EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn't the most original or colorful statement that Rex Ryan has ever uttered. Not even close. But when the New York Jets look back a couple of months from now, something Ryan ordered three weeks ago could be remembered as the Ten Words that Saved the Season.
The Jets had just been beaten up by the Baltimore Ravens, and not just beaten badly, on Sunday night national TV. The Jets' offense couldn't do a thing. The next day an admittedly irritated Ryan stood at the podium at the Jets' training center and, knowing a game at New England and the very real possibility of a three-game losing streak was now bearing down on his team, he repeated a variation of this phrase 13 times:
"We have to get back to running the football better," Ryan said.
And: "We built this team to be able to run the football. We have to."
And: "We're a team that prides itself on running the football."
The Jets had a mere 38 yards rushing in that nightmare against the Ravens, the second of two games played without Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. But they had a season-best 162 yards on the ground Sunday in their 27-21, comeback victory over a San Diego Chargers team that came to MetLife Stadium with a 4-1 record and the lead in the AFC West.
For the first time this season, the Jets finally played the sort of all-around game they need to play if they're going to make another deep run in the playoffs. The offense was far more balanced and unpredictable, but in a good way for a change. The Jets' defense picked off two passes and threw a second-half shutout. Third-year back Shonn Greene finally got his first 100-yard-rushing game of the season -- 112 yards on 20 bruising carries. Wideout Plaxico Burress had only 25 receiving yards, but three of his four receptions were for short touchdowns. Finally.
And Ryan didn't underplay what it all meant.
"We saw the team that we envisioned at the start of the season," Ryan said. "We were slow to get it going. But we saw it."
Afterward, Jets veterans knew the significance of how they won, too. They didn't default to saying they needed to watch the game tape first.
Many of them volunteered that by returning to being a run-first team they've done more than grab two straight must-wins. They've started recovering a mindset and an identity, too.
"This is Jets football -- this is the way Rex Ryan wants it, and it's a winning formula," LaDainian Tomlinson said.
"This is something we can build on," guard Brandon Moore agreed. "Everybody laughed at us when we told you after the New England game that we were improving [despite losing]. But the guys in here, we understand. It's coming."
The Jets take a 4-3 record into their bye-week break. Division games against Buffalo and a home rematch with New England are waiting for them on the other side. But if the Jets can win both of those games, they'll jump-start the Super Bowl talk that Ryan temporarily shelved after the Baltimore loss. Back then, Ryan said: "Right now, we're not going to the Super Bowl. We're not even in the playoffs [hunt], so how can we get to the Super Bowl?"
Asked if the coaching staff got too caught up in wanting to throw the ball more the first month of the season, Ryan allowed, "That's a possibility."
The Jets made early-season mistakes, all right.
And now that they've been through some fires and they're back to winning a little again, some now-it-can-be-told admissions were leaking out in the locker room Sunday about just what some of their miscalculations were.
The Jets thought Mark Sanchez's passing would be able to carry the team more because this is his third year, and they believed the changes and depth they had on their retooled offensive line would prove better than they've been. But until now, that hasn't happened. Ryan predicted Derrick Mason would catch 90 balls and Burress would have 10-reception games. But Mason was such a disappointment the Jets dumped him, and by last week, Ryan's perennial Super Bowl-or-Bust talk had been shrewdly trimmed back, too. Instead of overreaching, the message now is just win one game, and then the next one; just get back to building "brick by brick."
Sunday, Sanchez stood by his locker and said all the excited talk about what adding Burress might bring was great, but he also admitted having new receivers for the third straight year has been tough on him -- something he's often been loath to concede until recently.
"You can't just plug in someone after throwing to Braylon [Edwards] for two years and it's all better, everything's fine now," Sanchez said. "People expect results right away. That's not the way it works."
A few lockers away, Tomlinson, too, independently volunteered how people always talk about the Jets' back-to-back AFC title game trips, but what they forget is, "That was a different team. We have a lot of different guys now that weren't a part of that."
Meaning? "We're still finding our way," Tomlinson said.
But the way the Jets won Sunday was a step forward.
They finally looked like a playoff team again.
"We had the ability to run it, had the ability to throw it and it just keeps the defense off balance," Sanchez said. "We're back on track, I think. I think when the running game is doing a great job, it takes a lot of pressure off Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer], it takes a lot of pressure off the wideouts and the pass protection."
And it all started around those 10 words that Ryan uttered in desperation. Ten words that just might've saved their season: We have to be able to effectively run the ball.
"Sure, it feels good," Moore said Sunday on his way toward the door. "Running the ball is who we are."