. But, we have injuries and guys have to step up, so I think guys are excited about the opportunity after winning three straight and we've got a big challenge ahead of us in Philly."
Leonhard was hurt after making an interception in the second quarter and will now be forced to only watch for the second straight year as the Jets try to reach the postseason. He broke the same leg last season almost exactly a year ago.
"That's going to be a huge loss for us," Ryan said.
If there's any consolation, New York knows it can win without Leonhard after going deep into the playoffs last season. It's not the ideal situation, but then again, that's how the Jets have operated much of the time during Ryan's three years in New York.
Two years ago, the Jets entered Week 15 on a three-game winning streak — just as they will this season — but lost to Atlanta at home to fall to 7-7 and see their playoff hopes placed in serious jeopardy. Ryan even mistakenly thought their shot at the postseason was over. But then, they beat a previously undefeated Indianapolis team that rested Peyton Manning and a playoff-bound Cincinnati squad that had nothing to play for.
Lucky breaks and all, the Jets soared into the AFC championship game. Cornerback Darrelle Revis said last week that this year's team reminds him an awful lot of that bunch. The season appeared as if it might start spinning out of control after a deflating loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos a few weeks ago. Instead, the Jets have bounced back — as they always seem to do.
A loss Sunday, though, and New York will have to start relying on lots of help again.
"Pressure either brings out the best or worst in players," Sanchez said.
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