FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - In the last two weeks the Jets lost two heartbreaking games that changed the entire tenor of their season. Imagine how different things would've been if they held on against the Patriots and Dolphins and they were 5-2 right now instead of 3-4.
Yes, it's crazy to play the what-if game with such a young team that wasn't expected to do much winning in the first place. But the reality is they were really close to making that fantasy happen. They may have shown their flaws, but they've proven they're a better team than anyone expected.
Now they have to prove they have the ability to bounce back.
That's why the word of the day at Jets headquarters on Wednesday was "resiliency" -- a trait the Jets are absolutely sure that they have. Not all young teams do. Learning how to handle adversity is as difficult as learning how to win. But the most experienced guy in the room is convinced that his young teammates are already there.
"That's the best thing about this group, is that we're resilient," said quarterback Josh McCown. "[Losing in Miami] was a bitter taste, but we've moved on. Everything is still in front of us.
"When it doesn't go your way, to bounce back is the most important thing."
Yes it is, but how can be so sure that these Jets are ready to do that after the emotional swings of the last few weeks? They did rebound from an 0-2 start with a three-game winning streak that included nail-biter wins against the Jaguars and the Browns. But they blew a big first half lead against the Patriots in a game that would've established them as players in the AFC East. And they responded to that by literally throwing away a game in Miami last Sunday that literally would've proven how resilient they were.
So why would this week be any different against a slumping, but still dangerous Atlanta Falcons team? The truth is the Jets can't possibly be sure. They're still in the process of learning how to handle adversity and how to close out games in the fourth quarter (where they've only scored a total of 17 points this season). They haven't really shown they have that clutch, killer instinct.
That's something they still have to learn.
"You have to acquire it at some point," McCown said. "It's a reflection a lot of time of how long a group has been together because as you grow together you get better. You live through those moments where you're not so good - we've had a couple of those, but then we've battled through it.
"The more we're together the better we'll be at it."
For this season, though, time is running out. A loss here puts the Jets at 3-5, meaning they'd need to go 6-2 in the second half at a minimum to be in the playoff chase. With a loaded schedule that includes games against the resurgent Bills, the Panthers and Chiefs, and trips to Tampa, Denver, New Orleans and New England, that seems unlikely, if not completely impossible.
So if they want to have hope for a second-half run, they need to show that resiliency now. That was the focus of the last few days around the Jets facility -- putting the last two losses in the past, and figuring out how to finish these games when they have them in their hands.
"Definitely," cornerback Morris Claiborne said. "You've got teams that start out strong, which we did last week. But we didn't do the right things at the end of the game to come out of the win. Our head coach says it all the time: 'We have to close out games.' You can start fast, but once you get a team on the ropes you've got to be able to go and finish it."
McCown insists the signs are there - in the way the Jets overcame a horrible first half in Cleveland to get a confidence-boosting field goal before the half, and in the way they battled the Patriots to the end after they blew a chance to put them away and then were stung by the replay official overturning an apparent Austin Seferian-Jenkins touchdown. Maybe things didn't work out against the Patriots, but the way the Jets battled back showed something about their toughness.
Or at least they think it did. The only way to really know for sure how tough they are is to see how they bounce back against a tough opponent on Sunday afternoon.
"I'm not curious to see [how the team will respond], I know how we respond to adversity," said linebacker Demario Davis. "We always respond to it in a positive way.
"The thing about this group is we're resilient. We like to meet adversity head on. It's good when we have momentum going, but at the same time adversity is going to happen. That's the good thing about this team: We respond to it in the right way."