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Jets hopeful but still have work to do

Running back Thomas Jones #20 of the New

Running back Thomas Jones #20 of the New York Jets runs away from defensive back Ronde Barber #20 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (December 13, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

Their three-game winning streak has given them a renewed sense of hope, bringing them closer to the carrot dangling in front of their facemasks.

Barely a month ago, the Jets were considered Turnpike roadkill, left for dead along with their playoff aspirations. They took shots for talking a better game than they were playing.

But look who's knocking on the playoff door and getting help lately from seemingly everyone but Santa's elves?

Still, the Jets (7-6) aren't about to get too wrapped up in postseason talk yet, not after failing to back up their earlier bold words. They understand they're not even close to the exit that gets off on Postseason Road - a highway they haven't traveled since 2006 - and must keep things rolling, beginning with today's game against the Falcons (6-7) at the Meadowlands.

"We have to handle our own business before we can even talk about playoff scenarios," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "Just the next team in line. I don't think we put any more emphasis on this game than we did last week. We have to go out and perform defensively. Stop the run, create some turnovers and disrupt whoever plays quarterback, whether it is Chris Redman or Matt Ryan."

That's what makes this game a bit tricky for the Jets. Ryan is questionable because of a nagging turf toe injury. He sat out the previous two games and was limited in practice in recent days, as was workhorse running back Michael Turner, who also is questionable. Turner, who was well on his way to another 1,000-yard season before a high ankle sprain did him in, hasn't played in three of the Falcons' last four games.

But even if the two don't play, the Jets know they can't take the Falcons lightly.

"Those guys didn't play last week and they almost beat one of the better teams in the NFL," defensive end Marques Douglas said, referring to Atlanta's 26-23 loss to the undefeated Saints. "So that will humble you right there. Chris Redman is a veteran, Tony Gonzalez is still catching the ball and somehow, some way, they are still moving the ball on offense. We've got to try to find out a way to stop them."

Of course, the status of the Jets' own franchise quarterback was up in the air until Friday, when Rex Ryan named Mark Sanchez the starter. Sanchez, who missed last week's win in Tampa and stayed in New Jersey to rehab the sprained right PCL he suffered Dec. 3 against Buffalo, will wear custom-made braces on both knees.

The rookie's return could turn out to be a memorable experience for him, considering the Southern California native figures to face extreme wintry conditions at Giants Stadium.

"I feel good," Sanchez said. "I am excited to play. I know there are going to be many more , so I plan to get used to it."

He probably should get used to handing the ball off a lot to Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, too. Atlanta's defense is ranked 29th in the NFL and is No. 23 against the run.

"There are some teams where when it's a bad-weather game, they don't know what to do," Rex Ryan said. "With us, we're going to know what to do . . . This time of year, especially in our [division], I think you need to be able to run the ball. You need to be able to stop the run. You have to play lights out on defense. Our team is built for playing in December."

The question is, are they built for January and will they play past their Jan. 3 regular-season finale?

Even with a victory over the Falcons, they almost certainly also would need to beat the Colts (14-0) and Bengals (9-4) to do so. Even then, they'd need some help. But they're still alive and kicking at the moment, which is the first step."It's all you can ask for," Pace said. "We need some help from a couple of other teams, but we just have to worry about handling our business and win these last few games. It's not a task that's not achievable. It's about everyday practice and going out there and handle our business on Sunday."

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