FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
It is small consolation for a season that probably won't end well, but there is at least something going right for the Jets. Despite losing four of their last five games to slip to 4-7 and fall further behind in the wild-card playoff race, they're not engaging in a common practice that afflicts losing teams: pointing fingers at one another.
Not yet, anyway.
Unlike last year, when they missed the playoffs after a late-season meltdown, there isn't the same kind of bickering and locker room tension that was as big a problem as the losing. In fact, there isn't any bickering at all, a testament to Rex Ryan's insistence that his players are unified, regardless of the game-day results.
"It's because we're a team and we care about each other, even though saying something like that probably won't make the newspaper," veteran nose tackle Sione Po'uha said. "We've invested a lot, and we don't give up. The best way to get this thing done is to hunker down, put our shoulder to the wheel and keep pushing. We have to win games and prepare to win games."
Winning hasn't happened enough this season, and chances are the Jets will not turn things around the way they did during the 2009 season, when they rallied the second half of the season to qualify for the playoffs. They went to the AFC Championship Game in both 2009 and 2010. Not only is their record not good enough, especially in a conference in which four teams are ahead of them in the race for the two wild-card spots, but they simply haven't shown they're capable of playing well enough to go on a late-season run.
That 49-19 loss to the Patriots on Thanksgiving night was an embarrassment, and one of the low moments of the Ryan era. The Jets committed five turnovers, surrendered three touchdowns in just 52 seconds in the second quarter, and offered far too many "football follies" moments. The lasting memory was Mark Sanchez running into the backside of guard Brandon Moore, losing the ball, and watching helplessly on the ground as the fumble was returned for a touchdown.
"It's unfortunate," center Nick Mangold said. "[Sanchez] tries to slide, runs into his own guy, makes a blooper reel, probably for the ages, and it just showed how bad things probably were. We can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot."
Mangold agrees the Jets remain a tight-knit group despite the on-field misfortune, although that only gets you so far in this league.
"Guys are fighting for each other," he said. "We're fighting to make sure we don't have the same mistakes. We can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot. You can be the tightest team ever, but if you turn the ball over five times, that's not going to help any team."
He's right about that. All the good feeling in the world can't hide that this team has played poorly for much of the season, especially against quality opponents. The Jets are 1-6 against teams with a winning record, and they've been routed at home by the 49ers, Dolphins and Patriots.
The only potential promising news looking forward is that the Jets' final five games are against teams with losing records, starting with Sunday's home game against the Cardinals. Arizona has lost seven straight games after a 4-0 start. After the Cardinals, the Jets face the Jaguars and Titans on the road, then host the Chargers, and finish the season at Buffalo.
They're all winnable games, but not if the Jets continue to make costly mistakes. Sanchez needs to step up his game in a big way -- how many times have we said that before? -- the running game needs to be more consistent, and the defense can't continue giving up the big play. Easy to say, but pretty much impossible for the Jets to execute on a week-to-week basis.
But at least there isn't the infighting that would make the losing even more painful. At least not yet, anyway. If the Jets continue losing, there's no guarantee they'll refrain from blaming one another. But so far, there isn't the enmity that defined last year's team.
"Last year was last year, and we have a lot of new faces on our team," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "The way you get through it is for everybody to stick together and believe in each other."
And the coach.
"We believe in Rex," Mangold said. "I don't see Rex out there false starting, or dropping the ball, or throwing an interception. I haven't seen Rex do any of that. We just have to clean it up, and it will all look better in the end."
The way they've played lately, it can't look much worse.