EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — This was the New York Jets team Rex Ryan had promised all season.
The offense jumped out to a quick start and kept going. The defense smothered the Kansas City Chiefs and was downright stubborn.
"All the way around," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said, "this was probably our best team effort."
No doubt about it.
Mark Sanchez threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores as New York cruised to a 37-10 victory Sunday and improved its positioning in the AFC playoff race in a big way. The Jets (8-5) leapfrogged Cincinnati, Tennessee and Oakland, all 7-6 after losses, and took over the last wild-card spot.
"It's just what we've been talking about for the last 12, 13 weeks," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "It all came to form today, which is what we needed. We kind of hold our own destiny in our hands and it was about getting a good win."
Holding on to that playoff spot won't be easy, and the Jets know it. They play at Philadelphia next Sunday, the Giants on Christmas Eve and then at Miami in the regular-season finale. Win them all, though, and they'll be in the postseason for the third straight year under Ryan.
"Our goal has always been to go to the Super Bowl," left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "This year is no different. The season has kind of had ups and the season has kind of had downs, but we're still fighting to get there. That's the original goal and we're sticking to it."
The Jets, plagued by slow starts all season, opened with a timeout — and boos from the MetLife Stadium crowd — because they had the wrong personnel on the field, but rebounded to score 28 points in the first half and were helped by an inept Chiefs offense that managed just 4 total yards in the first two quarters.
"I was happy we had another opening-drive touchdown," Sanchez said. "It set the tone early, and we converted on some big third downs and didn't get too many third downs, which was good. We had some explosive plays and the run game really took off."
Sanchez was 13 of 21 for 181 yards and became the first Jets quarterback with multiple touchdown passes and runs in the same game before being pulled for Mark Brunell. Shonn Greene had a season-high 129 yards rushing and a score along with three catches for 58 yards, and Santonio Holmes and Tomlinson each caught touchdown passes for the Jets, who have won three straight and improved to 6-1 at home.
It might have been a costly win, though, as starting safety Jim Leonhard was lost early with an injured right knee after an interception. He was scheduled to have an MRI exam Monday. Many teammates thought it could be season-ending, but the team was awaiting the results before making an official determination.
"I'm hopeful it's not that bad," Ryan said, "but it's never good when you need help coming off."
Tyler Palko was sacked five times by the Jets in a miserable outing by the penalty-plagued Chiefs (5-8) a week after the quarterback earned his first victory as a starter at Chicago. He was 3 for 8 for 11 yards in the half and the Chiefs had 4 total yards and one first down, compared to the Jets' 16. Palko had a much better second half, finishing 16 of 32 for 195 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"The Jets put a lot of pressure (on you)," Palko said. "That's just what they do. They're a lot like the Steelers. They have guys all over the place."
Dwayne Bowe dropped a would-be touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter, but things got ugly for the Chiefs way before that.
In the most brutal stretch for Kansas City, the Chiefs were penalized five times for 81 yards during the Jets' final touchdown drive. One of those was an unsportsmanlike conduct call on coach Todd Haley, who let his frustrations out on the officials. Kansas City finished with 11 penalties.
"That generally gets you beat," said Haley, who wouldn't elaborate on what he said to the officials. "The one thing we can't do is lose our composure on calls."
Sanchez's 1-yard run on a naked bootleg gave the Jets a score on their first drive, the second straight game they've started with a touchdown, but it began ominously as he had to call the timeout. An 11-play, 77-yard drive followed — and the Jets were off and running.
Sanchez connected with Holmes for a 4-yard touchdown, Greene ran for a 7-yard score and Tomlinson had a nifty 19-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass to make it 28-3 at halftime. It marked the first time the Jets scored that many points in an opening half since scoring 40 against St. Louis in 2008.
"I love the way we started the game," Ryan said.
Haley, of course, didn't share that sentiment.
"It was probably our worst half of football," he said. "I don't know if it's even close this season."
Things really started getting out of hand in the third quarter when the Chiefs were called for three straight penalties, including the unsportsmanlike conduct on Haley. A few plays later, Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis were called for consecutive pass interference penalties, bringing the ball to the 4. On third-and-goal, Sanchez took the snap and rolled into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown — his career-high fifth TD run of the season — and a 35-3 lead.
"It felt good to put a lot of points on the board and dominate," Greene said.
One of the few highlights for the Chiefs came when Jerheme Urban caught a 24-yard touchdown pass — in between four Jets defenders — to make it 35-10.Comment on this story
"It was just too little, too late," Palko said. "It was very frustrating starting a game like we did today."
Notes: Jets NT Sione Pouha tackled RB Jackie Battle for a safety late in the game. ... Chiefs K Ryan Succop badly botched an onside kick attempt that traveled 3 yards early in the fourth quarter. ... Chiefs S Jon McGraw left in the second quarter with an injured left ankle and didn't return. ... Chiefs RB Thomas Jones had just 12 yards on five carries, but passed Eddie George and Tiki Barber for 22nd on the NFL's career list.