Fate is at work, said Calvin Pace.
Long before a five-game winning streak put the Jets on the doorstep of postseason play, he and his teammates believed they were on the verge of redefining themselves and their organization. The results of the past month are not at all a surprise to the Jets, but merely confirmation of what they believed way back in September: They’ve been a playoff-caliber team all along.
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“I think it’s meant to happen. I do,” said Pace, now in his eighth season with the Jets and on the cusp of making the postseason for the first time since 2010. “I’m not going to sit here and make guarantees. We’ve still got business to handle.”
One more win and they’re in.
The Jets (10-5) can earn the final AFC wild card with a victory Sunday at Buffalo or a Steelers’ loss. Rex Ryan’s Bills are the final hurdle.
It doesn’t get any juicier than that.
“For some reason, I just knew it was going to come down to this last game vs. Rex,” Pace said after the Jets’ stunning overtime upset of the Patriots at MetLife Stadium last Sunday afternoon. “It’s just fate.”
But there were plenty of pitfalls along the way.
The Jets’ 4-1 start quickly evaporated as defensive lapses, questionable play-calling and offensive breakdowns resulted in losses to the Patriots (Week 7), Raiders (Week 8), Bills and Texans (Weeks 10 and 11). At the time, their 5-5 record raised questions about Todd Bowles’ aptitude as a first-year coach and whether the wayward franchise was capable of breaking free of its “Same Ol’ Jets” stigma. But all the while, the Jets say they remained unfazed.
“There was still a ton of belief,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, whose career resurgence has helped catapult them to this point. From weeks 7-11, the 33-year-old signal-caller threw seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Since then, Fitzpatrick has thrown 13 TDs and one pick in their five-game win streak.
“Being in the league and having the experience that a lot of us do have, you can recognize when you have a good team,” he said. “The belief has been there since Day One and it hasn’t wavered.”
Said left tackle and Freeport native D’Brickashaw Ferguson: “I think we knew we had a special team even at the beginning of the season.”
Together, they toiled through Bowles’ rigorous training camp. They rallied around Fitzpatrick when the journeyman backup suddenly became their starter after Ikemefuna Enemkpali’s punch broke Geno Smith’s jaw. And they bought in wholeheartedly to Bowles’ vision and his message following their deflating 24-17 loss in Houston.
“It was a point in time where we had to come together or the ship was gonna sink,” Pace said.
The Jets not only righted the ship, but now they’re on the precipice of writing another chapter in their storybook season. And a win over Ryan’s team on Sunday will produce one heck of an ending to their regular season.
Said Ferguson: “Chemistry is always something that’s talked about ad nauseam, but it was definitely something we felt . . . The way that we did [respond to the adversity], it kind of gave us that second wind like, hey, you know, this really is the team that we thought we were.”