Jets face 'do-or-die game' vs. Bills

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets haven't won the AFC East since 2002, and it's not going to happen this season if they lose Sunday to the Buffalo Bills.

So says LaDainian Tomlinson.

Even though the calendar says early November, the future Hall of Famer called it a "do-or-die game" -- echoing the sense of urgency that coach Rex Ryan has tried to create coming off their bye week.

"Let's be honest: This next month is going to tell us if we're going to be champs of the AFC East, and that's the way we need to look at it," Tomlinson said Thursday. "It starts with this game because we can't be champs if we don't win this game. It's a big challenge. It's one of those situations where you can really say this is a do-or-die game."

He might be right.

The Jets (4-3) trail the division-leading Bills and New England Patriots (both 5-2), and they've already lost to the Patriots, who lost to the Bills. After this game, the Jets return home to face the Patriots, a crucial back-to-back that probably will determine their fate in the division.

After six road playoff games the last two seasons, including trips to the AFC Championship Game, the Jets' goal in 2011 is to secure at least one home playoff game. But that means capturing the division, and their chances took a big hit during a three-game losing streak from Weeks 3 to 5.

All three losses came on the road -- and now they're hitting the road again to face the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Jets used to be a good road team -- and mediocre at home -- but they've flipped the script. Counting the playoffs, they've dropped four straight on the road. Before that, they had a 13-3 stretch away from home.

The steak ends now, according to Ryan.

"That's something that kind of digs at us right now, but I think we'll break the trend this week," said the outspoken coach, adding, "We need to win, there's no question. You're not going to go anywhere if you can't win on the road."

There are two common denominators in all three road losses: They played good teams and they fell behind quickly.

At Oakland, the Jets' defense came out flat, surrendering a five-play, 76-yard touchdown drive on the Raiders' first possession.

At Baltimore, quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbled on a strip sack -- the Jets' first play -- and it was returned for a touchdown.

At New England, the Jets fell behind, 7-0, after allowing a long touchdown drive and the offense went three-and-out on its first four possessions.

"We just haven't handled the beginning of the game well," said Tomlinson, adding that the team needs to improve its focus.

The focus issue will be a focus this week because the Jets are coming off their bye -- and they're 0-2 under Ryan immediately after the bye. Nevertheless, Ryan still gave the players a six-day break. On Monday, their first day back, he challenged them to raise their intensity.

"I thought he did a good job of setting the tempo, and it's been a really, really good sharp week of practice," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said.

They can't afford a lackluster performance Sunday against the revitalized Bills, who happen to be 4-0 at home. The Jets needs to be trend busters -- theirs and Buffalo's.

"We get an opportunity to change the script," nose tackle Sione Pouha said. "We're looking forward to going out there and breaking that streak."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.