Rex Ryan never met a challenge he didn't like. But the real question is whether his players can handle the playoff-type pressure from here on out.
The Jets (3-5) have only themselves to blame for the corner in which they now find themselves. And after providing assurances this past week that they will reach the postseason, the stage is set Sunday for either a monumental upset win in Seattle or a devastating blow.
Latest Jets stories
To avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight season, the Jets must do the following: corral a rookie quarterback whose home-field passer rating (120.2) is tops among all NFL signal-callers; shut down a shifty running back who is second in the league in rushing yards (881) and best known for busting through tackles, and, finally, defeat a confident Seahawks team that is 5-4 overall but 4-0 at CenturyLink Field.
"It's about as tough of a venue as there is to play in the National Football League, so let's have at it," Ryan said. "Obviously, you go out there with a mission to win. That's what we hit the field to do. You believe you can win, regardless of who the opponent is or where you play and everything else, and that's us."
The Seahawks' home-field advantage and the presence of their dreaded "12th man" are well-documented. But emotions will be running just as high for the Jets in this pressure-packed road environment. Pride is on the line for Ryan and his players.
For the Jets to win, quarterback Mark Sanchez, who turns 26 Sunday, must play well. But he'll have to do so against his former USC coach, Seattle's Pete Carroll, who once declared him unready as a college junior for the bright lights of the NFL.
Bragging rights also will be on the line for the Trufant brothers, Isaiah (Jets) and Marcus (Seahawks), who will face each other in competition for the first time.
But the biggest issue is this: The Jets must prove to their critics that there is substance behind their words and that there is reason for their fan base to believe the season is not lost.
"We definitely have to win on Sunday," said Antonio Cromartie, who was the first Jet to declare this past week that they will make the playoffs. "We put ourselves in a hole by being 3-5. We stand 2-2 in our division. So the biggest things for us is, we've got to make sure we turn it around for the second half of the season."
Members of the Jets' defense said Friday that they have the tools to rattle Wilson, who has garnered much-deserved attention for his poise and pocket awareness. Sanchez, on the other hand, must prove he can be trusted to reroute the Jets' wayward season. While the league has taken notice of Wilson and the rest of this year's talented rookie draft class (i.e., quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill), questions still remain about Sanchez's ability to get the Jets' makeshift offense moving.
"We're in a tough spot right now," said tight end Dustin Keller, Sanchez's favorite target. "We still have an opportunity. The season isn't wasted or anything like that. It's just a matter of capitalizing.
"Obviously, not a lot of teams that have gone into that environment [at CenturyLink Field] came away with a win, but it's definitely very doable and we feel confident we can get it done."