So, remember that stretch of games in which the Jets were barely beating inferior opponents, taking two of them to overtime and needing improbable fourth-quarter comebacks to beat the other two?
You know, when you couldn't help wondering if the Jets really were a contender for the postseason because they were winning so ugly?
Well, as it turns out, those four wins over Denver, Detroit, Cleveland and Houston - teams that finished with a combined record of 21-43 - proved to be invaluable preparation for the Jets' unlikely comeback win over the Colts on Saturday night.
Those NFL also-rans are not in the same class as the Colts. But having to face difficult late-game moments during a stretch of games from Oct. 17 through Nov. 21, even against subpar competition, was just what the Jets needed to maintain their composure in the frantic final minutes against the Colts.
"I think some of those games we had early in the season kept guys' hopes up, that if we just stayed the course, even after Vinatieri kicked that field goal, we would be OK," linebacker Bart Scott said.
He was referring to Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal that gave the Colts a 16-14 lead with 53 seconds to play. The best money kicker in football, who made so many critical kicks during the Patriots' run of three Super Bowl victories in four years earlier in the decade, had just done it again in a huge spot.
But the Jets recalled those close calls in the four nail-biting wins earlier this season, including the record-setting back-to-back road overtime victories over the Lions and Browns, and took the field in the final seconds believing they still could win it.
"That's the one thing we talked about before we went on the field," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored two touchdowns Saturday night. "We said, 'Guys, we've done this before.' A few times, we had to go down to two-minute situations to win the game. So we feel comfortable in that situation, and Mark seems to play his best at that time. He seems to forget about everything else that has happened throughout the game and play his best football at the most critical times."
The latest late-game heroics went like this: On the kickoff after Vinatieri's field goal, Antonio Cromartie, who had been singed on a second-quarter touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon, took Pat McAfee's kickoff 47 yards to the Jets' 46 to give his team excellent field position. Sanchez did the rest, completing his next three passes - the last of which was an 18-yarder to Braylon Edwards to the Colts' 14 on a play that Sanchez called himself - to get the Jets in position for Nick Folk's field goal. The 32-yard attempt sailed through the uprights with no time left on the clock, punching the Jets' ticket for a rematch against the Patriots in next week's divisional playoffs.
"It's a got-to-have-it situation," Sanchez said of his pass down the right side for Edwards. "You kind of have those [plays] in your toolbox. You go to it in a time of need."
The Jets needed a play and got one, just as they did during that stretch when many questioned whether they were good enough to reach the postseason. There are no more questions now, especially after Sanchez beat Manning in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game.
The stakes will rise exponentially Sunday in Foxborough. The Jets know they'll have to play a lot better to have a chance, especially with fresh memories of last month's 45-3 shellacking.
"Tremendous opportunity here," tight end Dustin Keller said. "We beat the Colts, who put us out of the playoffs last year, and now we get a chance to get the Patriots, who gave us a bad beating. Two games in a row, it's payback time."
If the Jets can keep this one close in the fourth quarter - a big "if," considering how well the Patriots have been playing - at least they'll have this much going for them: the belief that they actually can pull it off.