After last week's 34-0 annihilation by the 49ers, a loss that Rex Ryan called the worst in his four seasons with the Jets, you'd figure the coach would be at least a bit more hopeful about the state of his team after what happened Monday night.
Sure, the Jets lost again, falling to the Texans by a 23-17 count, but they were able to hang with a team generally considered the best in the AFC.
They were in it until Mark Sanchez's fourth-quarter pass attempt near midfield ricocheted off tight end Jeff Cumberland's hands and into the waiting arms of Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, dashing any remaining hopes of a miracle finish.
So isn't there something positive Ryan can take away from this one?
"This is a win business," he said. "Absolutely not. We knew we'd be in the game and we had to find a way to win it. That was our message the whole week."
But as demoralizing as the loss might have been, Ryan has to be encouraged at least at some level. After all, his injury-riddled team, already without star receiver Santonio Holmes and All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, went toe-to-toe with a Texans team that had beaten its previous four opponents by a combined 70 points, the largest differential of any team this season.
Sanchez was at least serviceable after being mauled the week before by the 49ers' relentless defense, and he was in position at the end to drive the Jets to the go-ahead touchdown. It was a scene similar to the one Sanchez faced two years ago against the Texans; in that one, he found Holmes in the end zone for a dramatic last-second touchdown that won it.
"It was eerily similar to a couple of years ago when we hit Tone for the touchdown on the game-winning drive," Sanchez said. "This time we came up short, and that's the way these things go. We just have to be in there and hang in in the fourth quarter."
But unlike his coach, who was not into moral victories Monday night, Sanchez was at least willing to concede that the performance did boost his team's collective confidence level.
"The objective is to win, so everybody's upset," said Sanchez, who was 14-for-31 for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which came off tipped passes. "But at the same time, you've got to give yourselves a chance to win, and we did that tonight. Were there mistakes? Absolutely. Can we clean some things up? Of course. But I'm proud of the way guys hung in there. We just have to be in it and give ourselves a chance."
The Jets were in it because their defense held Houston to three field goals with some strong play inside the red zone, because Joe McKnight invigorated the team with an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, and because the offense did just enough to stay competitive with a Texans team that wasn't quite on its "A" game during its first Monday Night Football appearance of the season.
Houston started off in dominating fashion, going 85 yards for an effortless touchdown on its first drive. But the Jets settled down nicely, allowing only one big gain by All-Pro running back Arian Foster, a 46-yard burst up the middle in the first quarter.
Foster did run well most of the night against a Jets run defense that has underperformed all season. But the Jets were sturdy inside the red zone, forcing Houston to settle for three field goals and staying in it until the end.
On a night when speculation swirled that Tim Tebow would receive a dramatically increased workload, this still was Sanchez's offense. He started off well enough, firing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Cumberland to tie it at 7 late in the first quarter.
But late in the second quarter, after driving the Jets to the Texans' 12, he attempted a slant pass to receiver Jeremy Kerley. The play might have gone for a touchdown, but Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, one of the league's emerging stars, saw that he didn't have time to rush Sanchez, so he stayed close to the line of scrimmage and leaped when Sanchez delivered his pass. The ball deflected off Watt and right to cornerback Brice McCain, who returned it 86 yards to the Jets' 9. So instead of going into halftime tied at 14, the Jets gave up a late field goal and trailed 17-7.
Sanchez had another pass deep in Texans territory batted down by Watt, who helped hold the Jets to a field goal that cut Houston's lead to 23-17. The Texans' defense then withstood Sanchez's final drive to put the game away, extend their record to 5-0 and send the Jets (2-3) to their second straight loss.
But at least there's something to build on here. With the Jets' schedule featuring a home game next week against star rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts and then the AFC East rival Patriots in New England, the Jets can ill afford to remain stuck in a psychological ravine.
Which is why the good effort against Houston might be beneficial moving forward. At least the Jets know they can compete against an elite team, something they couldn't have said after walking off the field against the 49ers a week earlier.
"We kept playing hard to the last whistle, and that's all you can ask for," linebacker David Harris said. "You have games like this in a season, and you've got to somehow take something from it and move forward."