EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets are the second team to alternate wins and losses in the first nine games of a 16-game season. Their next task is even more uniquely unprecedented.
"We've been win one, lose one, win one lose one the whole season, right?" Jets head coach Rex Ryan said Sunday afternoon after the Jets' 26-20 upset of the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium. "We're going to lose to the bye week. No question. I'm going to tell you that right now."
Perhaps convincing the Jets they're coming off a loss when they report back to work next week will generate the consistency that has eluded them during a compelling and surprising first half of the season.
The Jets (5-4) were expected to be among the league's worst teams but will instead head into the bye week with a half-game lead over a trio of 4-4 teams in the race for the final AFC wild card spot.
New York is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 2005 New England Patriots, who alternated wins with losses through nine games before winning the AFC East with a 10-6 record and winning a wild card game.
"We've got a long way to go, clearly," Ryan said. "We've got to fix a lot of things still. But hey, I know one thing: We've got a group that's willing. There is no doubt. That's the toughest thing (to find), a group that's willing to get better and work hard to get better."
The Jets' up-and-down resume this year already features a last-second road win at Atlanta and an overtime upset of New England, but Sunday's victory - coming seven days after the Jets were blown out at Cincinnati 49-9 - may have been the least expected.
The Saints (6-2) generated 234 yards and two touchdowns - both on passes from Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham - in their first four possessions as they took a 14-6 second quarter lead. But the Jets continued pressuring Brees, who was sacked twice and threw two interceptions that led to 10 points, and limited the Saints to two field goals and 173 yards on their final seven possessions.
New Orleans couldn't establish a running game - the Saints ran a season-low 13 times for 41 yards - and committed four of its nine penalties after taking the eight-point lead.
"The game really got one-dimensional and part of that's on me," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "I thought our protection and our penalties hurt us today."
Offensively, the Jets crept back thanks to an efficient, run-based attack sparked by Chris Ivory, a former Saint who torched his former club for 139 yards on 18 furious carries.
"To say that you're going against your old team, there's nothing special there - yeah right, it always is," Ryan said, "You want to play against your former team and you want to have a good showing. And clearly, he did."
The Jets were being outgained 154-29 and pinned at their own two-yard-line when Ivory busted off a 52-yard run on the second play of the second quarter to set up the second of Nick Folk's four field goals.
Ivory and Smith rushed for 3-yard touchdowns in the final three minutes of the half - Smith's touchdown was set up by Brees' second interception - as the Jets took the lead for good.
"Anytime you have an explosive play, I think everybody feeds off that," Ivory said.
Folk kicked two more field goals in the second half - his 22nd and 23rd of the year without a miss - and the Jets held the Saints to a pair of Garrett Hartley field goals. New Orleans had to settle for a career-long 55-yard kick by Hartley when its best second half drive stalled due to a penalty and consecutive sacks of Brees that cost the Saints a total of 28 yards.
Brees finished 30-of-51 for 382 yards. Graham, playing through a partially torn plantar fascia, had nine catches for 116 yards.
For the Jets, Smith was just 8-of-19 for 115 yards but didn't turn the ball over and took just two sacks. He committed 17 turnovers (13 interceptions, four turnovers) and absorbed 26 sacks in his first eight games.
NOTES: The Saints, who were already playing without No. 1 wideout Marques Colston (knee), lost all-purpose running back Darren Sproles to a concussion on the first series. ... The Saints used all three of their first half timeouts in the first quarter. ... Saints LB Jonathan Vilma was activated off the short-term IR and made his season debut. Vilma underwent knee surgery in August. ... Jets WR Jeremy Kerley suffered an elbow injury in the first half and did not return. In the third quarter, SS Antonio Allen suffered a head injury while LB Garrett McIntyre was sidelined with a knee injury. ... Three other teams have alternated wins with losses through eight games since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978: The 1983 Packers, 1997 Lions and 2003 Buccaneers and 2005 Patriots. ... Rex Ryan improved to 5-0 when opposing his brother, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Rex Ryan-coached Jets beat a Rob Ryan-coached defense in 2010 (Cleveland) and 2011 (Dallas). Rex Ryan was the Ravens' defensive coordinator when Baltimore beat Oakland -- where Rob was the Raiders' defensive coordinator -- in 2006 and 2008.