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Another late-season charge could send Jets to playoffs

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Everything seems to be falling into place - again - for the New York Jets.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Everything seems to be falling into place - again - for the New York Jets.

They've got a three-game winning streak, the offense is finally clicking, and the defense is shutting down opponents. The teams they're competing with to make the postseason lost last Sunday.

"It's playoff time right now," coach Rex Ryan said. "That's how we've approached it every game."

It's beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when the Jets appeared out of the mix late in the season, only to bounce back, get a couple of breaks and make it all the way to the AFC championship. After all those struggles and moments of panic earlier this season, the Jets (8-5) suddenly control their playoff destiny.

"Our approach doesn't change," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "We're still in a fight for the playoffs. I mean, one game could change everything for us."

Such as this week at Lincoln Financial Field, when the Jets take on the 5-8 Eagles in a matchup that appeared a lot sexier in the summer when New York lost out to the NFL's "Dream Team" on getting prized cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The Jets can't take the game lightly, not against a team with Michael Vick that still has an outside shot at getting to the postseason.

"I think we understand the importance of these games late in the season," quarterback Mark Sanchez said, "We understood, especially my rookie year, and this year we missed opportunities early in the season and anytime you do that you want to try to make up for them. And guys understand that, we understand the kind of wild-card race we're in.

"So, I think we just find a way to click, and that's important late in the season."

Tempering the Jets' excitement, though, was the news Monday that starting safety Jim Leonhard is out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

"[The mood] is kind of mixed because of what happened to Jim," center Nick Mangold said. "He's a great leader, a great player for us.

" But, we have injuries and guys have to step up, so I think guys are excited about the opportunity after winning three straight and we've got a big challenge ahead of us in Philly."

Another note of caution comes from history - the Jets are 0-8 all-time against the Eagles, the only team New York has never beaten.

"Pressure either brings out the best or worst in players," Sanchez pointed out.

He should know. In less than three seasons, Sanchez has already established himself as a player who can handle late-season pressure. He struggled mightily at times earlier in the year and fans were booing him in pregame introductions just a few weeks ago.

Since then, the third-year quarterback from Southern Cal has led New York to three straight wins while throwing seven touchdown passes and just one interception. He also has run for two scores.