While you’re talking about Tebow, the Jets are inching toward the playoffs

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Ripping on the Jets, like talking about Tim Tebow, is passé.

We get it now: This isn’t the great team Rex puffed it up to be in 2009-2010. The Super Bowl is not imminent. Whether that owes more to a general rottenness in the state of Florham Park, or to the fact that the starting quarterback turned out to be terrible is an open question. The point is that if you’re still griping about the broken promises, you’re ignoring something more compelling: the possibility that the Jets can win their next three games to move to 9-7, and maybe make the playoffs.

Basically, the Jets would have to win out and have either the Steelers or Bengals to lose two of their remaining three games.  The Steelers and Bengals each have two easily losable games: The Bengals play at the Steelers and home against the Ravens, while the the Steelers play at the Cowboys and home against the Bengals. (The other possibility is an unlikely tiebreaker scenario.)

So let's treat this as a real thing.

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There’s a real defense to watch, at least. Sure, the Cardinals and Jaguars looked like semi-pro outfits these past two games, which the Jets won, respectively, by scores of 7-6 and 17-10.

But the Jets deserve at least some credit. As the cliché goes, those guys get paid too, and they’re on the schedule, and the Jets’ manhandling of them has vaulted the defense in yards given up from 19th in the league two weeks ago to 8th today.

As Mike DeVito told ESPN’s Rich Cimini after the game, “I think we’re taking off. This is the defense we saw in training camp.”

The standouts yesterday were Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson. According to Pro Football Focus, Coples rushed the passer 26 times and managed a sack, two hits, and one hurry. Wilkerson has a sack, a hit, and three hurries.

Wilkerson has emerged into a star in his second season. Coples has been promising if not consistently spectacular in his rookie season. Criticism of these first-rounders at various points has fed the narrative that general manager Mike Tannenbaum has failed to bolster the Jets’ core with talent from the draft. This is true of some positional groups, but not of Coples and Wilkerson. Tannenbaum deserves credit for drafting players that have performed exactly as advertised: As perfect fits for Rex’s system, if not guys who put up great stats.

So not everything with the Jets is such an irredeemable disaster. Even the running game, M.I.A. since last year, came around yesterday. In their strategy of playing through their defense and relying on their running game, thus marginalizing as much as possible Mark Sanchez, who led an astonishing 17 straight drives without a single point, yesterday’s Jets evoked their 2009 version.

That team, you’ll recall, was written off for dead after a loss to New England brought them to 4-6. They were 7-7 through 14 games, which is exactly what the 2012 version will be if they manage to beat the 4-9 Tennessee Titans, who squandered a 13-point halftime lead to the Colts yesterday.

Stranger things have happened. So keep talking about Tebow and Tannenbaum if you like. But the Jets, believe it or not, have other things to worry about.