The New York Jets have new life thanks to the performance of Mike White, but those on the other side of the ball figure to play an essential role in Week 13.
The Jets head north to Minneapolis this weekend, where they'll face a Vikings team loaded with weapons. Justin Jefferson headlines a group that includes Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Kirk Cousins, creating quite a challenge for the NFL's fifth-ranked defense.
New York is ready for the test.
"These are the types of games that I love," Jets rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner said Wednesday. "I love going against the best. I'm looking forward to it, and I know our guys in the secondary, they're looking forward to it as well."
Much of the conversation surrounding these Jets since Sunday has centered on the performance of White, a former backup to Zach Wilson who replaced the former No. 2 overall pick in the starting lineup, then threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns amid a driving rain in a 31-10 win over Chicago in Week 12. The attention is warranted, especially considering the previous state of New York's offense with Wilson on the field, but the Jets defense has a point to prove against Minnesota.
Under the direction of coach Robert Saleh, New York has quietly climbed into the upper echelon of NFL defenses this season. The Jets have allowed the fourth-fewest points per game (17.8) and fifth-fewest yards per game (308.8) this season, a massive improvement after finishing last in scoring and total defense a year ago. They're on pace to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to rank in the top 10 in those two categories after finishing last in both in the prior season, per NFL Research.
The last two times New York finished in the top six, it reached the AFC Championship Game. Those two appearances came in 2009 and 2010, which is also the last time when the Jets were legitimately competitive.
After a decade of darkness, they might be for real once again. Sunday stands as a test of their legitimacy.
"It's gonna be fun," Saleh said Wednesday. "Sauce is the ultimate strainer, he and D.J. (Reed), they strain and play very, very, very hard, not to say they haven't played anyone that plays hard. I'd put our guys up against anybody. Those guys are friggin' good now, and it's going to be a great challenge. But like I said, I think it's a challenge that our guys are excited for."
The premier matchup will be between Jefferson and Gardner, two of the best at their position in man-coverage situations. The Jets can bank on Cousins testing Gardner at least a few times Sunday, although it will be about more than the NFL's second-best receiver in terms of yardage (he trails Miami's Tyreek Hill by just one yard). New York will need a full team effort from all three units to get the job done on the road.
As Saleh and Gardner said Wednesday, they're ready for the challenge.