FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets were looking like anything but a playoff contender.
Then, they pulled off an upset victory last Monday at Atlanta, and the postseason didn't seem so silly a notion. Now, after a disappointing loss to Pittsburgh, they're right back where they were.
And, this all came within the past week.
It has certainly been a roller-coaster season already for Geno Smith and the Jets, who are 3-3 and searching for some consistency.
"Obviously, we have to get better," coach Rex Ryan said, "and that's where our focus is going to be."
Are they more the team that couldn't get much going against Tennessee in a 38-10 loss two weeks ago and Pittsburgh in a 19-6 defeat on Sunday?
Or, are the Jets more the team that squeaked out that 30-28 stunner against the Falcons?
Perhaps, of course, they are somewhere in between all that.
Either way, Ryan and the Jets might get their answer soon as New York takes on three straight first-place teams, starting against New England on Sunday.
"I think we'll get a better sense this week," center Nick Mangold said. "We've got a heck of a game coming up, a division game. We've got to put some work in to get better. We've already dropped one to them."
That was a game they almost won, falling 13-10 in Week 2 at New England after Smith threw three fourth-quarter interceptions.
"I'm anxious to go out there and have another opportunity once again to try and get a victory for the organization," Smith said. "I think every single guy felt bitter after that loss, on the road that Thursday night.
"But we've put it behind us and we've learned from it."
After the Patriots (5-1), the Jets will play Cincinnati (4-2) and then come back home to take on New Orleans (5-1). For all those who downplayed New York's three wins by saying they came against teams that have combined for a 3-13 record — Tampa Bay (0-5), Buffalo (2-4) and Atlanta (1-4) — a few victories in the next three weeks could validate the suddenly soaring expectations from a week ago.
That's when Smith was coming off a turnover-free performance that included three touchdown passes and was later selected the AFC offensive player of the week. But, just like that, the good feelings were tempered a few days later when Smith threw two interceptions against the previously winless Steelers, and the offense struggled to make big plays.
For the season, Smith has seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has shown flashes of being a franchise quarterback, as well as a quarterback who is still very much a work in progress.
"Although I am a rookie, I don't tend to use that excuse as the reason behind me making those mistakes," Smith said. "I think they're just simple mistakes in a game and they've got to be eliminated."
Heading into Sunday, there was a chance that this week's matchup could be for first place in the AFC East, a remarkable possibility for a Jets team that many had picked to finish among the NFL's worst. But New York's listless loss was followed a few hours later by a comeback victory for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Ryan was watching the game, and saw his twin brother Rob's pained look on New Orleans' sideline after Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins for a winning 17-yard pass with 5 seconds left.
"It was a horrible day for the Ryan family," the Jets coach said. "It's a good thing my Dad's out of coaching, I guess, that day. It was tough. I know (the Saints) are playing great. But, until it hits zero, Brady's done that time and time again."
Rex Ryan has seen it firsthand, and he and the Jets haven't beaten Brady and the Patriots in the regular season since their first meeting in 2010. They're 0-6 since, other than a playoff win at New England in the 2010 season.
"I think 'must-win' might be a little much right now, even for my deal where I've been notorious for throwing those bad boys out," Ryan said with a smile. "Here, it's Week 7. A lot of things can happen. You see that each week."
A win, and the pendulum swings back up for the Jets.
A loss, and they're under .500 and 0-2 against the Patriots, who would also be three games up on the Jets not even halfway into the season.
"Certainly, that's huge," Ryan said. "But again, for us, we have to get better, and that's what the practice field is about and then it's also about the opponent specifically. And, so, I think that's how you enter this week."
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org