Jets want to win Monday night just as badly as Falcons do
Their photos are printed on a single sheet of white paper taped to Antwan Barnes' locker.
On the left is Lamar Holmes. Beneath him is Jeremy Trueblood. And on the right is a close-up of Matt Ryan's face staring back at onlookers.
Barnes goes through the same weekly ritual of posting pictures of the opposition. And this past week, the pair of Falcons offensive tackles and their quarterback, nicknamed "Matty Ice," have been the focus of his game prep.
"I've gotta get my sacks up," said the outside linebacker, who has two in four games.
The Falcons once were considered a Super Bowl favorite, but they've started 1-3. After dropping back-to-back games to the Dolphins and Patriots, they are desperate for a win against another AFC East foe: the Jets (2-2) on Monday night at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
But as Barnes made his way through the team's Florham Park facility toward the cafeteria Friday, he admitted much is at stake for the Jets as well.
"We're desperate, too," he told Newsday. "We're 2-2 and we should've been 4-0."
As he walked, Barnes explained that there's really no difference between 2-2 and 1-3. Even at .500, the Jets are just as needy as the Falcons, he said. And with games against the Steelers, Patriots, Bengals and Saints on the horizon, the Jets can't afford to lose ground now.
Rex Ryan's team may not face lofty expectations from the outside, but the standards within the locker room are particularly high. So when reminded that the Falcons are in serious need of a win, the Jets were quick to point out they are, too. "Damn right," Barnes said. "'Cause you don't know which way the season may go based on that loss. So yeah, we're desperate, too."
Sheldon Richardson agreed.
"You're one game away from being under .500. So most definitely, we're desperate for a win," the rookie defensive tackle said. "And that's probably one of the best 1-3 teams I've ever seen on paper. Ever.
"So it's nothing to be taken lightly. The [other] teams came in and beat them. And we have to do the same."
Though the Falcons ruled out running back Steven Jackson, they have a potent passing game that features Julio Jones, who entered Week 5 as the NFL's leading receiver at 120.2 yards per game. "Julio is an aggressive, strong, physical, nasty player," Jets receivers coach Sanjay Lal said. "And I mean that with every sense of compliment."
Atlanta also has Roddy White, a future Hall of Famer in Tony Gonzalez and a speedy and reliable pass-catcher in slot receiver Harry Douglas.
Not surprisingly, the Jets are 10-point underdogs, but they aren't interested in moral victories. "We just want to win," Ryan said. "So if that proves we're a contender or whatever, [winning is] our mission.
"If we cover the point spread and don't win, we don't feel good about it," he added with a laugh.
The Jets also know the spotlight will be far brighter on a national stage. Every misstep, missed throw and missed tackle will be scrutinized and overanalyzed. "It's going to be on everybody, everybody. Even the Falcons," Barnes said. "They're in a position where they're 1-3, so they've got to prove themselves too. So it won't just be us."