Connor McGovern has seen a lot on the football field during his seven NFL seasons.
There have been plenty of big wins, tough losses and impressive individual achievements. On Sunday, the New York Jets center has a chance to experience something new.
“That's a special feeling,” McGovern said Monday as the surprising 6-3 Jets returned from their bye-week break sitting in second place in the AFC East.
They head to New England on Sunday with a chance to exact a measure of revenge after losing to the division-rival Patriots for the 13th straight time, 22-17 at home on Oct. 30.
Even more significant: A victory in Foxborough, Massachusetts, would put the Jets in first place in the AFC East this late in the season — 10 or more games — for the first time since 2010, according to Sportradar. New York and New England were tied at 9-2 through Week 12 of that season, the last year the Jets made the playoffs.
“I got crazy looks when I said at the beginning of the year that we play this game for the playoffs, period,” wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. "That sentiment hasn’t changed. It was from Day 1 with this new staff coming in (last season).
“We've got a long way to go. We've obviously set ourselves up in a great spot through these first nine games. We have this back half and we all know that December football, January football, that's really what matters.”
The AFC East is the NFL's only division with all four teams holding winning records: Miami (7-3), New York (6-3), Buffalo (6-3) and New England (5-4). And if the playoffs began this week, all four teams would qualify.
“It's a very competitive division,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “Every team has an identity that stands out on tape in terms of their style of play and how hard everybody plays. It's cool to be a part of. And it is a challenge every week.”
The Dolphins leapfrogged the Bills for the top spot in the division with a convincing 39-17 victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Meanwhile, Buffalo fell 33-30 in overtime at home against Minnesota.
The Jets have wins this season over both the Dolphins — who have their bye this week — and the Bills, so a victory over the Patriots would put them atop the AFC East.
“They're obviously all important and definitely divisional games are worth two, essentially," said McGovern, who is in his third season with the Jets after four in Denver. "This one's extremely big to be able to take the lead.”
According to Sportradar, the last time the Jets were in first place in the AFC East at any point was through Week 1 of the 2018 season in a three-way tie with the Dolphins and Patriots at 1-0.
And the last time they led the division through multiple games was through Week 5 in 2017, when they were tied with New England and Buffalo.
“We sit here at 6-3 and it's all well within range,” Berrios said. “But we've still got to go out and try to get a win this week. And then next week, we'll focus on next week, and so on and so forth. But we have all the pieces.”
The Jets, who currently hold the fifth playoff spot in the AFC, are in position to end the NFL's longest active playoff drought at 11 seasons.
They'll certainly be tested over the next several weeks. After the game at New England, New York is home against Chicago (3-7) before consecutive road games at Minnesota (8-1) and Buffalo.
Then come home games against Detroit (3-6) and Jacksonville (3-7) before wrapping up the regular season on the road at Seattle (6-4) and Miami.
“We’ve proven that we’re a pretty good football team,” McGovern said. “And when we bring our best, we’re pretty hard to beat.”
NOTES: Saleh said DT Sheldon Rankins (elbow) will be out against the Patriots. ... WR Corey Davis remains day to day with a knee injury. ... Saleh said the Jets will begin the 21-day practice window for rookie OT Max Mitchell (knee) to return from IR, but OT George Fant, also on IR with a knee injury, will not practice yet.
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