ST. LOUIS -- Just keep fighting.
It was a simple message from Rex Ryan, but one that held much weight with his players.
Days after the coach declared they were "desperate" for a win, his players responded with a resounding 27-13 victory over the Rams Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
One win won't turn around their season, but it's a step in the right direction. Perhaps more importantly, it was a defining moment for Ryan, who, in the face of yet another controversy, showed he has control over his perceived unruly locker room.
Behind an impressive showing by quarterback Mark Sanchez (15-for-20, 178 yards), two 51-yard field goals by Nick Folk and two rushing scores by Bilal Powell, the Jets improved to 4-6 at the expense of their former offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer. And now they have some much-needed momentum heading into their Thanksgiving night game against New England.
While the Jets are desperate to be .500 again, the Patriots are 7-3 after routing the Colts, 59-24. Nevertheless, despite having only three days to prepare for Bill Belichick, the Jets remain confident.
"It's New England,'' defensive end Mike DeVito said. "We'll be fired up and ready to go."
The last time the Jets were 4-6 was 2009, when they made their first playoff run under Ryan. That factoid wasn't brought up Sunday , DeVito said, "but we know what's ahead of us. We still have a plan, we still plan to make the playoffs. We believe this team can do it. And this was the first step to doing it."
The Rams (3-6-1) struck first as Sam Bradford (23-for-44, 170 yards) threw a 1-yard pass to a wide-open Brandon Gibson for a 7-0 lead with 3:45 left in the first quarter. But the Rams didn't score again until the fourth, when Gibson caught a 2-yard pass to make it 27-13.
The Jets, however, had no trouble finding the end zone. Sanchez completed 9 of 13 in the first half for a 123.2 passer rating and finished the game at 118.3. He looked in control throughout, throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens and a 32-yard completion to Jeremy Kerley in the second quarter. Sanchez was sacked three times but didn't throw a single interception.
"It was what we needed," Ryan said of Sanchez's play.
"Believe" had been Ryan's refrain after a 28-7 loss in Seattle last week. But Sanchez said Ryan's message Sunday was "don't doubt your preparation."
"When you're backed into a corner, you have to keep fighting, and keep the faith, keep believing,'' Sanchez said, "because as soon as you start to doubt, that stuff is contagious."
"We're running out of games," safety Eric Smith said. "If we're going to make the playoffs, we've got to make a run. We needed it to start today."
Ryan -- a man simultaneously beloved and despised for his boastful nature -- didn't oversell his team Sunday. His Jets played well, but they clearly benefited from facing a hapless team that repeatedly derailed its own momentum. Case in point: Chris Givens' 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter was nullified by a holding penalty.
It was a lucky break for the Jets, who minutes earlier took their first lead after Muhammad Wilkerson's strip-sack of Bradford. The ball was recovered by Bart Scott, who, despite a hyperextended toe, returned it 38 yards. Schilens' TD two plays later made it 10-7 -- the Jets' first lead since their overtime loss in New England on Oct. 21.
"We needed a win in the worst way," Ryan said. "So we can enjoy it for about five hours and then it is on to the next opponent. We know that we are a long way away, we are 4-6 and we can't come up for air."
His players were just as practical about the road ahead.
"It's just one game. That's all it is," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "Now we have a short week. We're looking forward to Thursday night. We have to move on as quickly as possible."
And it seems the controversy that clouded the media coverage this past week -- spawned by anonymous locker-room quotes about Tim Tebow being "terrible" -- was just white noise for Ryan's players.
"All that stuff, it's over with," linebacker Bryan Thomas said. "It didn't tear us apart."