Back-to-back wins have turned the New York Jets into a viable playoff contender, but the usually bold and boisterous Rex Ryan is tempering any enthusiasm - for a change.
Ryan and the Jets will try to improve their postseason chances by continuing to capitalize on a favorable schedule Monday night when they visit the struggling Tennessee Titans.
It seemed inevitable that New York (6-7) would miss the playoffs for the second straight time after a 49-19 home loss to New England on Thanksgiving.
The Jets, though, have responded, albeit in less-than-convincing fashion.
With the remaining five games against opponents with losing records, New York began the stretch with a 7-6 win over Arizona two weeks ago before winning 17-10 at lowly Jacksonville in Week 14.
The victories revived the Jets' flagging season, putting them in contention for at least the final playoff spot.
"I'm not going to guarantee a playoff spot," a unusually toned-down Ryan said. "I think part of that is, look, the fact that we're one game under .500, I think you're probably not in the playoff conversation."
Ryan may realize New York needs considerable help if it's going to reach the postseason. He's also well aware of his team's offensive issues after the Jets totaled 559 yards - including 216 passing - over the last two games.
Still, the Jets' remaining schedule is very friendly. After facing the Titans (4-9), they'll host San Diego (5-8) before concluding the regular season at Buffalo (5-8).
"We just need to keep our head down and keep winning games," Ryan said. "We know the only way we can affect it is to win our games and then we'll see what somebody tells us."
Mark Sanchez has continued to struggle despite less-than-stellar competition. The Jets' embattled quarterback is 22 of 40 for 208 yards with three interceptions and a fumble over the last two games.
He didn't even throw the only touchdown pass in that stretch, as third-stringer Greg McElroy had it against the Cardinals after replacing Sanchez.
Sanchez's last TD pass came in the final minutes against the Patriots, a game remembered for him running into his lineman's rear end, causing a fumble that was returned for a score.
He should have a familiar target to throw to this week after the Jets claimed Braylon Edwards off waivers from Seattle. The receiver passed his physical and Ryan was optimistic about his chances to play Monday.
Edwards was a member of the team that reached AFC championship games in 2009 and '10.
The outspoken Edwards already came to Sanchez's defense on Twitter last week after debate raged as to whether he or McElroy should start.
"I played there," Edwards wrote. "Blame the idiots calling shots. Mark is a beast and will (prove) it when given a proper chance."
With Sanchez struggling, New York will likely rely heavily on the running game again after Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell combined for 317 of the team's 343 yards on the ground the past two games.
They may be in for another productive performance since Tennessee allows an average of 127.0 rushing yards, tied for 23rd in the league.
New York's defense has been excellent the past two weeks against the NFL's two worst offenses and the Titans are only slightly better, ranking 23rd with 331.9 yards per game.
Tennessee, though, does have Chris Johnson, just the eighth player in NFL history to run for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.
"It's real special to be amongst some elite company," Johnson said. "Just give God a lot of thanks being able to stay healthy all the first five years I've been in the league and to be able to go over a thousand yards each of those years."
Johnson, however, has been held to 175 yards on 53 carries while failing to reach the end zone during the Titans' three-game slide. He was held to 44 yards on 19 rushes in last week's 27-23 loss at Indianapolis after Tennessee blew a 20-7 halftime lead.
The Titans, who will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season, were dealt another blow when tight end Jared Cook was lost for the year with a torn right rotator cuff. Cook is second on the team in receptions (44) and third in yards (523).
Despite calls for improvement from owner Bud Adams, coach Mike Munchak feels the Titans are headed in the right direction.
"That's not my worry or my decision," Munchak said. "My job is to get these guys, we have to win football games. I get that. But I think it's all about, for me, is knowing that we're heading in the right direction.
"I feel we're doing that. I feel we're not getting the wins, and I get that. And that's what I'll be judged on when it's all said and done."
The Jets will have backup quarterback Tim Tebow active after he missed the last three games with two broken ribs, but Ryan said that Tebow will likely not run the wildcat or participate as the punt protector on special teams.
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