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.
What the Jets said
"Every time I think we're close, it's always something [happening]. I don't know what the recipe is yet. All I know is all we can do is have good practices, get everybody healthy. We'll take it one play at a time and get it done." -- Offensive guard Willie Colon on the Jets' inability to string together consecutive wins this season
What the Saints said
"Overall (there were) times where we maybe shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. Credit to (the Jets), they get pressure or kind of get us off-rhythm and we weren't able to convert or we'd get penalties and we'd get into some third-and-long situations." Quarterback Drew Brees
What we learned about the Jets
1. The Jets are much better at home than on the road. Rex Ryan said afterward the Jets - who have alternated wins with losses through the first nine games - would figure out a way to lose to the bye next week so that they'd win on Nov. 17. Better yet, can Ryan convince the Jets that they're playing every game at MetLife Stadium? The Jets improved to 4-1 at home Sunday and continued to play the efficient, smash-mouth style they need to win games with a rookie quarterback at the helm. In their five home games, the Jets have rushed for 730 yards (an average of 146 yards per game) and committed seven turnovers. In four games on the road - where the Jets are 1-3 - they have rushed for 431 yards (an average of 107.8 yards per game) and committed 10 turnovers. The Jets' next two games are at Buffalo and Miami, so Ryan's task during the bye week should be figuring out how to replicate the MetLife experience in upstate New York and south Florida. "We have a long way to go," Ryan said. "Clearly, we have to fix a lot of things still, but I know one thing: We have a group that's willing, and that's the toughest thing. When you have a group that's willing to get better and work hard to get better, that's where we are."
2. Defensively, the Jets showed some impressive maturity and resiliency in not allowing the Saints to parlay their first four offensive series - in which New Orleans scored two touchdowns and generated 234 yards - into a rout. The shifty Drew Brees eluded at least two sacks during those four possessions, but the Jets continued pressuring him and eventually sacked him twice while forcing him into numerous errant throws. Credit should go as well to Rex Ryan, who kept mixing and matching against Jimmy Graham after the Saints' all-world tight end racked up four catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Ryan finally put linebackers - led by David Harris - on Graham, who was limited to five catches for 44 yards in the second half.
"If you can say it was outstanding after a guy throws for 382 yards against you, 'It was outstanding!'" Ryan said jokingly. "Really, it was, we made some plays. By the way, you guys see what I am talking about with Dee Milliner? I think he was a little better today. Ok? The kid played his butt off. Like I said, he's going to be there. He's going to be there. But if you want to bet against me on a defensive player, go for it."
What we learned about the Saints
1. The Saints didn't seem to want to try to establish the run against the Jets' league-best run defense, and it may have cost them the game.
New Orleans set season lows for carries (13) and yards (41), and while it would be easy to blame the lack of productivity on the early exit of Darren Sproles - who suffered a concussion on the game's opening series - the truth is the Saints really could have used bruising power back Khiry Robinson, who averages a team-high 4.4 yards per carry but was inactive Sunday to make room for Mark Ingram, who missed the previous five games with a toe injury and had 19 yards on four carries Sunday.
"When we ran it, I thought we did some pretty good things," coach Sean Payton said. "We knew they were going to be a good run front coming in, but I thought we did some things that helped give us some balance."
Robinson probably wouldn't have channeled Chris Ivory - the ex-Saints back who bludgeoned New Orleans for 139 yards - but he could have provided a change of pace with the Jets harassing Drew Brees and finally containing Jimmy Graham in the second half.
2. Sean Payton can in fact get too cute. The Saints' head coach has a well-deserved reputation as a brilliant and maverick play-caller - nobody will ever forget how his onside kick to start the second half of Super Bowl jumpstarted the Saints' title-winning comeback - but he really hurt the Saints by dialing up an end-around on 4th-and-1 from the Jets' 36-yard-line midway through the fourth.
Payton and Brees said the Saints had the play in mind for days, but the Jets read it perfectly and Quinton Coples wrapped up tight end Josh Hill for an eight-yard loss.
"Listen, it was a short-yardage call we felt pretty comfortable with," Payton said. "They made a good play on it. They stayed at home. The first short-yardage call we ran, which I guess they got the timeout called prior to us running it, so then we came back with the little play-action (pass) and then that last call."
The Saints were down nine points at the time, so it's hard to argue with going for it. But there was a better way to go for it - perhaps with a power back - than the method Payton chose.