Rex Ryan doesn't know where this will end up, whether yesterday's stunning 30-27 overtime win over the Patriots will translate into an equally stunning playoff run. What the Jets' coach does know is that it won't surprise him at all if it happens.

"Outside people have no idea about this group. I'm telling you, I know it's special," Ryan said a few minutes after Nick Folk's winning 42-yard field goal with 5:07 left in overtime. "How that means that we're gonna finish record-wise, I don't know. But I know we've got what it takes, in my opinion, to do something great."

It is premature to pronounce Ryan's Jets ready for a playoff run, given that we're not even halfway through the regular season. But almost everyone outside the locker room predicted they would be one of the most wretched teams in the NFL. For them to be sitting at 4-3, one game out of the division lead, sure looks better than the alternative.

At the very least, we all need to take this team seriously. Even if Ryan and his players aren't terribly surprised at how well they've done. In fact, they're not surprised at all.

"We're certainly much better than what ," Ryan said. "I guess that's not hard. We were picked 32nd, but I think we're better than that."

But better to the point of being a playoff contender? No one expected that, aside from the guys who actually control what happens on the field. They've believed all along.

"[The win] gets us close to the playoffs," rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "That's what we're trying to do. Win the [AFC] East. That's the mission."

And that means beating out the Patriots, who have won the division title every year since Ryan took over in 2009. "That's the team you chase," he said. "That's the team we've always chased. You're tired of looking up at them, but at the end of the day, they've earned that."

But it doesn't stop Ryan from pursuing the white whale that is New England. He beat the Patriots in the playoffs after the 2010 season, but not until Sunday had he vanquished them again. In between were some of his more painful memories as Jets coach, including the previous time the Patriots visited MetLife Stadium.

You remember that one last Thanksgiving night, the game that came to be defined by two excruciating, miserable words: butt fumble. It was the low moment of the Ryan era. The Patriots scored three touchdowns in a 52-second span, including one that came after Mark Sanchez ran into Brandon Moore's backside.

Less than a year later at the same stadium, Ryan oversaw one of his proudest achievements with a team no one had expected to do much of anything this season. Except lose.

He told his players before the game how delighted he was with their progress. The result only underscored that emotion.

"I told them how proud I was of them," Ryan said. "It's a team that works their tails off. They're great teammates. With that, I know we're going to get better and we're not where we have to be. We're not even close. But you know what? We're just going to keep making strides, and who knows what happens at the end of the day."

The message from Ryan's speech was simple. This is how Richardson took it: "We've got every opportunity to win the game. We feel like we're better than the Patriots. We're just going to have to go out there and prove it. And we did. That's how I interpreted it."

A reporter asked Richardson if he thinks the Jets indeed are better than the Patriots. He stared at the questioner, paused a moment and replied, "Yeah."

They certainly were better on this day. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith continued to show poise beyond his years, shaking off an early interception return for a touchdown and rallying the Jets. Smith threw for 233 yards and one touchdown and ran for another score. The Jets held Tom Brady to less than 50 percent completions for the second time this season, and Brady's third-quarter pick-6 to Antonio Allen was a huge momentum swing.

There was a little luck in overtime, as the Patriots were penalized when Chris Jones was called for pushing a teammate into the Jets' offensive line on a missed 56-yard field-goal attempt. Folk then made his 42-yarder to win it, putting to rest some of the ghosts of past Patriots defeats.

And also putting to rest any remaining questions about whether these Jets should be taken seriously.


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