Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is sacked by New York...

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is sacked by New York Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace during the second half of an NFL football game in Baltimore. (Nov. 24, 2013) Credit: AP

Calvin Pace sighed heavily, unsure of what to say this time around.

The Jets again find themselves here: in need of outside help in order to reach the playoffs. But neither they nor their coach know why that's become a theme in recent years.

"That's a good question,'' Pace said Wednesday. "I don't have an answer for it.''

At 5-6, the Jets are in must-win mode. Back-to-back losses to the Bills and Ravens have stalled the momentum of their surprisingly promising start and resulted in the loss of much-needed tiebreakers in the AFC playoff race.

"We are behind the eight ball,'' Pace said, "and we put ourselves there.''

"We've lost head-to-head [matchups] against three opponents that have the same record we do,'' Rex Ryan said, referring to their losses to the Titans, Steelers and Ravens -- all of whom are vying for a wild-card spot.

That's why beating the AFC East rival Dolphins on Sunday is paramount.

"We pretty much gotta win. That's it,'' defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said.

A win would be the next step toward their goal. It also would carry even more significance for Ed Reed.

The veteran safety hasn't won a game since the Super Bowl last February, when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Since then, he's suited up for two different teams, the Texans and the Jets, and he's still winless.

When asked this week about his personal losing streak, he stressed that football is a team sport. "I'm not playing this game by myself. There's not 53 Ed Reeds or 46 Ed Reeds dressing out there on Sunday -- that would be the Super Bowl,'' he joked.

" . . . When we do win, I might dump Gatorade on myself, so be looking for that.''

Center Nick Mangold downplayed the importance of keeping tabs on other teams, adding that Sunday's game against Miami is nothing more than a division game.

"Anything beyond that doesn't need to be thought about,'' the eight-year veteran said.

It's also hard to ignore the fact that the Jets won't be able to earn a playoff spot on their own. Even if they win out, they'll need teams such as Tennessee, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Diego to lose games.

"I'd actually say every year has been like this, because my first year, I think we had the same exact records as we have right now,'' Ryan said of having to rely on outside help.

The Jets lucked out in 2009 when the Colts pulled Peyton Manning early in Week 16, paving the way for 19 unanswered points by the Jets in a 29-15 win. The victory not only snapped the Colts' 23-game regular-season winning streak but allowed the Jets to earn their first playoff berth since 2006 by beating Cincinnati the following weekend.

In 2010, the Jets finished 11-5 and clinched a berth by Week 15. But in 2011, the Jets were 8-5 before losing their final three games. And in 2012, the Jets were a game out of the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture at 6-7 before finishing the season 6-10.

But outside help won't do the Jets any good unless they take care of the task at hand -- starting Sunday.

"There's a lot of things that go into it, so clearly we recognize that this is a huge game for us,'' Ryan said. "Whether mathematically it eliminates you from things, it probably doesn't, but our urgency is the fact that we feel we need to win this game. Absolutely.''

Notes & quotes: For the second straight day, Antonio Cromartie did not practice because of a nagging hip injury. Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring) and Kellen Winslow Jr. (knee) did not practice either, but both veterans likely were given rest days. Mangold (wrist), Jeremy Kerley (elbow), Chris Ivory (ankle) and Garrett McIntyre (knee) were limited.

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