Jets were Super chic two years ago, too

The 2008 Jets lost four of their last five games and missed the playoffs. Brett Favre and Eric Mangini were gone after the season. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

A bye week isn't merely time for a team to unplug and refresh itself for the rest of the season. The break provides an opportunity to self-scout, take inventory, contemplate.

The New York Jets are coming out of their bye week with a 5-1 record. They're atop the AFC East, have won five straight and are getting healthier by the day.

There's ample reason to be optimistic about January and February.

Pensive players who've been around a couple years, however, know the dangers of early success. They couldn't help but reflect on 2008, when the Jets were the toast of the NFL at 8-3, crumbled down the homestretch and failed to make the playoffs despite a league-high seven Pro Bowlers.

"That 8-3 is a big one that's still fresh on the minds of many guys in the locker room who don't want to repeat that debacle," Jets center Nick Mangold said Tuesday afternoon.

A debacle it was, and then some.

Those Jets became chic Super Bowl favorites by winning five games in a row. They scored 56 points on the Arizona Cardinals (who eventually won the NFC) and posted back-to-back victories over the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, who went into their game 10-0.

The Jets proceeded to lose four of their final five games. Brett Favre threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions in that span. Their hopes essentially were extinguished before the Miami Dolphins kicked off in the regular-season finale at the Meadowlands.

"It was a horrible feeling from where we were after beating New England and Tennessee," Mangold said. "We were on top of the league. We were doing great things."

The Jets have undergone significant upheaval since their 2008 collapse. They fired head coach Eric Mangini and replaced him with Rex Ryan. They parted with Favre and traded up to draft Mark Sanchez. They've added key components on both sides of scrimmage and special teams.

But a good chunk of that devastated '08 team remains, and many of them make up the leadership core, including four-fifths of the offensive line, fullback Tony Richardson and cornerback Darrelle Revis.

"I just take 2008 as a learning experience," Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace said. "You take the good and the bad from it and continue to move on.

"What it means is you need to handle your business when you can."

AccuScore's forecast, a computerized projection based on performances and the strength of future opponents, gives the Jets an 81.2 percent chance to make the playoffs.

Since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 1990, teams that begin a season 5-1 make the playoffs 83.6 percent of the time.

"With our focus being that Super Bowl champion, we've been more in the moment," Pace said. "Every game is more about us and not going out there and not doing stupid things with penalties. We feel like we can be our own worst enemies at times as far as making mistakes.

"We just have to maintain and keep it going. You can go out and win five in a row and then lose two or three and basically wipe all that out."

When the Jets were 8-3 two years ago, AccuScore's forecast gave the Jets an 80.3 percent chance to make the playoffs.

Since 1990, all the other teams that started a season 8-3 made the playoffs 93.1 percent of the time.

That underscores the reality that -- every now and again -- the pitcher connects for a home run, the hockey goon scores a goal, the long-shot prizefighter lands a knockout punch.

"It really hit home there's nothing guaranteed in the NFL no matter where you're at until the end of the season and everything's panned out," Mangold said.

That lesson was reinforced last year, but in the opposite manner.

Ryan publicly declared his team mathematically eliminated from the playoff race after a Week 15 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but the Jets actually possessed a minuscule chance.

"We thought we were done," Pace said. "By the grace of God we found out some good news that we were still in it."

All the AFC teams the Jets needed to lose did, and with the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals benching their best players over the final two weeks, the Jets crashed the tournament.

The Jets had to feel like a team of destiny. They went on the road to upset the Bengals in the first round and the San Diego Chargers in the second round. In Lucas Oil Stadium, the Jets led the Colts in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game before their unlikely run concluded.

The way the Jets defied the percentages last year, they must be careful not to feel they're owed anything this time around. The young players, especially, need to be warned of the pratfalls.

Everybody in the Jets' locker room needs to be mindful of 2008.

"Guys who were here and can talk about it are able to let everyone else know 'Hey, we've got to keep fighting,'" Mangold said. "Even though things are going well now doesn't mean they have to go well later."