A stifling defense spurred the New York Jets' surprising 3-0 start, but the unit hasn't looked nearly as effective in two subsequent defeats.
Coach Rex Ryan may have an ideal chance to change that against the struggling Buffalo Bills.
Ryan and the Jets will try to re-establish their brash, hard-hitting defensive play Sunday when they host the Bills, who are searching for an end to their three-game slide.
New York (3-2) won its first three games behind a superb defense that allowed averages of 11.0 points and 256.0 yards per game while forcing seven turnovers. Ryan's revamped Jets exuded a brash and outspoken attitude that was a staple of his defense in Baltimore, where he spent the last 10 years.
The defense, however, hasn't been very effective in consecutive losses. The unit allowed 343 yards in a 24-10 defeat at New Orleans on Oct. 4 and gave up season highs in passing yards (262) and total yardage (413) en route to a 31-27 defeat at Miami on Monday night.
"It absolutely was a humbling experience," Ryan said after the Jets blew three second-half leads and struggled against the Dolphins' wildcat offense. "This is a step back, but we can make a huge leap forward. We've just got to learn from this and we've got to practice better.
"As a coach, I'm not going to allow this to happen again. We've got to get back and sharpen up what we do defensively. I know we have the talent. We just have to play better."
Despite the back-to-back losses, New York is tied with New England for first in the AFC East. However, the trash talking may be curbed after a poor fourth-quarter effort against the Dolphins saw New York give up three touchdowns, equaling the total the defense allowed over the previous four games.
"We were riding high," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We thought we were one of the best defenses in the league, and we are. But not on the field (Monday), so we have to get back to work and get it done."
The Jets get a chance to get that defense back on track against the Bills (1-4), last in the division.
"This is a must-win for us, and I think we have to respond," Ryan said. "I think playing at home in front of our fans is going to be huge for us, but from an organizational standpoint, our entire organization, this week has got to be huge."
Buffalo will likely be in for a stiffer test against the Jets after losing its last two games to winless teams while totaling 494 yards of offense and turning the ball over six times.
The Bills coughed up the ball three times and committed 13 penalties in a 6-3 loss to Cleveland in Week 5. That defeat may have increased the pressure on coach Dick Jauron, who has guided his team to four wins in the last 17 games after a 4-0 start to 2008.
"Yeah, I understand that criticism," Jauron said. "That's the job. I'm in that position, and I clearly haven't been able to reach (the players) to help them particularly in these last three games to get them over the hump to get us where we win."
Bills owner Ralph Wilson, attending a fan luncheon Monday, told The Buffalo News that he's not going to make any decisions during the "middle of the season right now."
"Yesterday was so bad that it's hard to make a decision right now," Wilson was quoted as saying. He then assessed the team's performance against the Browns by saying: "There's not much I can say about (Sunday) except it was awful."
Much of the criticism has fallen on the offense, as Buffalo has been outscored 71-20 during the three-game skid. The Bills have scored 77 points, ranking only better than Cleveland (55) and Oakland (49) in the AFC.
"Honestly, it's little things," quarterback Trent Edwards said. "The good teams don't make those little mistakes, and we're making the little mistakes which seems like way too often. And that's what's frustrating."
Edwards hasn't been able to open up a passing attack that features wide receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. They each have 12 catches and a touchdown while combining for 361 yards.
The Jets' offense is hoping Braylon Edwards can continue developing chemistry with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez after the duo hooked up for a 3-yard TD on Monday, just days after the receiver was acquired in a trade from Cleveland.
"Braylon was lights out," said Sanchez, who has five touchdowns and five interceptions. "I've never seen anybody catch the ball like that."
New York took both meetings with the Bills last season for the first time since 2002.