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What the Jets Can Learn From the Playoffs

The lessons start with an affirmation of their approach

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    If Ryan pays attention, his next guarantee might actually hold up.

    The final four teams in the NFL have to be causing Rex Ryan some serious agita.

    Ryan has expressed some animus for three of the four remaining combatants for the Super Bowl and all three of them handed the Jets humiliating losses this season.

    The Ravens, who didn't hire Ryan to be their coach when he was their defensive coordinator, humiliated the Jets in the early part of the season by giving us our first sign that the offense was going to be a major issue for Gang Green.

    The Giants, who Ryan desperately wanted to make the little brother in the Meadowlands, essentially ended the Jets' playoff dreams by thumping them 29-14 in Week 16 and then delighted in making a mockery of the Jets coach.

    And then there are the Patriots, who beat the Jets twice and are looking like a pretty good bet to earn another ring that Ryan won't kiss.

    We're sure he has some problem with the 49ers too. Maybe a deep dislike for sourdough bread? 

    At any rate, the Jets should still be paying attention to the playoffs even if the results are making their blood boil. There have been plenty of lessons about the kind of team the Jets need to be in 2012 and beyond if they are going to put the bad taste of this season out of their mouth.

    Defense still matters: The 49ers and Ravens have been great defensive teams all season, but the biggest reason the Giants have advanced to the NFC Championship game is that they have finally started playing as well on defense as Eli Manning has played all season. Ryan wants his team to have a grinding defensive personality, something that seemed outdated for much of the season but it is an approach that has been validated in the postseason by those three teams and the Texans.

    That said, the Jets' defensive style needs to change. All of those teams rush the passer without resorting to exotic blitzes and the Jets have struggled mightily in that department over the last three years.

    Turnovers kill: All the defense in the world doesn't make a bit of difference if you keep putting that unit in tough spots by handing the other team the ball. The Jets' issues in this regard were partially bad luck -- after two years of recovering a high number of fumbles, they regressed to the mean -- and partially poor decision making. They need to do better next year at the latter.

    Chunk plays are essential: In the Broncos' win over the Steelers, Tim Tebow completed four passes of 40 or more yards. Mark Sanchez had two all season.

    Whether it is Tebow, the Saints and Niners in the fourth quarter or Hakeem Nicks at Lambeau Field, the playoffs have turned on big offensive plays. The Jets don't have a roster with enough players capable of making those kinds of plays and Tony Sparano will have to find a way to bring that into the mix for the offense to achieve at a higher level next season.

    Getting home field would be nice: Recent history has shown a mixed bag when it comes to home field advantage in the playoffs, but home teams are 7-1 thus far this time around and it certainly seems like a better approach than expecting to go on the road to win as many as three games every season. 

    If Alex Smith can do it...: There haven't been many quarterbacks written off more times than Smith, but the 49ers have been rewarded for their patience this season. He's not the second coming of Joe Montana, but he's a steady player who doesn't turn the ball over and makes plays when the team needs him to make them.

    The Jets could use one of those at quarterback. Smith provides a little hope that dark days can give way to better things.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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