Jets return to scene of last year's elimination
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The Jets walked off LP Field last December deflated and angry, cursing themselves for having let a playoff berth slip through their fingers for the second straight year.
Despite allowing Titans running back Chris Johnson to break off a 94-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and even after Mark Sanchez threw an interception into quadruple coverage with 1:51 remaining, the Jets still were in position to pull off the improbable on prime-time TV.
At 6-7, their only hope of reaching the playoffs was to win out. But with 47 seconds left and his team at the Titans' 25, Sanchez fumbled away a low snap from Nick Mangold, sealing their defeat.
Memories like those don't fade away easily.
"That's never how you want to end a game," right tackle Austin Howard said. "That was a really bad feeling."
But the new-look Jets -- armed with an aggressive defense and a fresh-faced quarterback in rookie Geno Smith -- aren't concerned with the past any longer.
On Sunday, they're back in Nashville, where their 2012 season was laid to rest, with renewed confidence and conviction.
"That game was, pretty much, make or break for us to go to the playoffs," linebacker David Harris said. "And we didn't get the job done. But that was last year. It's a new team, a new scenario, and we're just trying to go down there and get this victory."
Like the Jets, the Titans are 2-1 and playing better football than many expected. And coach Mike Munchak has the benefit of having Johnson, who is seventh in the league in rushing yards per game (85.3). But while Johnson -- who agreed to a four-year, $53.5-million contract extension in 2011 -- is averaging 3.7 yards a carry, Bilal Powell is churning out 4.3 for the Jets.
Powell isn't a flashy name, but he's durable and consistent. And after starting running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) was forced to leave last week's win over the Bills, Powell put up career numbers in yards (149), carries (27) and longest gain (27). If the Jets expect to get the passing game going, Powell and the Jets' offensive line will have to do their part.
"They're extremely physical," right guard Willie Colon said of the Titans. "They fly around and they're an overall solid team. That's a team where I feel like, we can't just walk in and feel like we're going to have our way with them. We've got to show up and fight 'cause this is a scrappy team."
After playing three games this season decided by a total of 11 points, the Jets are confident in their ability to fight to the final whistle and come out on top, Howard said. And they have a quarterback who has demonstrated poise in the pocket and an ability to bounce back from bad plays.
"He's very mature," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of Smith's demeanor on the sideline. "Well beyond his years."
"He's playing well, he's composed," Colon said. "I love everything about him. He comes to practice every day, he's a hard worker. You can tell the show's not too big for him. He's ready for it."
And so are the Jets.
Howard acknowledged that the Titans, who boast the seventh-best overall defense, will be a tough assignment. But when reminded that the Titans are extremely athletic and active on both sides of the ball, the 6-7 right tackle just smiled.
"Yep," Howard said. "And so are we."