Confidence can be a powerful elixir in sports.
When the Jets flew overnight to London on Thursday for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, they did so with a different team than the one that played the first three games this season.
The same players were on that charter flight, but they were a significantly different team after last Sunday’s galvanizing first win of the season, a 27-24 overtime triumph over the Titans at MetLife Stadium.
The venue for this week’s game is Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the Jets will try to climb to 2-3 for head coach Robert Saleh in a game that begins at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time.
What that victory over the Titans — Saleh’s first win as a head coach and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson’s first as a pro — has done for this team will be fascinating to see.
“Once you learn how not to lose, then you learn how to close out games,’’ Saleh said Friday. “It’s a young group and they took a big step last week. We still haven’t scratched the surface yet of where we’re going to go.’’
The heaviest focus has been on the kid quarterback, and justifiably so. Wilson possesses a dynamic “it’’ factor. He looked a bit shaky for most of the first three games, but appeared to break out last Sunday.
“You hope it translates [to the next game],’’ Saleh said of last week’s success. “When you have a young group and … have success, you never know what it can snowball into.’’
The Jets scored 20 points combined in their first three games, then broke through with 27 against the Titans, the offense looking liberated for the first time all season.
The Falcons (1-3), who rank dead last in the league in scoring defense, having allowed 128 points on four games. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 70.5 percent of their passes against Atlanta for 1,096 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I definitely feel like we’re really close to being a really good offense … and team in general,’’ Wilson said Friday. “We want to start fast and let [the Falcons] know what kind of team we are.’’
Asked if there can be a carry-over from last week to Sunday, Wilson said, “That’s the goal,’’ calling the first win “a big deal’’ for the players’ confidence.
As much as the focus has been on Wilson, the Jets’ defense has been the backbone to date.
The defense began the season with the most inexperienced secondary in the league, then lost both of its starting safeties to injury. There have been a lot of moving parts, but Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have kept the group more than competitive with a band of rookies and unproven young players.
Ulbrich, a former Falcons assistant coach, spoke of being “familiar’’ with the Atlanta personnel, saying, “There is a database for me to lean on a little bit.
“It’s exciting to play against them,’’ he said. “I know them well, and it’ll be fun to get after them a little bit.’’
Asked this week if the defense has started out better than he might have expected, Ulbrich said, “To tell you the truth, probably a little bit, especially from the back-end standpoint.
“I had great belief in those guys, and I was excited about what they could become, but at the same time, there wasn’t proof, there wasn’t evidence, they hadn’t gone out there and actually done it. So, there’s always an element of the unknown, and there’s a little angst as far as that was concerned. But I thought they’ve done an exceptional job, and the beauty of these guys is they’re getting better every week.’’
These young guys will be facing an old guy in the Falcons’ 36-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan, who has thrown 7,602 NFL passes for 56,757 yards and 355 TDs in his career.
The Jets have caught a big break because Ryan will be without two of his top targets for this game. Receiver Calvin Ridley (27 catches for 255 yards and a TD this season) didn’t make the trip because of a personal issue, and receiver Russell Gage is out with an ankle injury.
That means Cordarrelle Patterson, who caught three TD passes last week, will again see a significant role. The Jets, too, will see a lot of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.
How will this young Jets team handle success? Will the Jets build on last week’s win or will they stumble?
“I feel like we’re getting better,’’ Saleh said.
Sunday in London might tell us how much better.