ST. LOUIS The New York Jets are still a mess. Postgame talk Sunday of winning becoming contagious might happen or the message could prove more hollow than a gutted pumpkin. There's drama, issues galore and personalities fit for Days of our Lives, so who knows how dark this dreary season will become.
Despite it all, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez weaved through traffic near midfield a satisfied man after a 27-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. He spun the game ball between his palms and tracked down Rams coach Jeff Fisher and cornerback Cortland Finnegan. He exchanged hugs with Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who held the same position in New York for six seasons, before disappearing from sight to close one of the most bizarre weeks in recent memory.
The Jets the NFL's version of Animal House won despite themselves to snap a three-game losing streak. The most surprising development was this: They looked capable, even strong at times, in pushing around a team with issues of its own but one that entered with a single home loss.
It's anyone's guess where this Gang Green clown car rolls from here. There could be more small gains, or they could become stuck in a mud of their making. But for one afternoon, after a week of anonymous potshots at Tim Tebow and other sordid static, there was some relief.
"When things go sour and south and nobody believes in you, that's when you really get tested," said Sanchez, who went 15-of-20 passing for 178 yards with one touchdown. "We're in that spot right now. In some of our toughest times, we end up playing our best football."
It would be a stretch to call the Jets' performance perfect football. Evidence: Nick Folk's 26-yard field goal try was swatted by rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins early in the second quarter, and about five minutes later, a baffling fake punt attempt on fourth-and-5 at St. Louis' 45-yard line fell short when Tebow flipped the ball to fullback Lex Hilliard for a 1-yard loss.
But the Jets did more than enough, especially on defense, to change their narrative from a sideshow fascination to a winner for the first time in a month. Sanchez entered with more shards of glass in his reputation, but Rams quarterback Sam Bradford left the home crowd wondering how in the world St. Louis tied the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday at Candlestick Park.
Bradford's anemic numbers left the locals numb: He completed 23 of 44 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Meanwhile, Sanchez entered with the league's lowest completion percentage (52 percent), but he made the Rams' defense look like a swinging gate of opportunity most of the day.
The maligned Sanchez showed poise when leading fourth-quarter scoring drives of 63 and 38 yards, giving New York a 27-7 lead. It was as if Bradford and Sanchez had swapped bodies, the Rams quarterback who shredded the 49ers for 275 yards in the Bay Area snatched from sight.
"A lot of pressure is coming from the outside-in, and when I look at it, this is a hard-working football team that believes in one another, and that is a start in the right direction," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "It hadn't paid off on the game field until today."
That might be true, but there were reminders that Ryan's team can be no better than a group of catty sorority sisters. After the victory, one that prevented New York's first four-game skid since dropping six in 2007, linebacker Bart Scott paraded around the Jets locker room shouting to no one in particular, "I'm saying both teams played hard so we're not breaking our code!"
He tried, unsuccessfully, to force other defensive players around him to offer the same sterile reaction.
Despite Scott's failed campaign, the moment's meaning was clear: The anonymous Tebow comments created drama, but fair or not, such antics have become part of the Jets' identity. They are addicted to verbal junk food, like a diabetic without a health plan. This is who they are: A brewing volcano, ready to burst as adversity mounts, and the lava can only be contained for so long.
"It was difficult," Jets tight end Konrad Reuland said of the past week. "I didn't want to turn the TV on and watch any ESPN, that's for sure. It was difficult in that fact, but at the same time, I think we have a pretty tight team. So we just kind of pulled together and tried to focus on winning one game. That was our goal this week: win one game."
Added Tebow, to FOXSportsMidwest.com, when asked if the result satisfied after the recent dramatics: "However you can get a win, it's always nice to just get a win. It's always good to get a win just to find a way however it's done. This league, they're not easy to come by."
By finding a way against the Rams, the Jets made their calliope a little less shrill. They are still a circus. They are still unpredictable, untamed.
But Sunday, despite their marvelous madness, they were winners once more.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.