ST. LOUIS -- By beating up on the helpless St. Louis Rams, the New York Jets gave us a question to ponder: Was it the start of a turnaround or just a postmortem spasm -- you know, a muscle twitch by a cold corpse?
The latter seems more likely, but the answer will be known by the time your turkey is digested on Thanksgiving night. The Jets bought themselves at least four more days of season with their 27-13 victory Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, creating at least a little drama for their holiday rematch with the New England Patriots.
To their credit, the Jets didn't make any "We're back!" proclamations. Because they're not back. They're a 4-6 football team -- "a long way out," Rex Ryan said after his first win in 35 days. "We have to keep slugging it out and find a way to get out of it, punch our way out."
Better that than being a punch line, which is what they would've been if they had lost to the Rams and former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
The Jets avoided that debacle with a solid, all-around performance -- well, except for a couple of special teams hiccups -- and you could feel a palpable sense of relief in the locker room. It wasn't because of what they accomplished; it was because of what they avoided.
After a tumultuous week that included the "Terrible" Tim Tebow controversy, public comments by an angry Woody Johnson and a private meeting with Johnson and his football brass, the Jets were on the edge of a cliff -- a "desperate" team, Ryan said Friday.
No coach wants to get summoned to a meeting with the owner, even an owner who spends a lot of time around the team anyway, so you can bet there was a lot of tension within the organization. A three-game losing streak feels like forever in the NFL.
"It was a positive thing," Ryan said of the pow-wow. "It was more about, 'How can we improve?' That was the tone of the meeting. Obviously, we know how the passion Woody has -- and we all have. We know he's not happy. Nobody is happy when you're 3-6."
Embattled general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who chatted with a couple of reporters as he left the locker room, smiled publicly for the first time in more than a month. He said the 45-minute sitdown with Johnson, which included Ryan and all three coordinators, was "a productive meeting." He credited the victory to Ryan and his leadership.
Tannenbaum was hoarse, and you know it didn't get that way from his infamous radio interview Friday. His voice sounded like the Jets' season before Sunday -- fading.
Now, hope -- albeit faint.
"It seems like in some of our toughest times, we end up playing our best football," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "It's a fast way to lose your hair and turn your hair gray, but whatever it takes to win. We've got to get wins. I think this team can really turn it around."
The Jets turned it around after an awful start, falling behind 7-0 on a 13-play, 86-yard touchdown drive that made Schottenheimer look like he had received a copy of his old team's game plan.
After that, the Jets got burned on a fake punt that fooled no one and, continuing the special teams folly theme, allowed a blocked field goal for the second time in three games.
Their hearts skipped a beat when Chris Givens returned a kickoff 98 yards for an apparent touchdown -- until it was nullified by a holding penalty. From there, the Jets took control.
"It's a big relief," safety Yeremiah Bell said. "We needed a win in the worst way."
No one needed it more than Sanchez, who emerged from a two-game funk. Operating a conservative game plan, he completed 15 of 20 passes -- two of the incompletions were drops -- for 178 yards and a touchdown, a 25-yarder to Chaz Schilens.
Sanchez didn't make any of his usual killer mistakes, partly because coordinator Tony Sparano didn't allow him. On two third-down passing situations in the red zone, the Jets called draw plays for Bilal Powell, who scored his first two career touchdowns -- runs of 5 and 11 yards.
Sanchez quieted the Tebow noise by managing the game and committing zero turnovers. The Jets ended a drought of five straight quarters without an offensive touchdown.
"It was a great performance by him," Ryan said. "We really needed it."
After the opening drive, the Jets' defense was terrific, forcing three turnovers and harassing Schottenheimer's new pet project, Sam Bradford, who completed only 23 of 44 passes for 170 yards. He was terrible. The Rams are a rebuilding team with a lot of issues; they're 3-6-1 for a reason.
Give the Jets credit for smelling blood and attacking, trying to make something of a season that still has its share of dark clouds.
"We weren't going to back down, we weren't going to fold and we weren't going to throw in the white flag," defensive tackle Mike DeVito said.
Ryan acknowledged there was "a lot of pressure coming from outside in," alluding to the anonymous criticism of Tebow. The coach insisted the adversity would galvanize the team; he was right -- for one day. Now they get the Patriots at home.
"We can't come up for air," Ryan said.
That's assuming, of course, they're still alive.