The level of competition elevates this week for the Jets.
Will they elevate with it?
A week removed from their rousing 27-23 comeback victory at Buffalo — a win that immeasurably lifted the spirits of a team mired in a six-game losing streak — the Jets (4-9) face a game against the Texans (9-4) Saturday at MetLife Stadium that not only can validate all the good things they did against the Bills, but also can serve as a signature victory to this season.
But the Texans are not the Bills.
The Bills are a franchise seemingly in constant transition and, like the Jets, will be watching the playoffs from home next month.
The Texans, even after their nine-game winning streak was snapped last week by the Colts, are going places. Now.
Their quarterback, Deshaun Watson, is dynamic, having thrown for 3,298 yards and 22 touchdowns and run for another 410 yards and two touchdowns.
Their top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, is electric, having caught 84 passes for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns.
Their defense features one of the most disruptive pass-rushing forces in the game in J.J. Watt, who has 12.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles.
This is a big ask for the Jets, a second consecutive win against a team with far superior talent.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Thursday both the Jets’ top running back, Isaiah Crowell, and their top receiver, Quincy Enunwa, were declared out for the game. Crowell has a toe injury and Enunwa has an ankle injury.
That leaves the stable of skill-position players — that when at full strength is weak to begin with — around rookie quarterback Sam Darnold further compromised. That will add to the challenge for Darnold to deliver a positive encore to his performance against the Bills.
Despite the obvious long odds against them and the fact they were eliminated from playoff contention with a month remaining in the regular season, there were flickering signs of belief in the Jets’ locker room Thursday following their final practice of the week.
“One thing I believe is, when wins come, they come in bunches,’’ veteran defensive lineman Steve McLendon said. “Winning helps everybody. One thing about winning: Winning brings joy. It brings happiness. And everybody knows to be successful in this world, it’s all about being happy.
“We succeeded last week. We played complementary football. We played good football. I think that’s the standard — to continue to play hard, play fast and just be dominant.’’
Linebacker Jordan Jenkins said the good feelings the team got from beating the Bills “definitely should coincide with what we do Saturday [against the Texans].’’
“It had been a while since we had that feeling,’’ Jenkins said. “That should ultimately lead to more tenacity. It makes you want to go that extra mile.’’
What if the Jets win this week?
“It would show that we can play with the best of them,’’ Jenkins said. “It would show that we’re a team that can win; we just have to find a way to do it more consistently.’’
The Jets’ four wins have come against the Lions (5-8), Colts (7-6), Broncos (6-7) and Bills (4-9). Of the four, only the Colts have even an outside chance to make the playoffs.
A win over the Texans, who are nearly a touchdown favorite on the road, would be a statement game from a Jets team that hasn’t made a whole lot of positive statements this season. It, too, would be another potential signature moment for Darnold, who delivered his first career fourth-quarter comeback win last week.
In the moments before the players ran out onto New Era Field to play the Bills on Sunday, McLendon delivered a message inside the visitors’ locker room.
“I told the guys: ‘We have to hate losing more than we love winning,’” McLendon said.
Let’s see if the shelf life of that message has another week, or if it has expired.