Jets Hope Jags Blowout Is Just A Blip On Radar Screen
HEMPSTEAD, NY- During the interminable two-a-day marathons head coach Eric Mangini put the Jets through in training camp, it was expected a few clunkers would arise on the schedule. But then something happened on the way to playing for the first overall draft choice this April. Suddenly, the low expectations that surrounded the team's fan base in the summer were surpassed within the first four weeks.
The Jets put up a 2-2 record heading into Jacksonville last Sunday, and conceivably could have been undefeated if not for a few extra defensive stops in close defeats to the Patriots and Colts. Then reality set in at Alltel Stadium, when the Jaguars posted a humiliating 41-0 drubbing on Mangini's squad that almost negated three months worth of progress in the span of three hours.
Breakdowns in all three facets of the game contributed to the blowout. The defense allowed five touchdowns, including two by quarterback Bryon Leftwich and three on the ground to running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Chad Pennington did not help matters by throwing three interceptions, finishing with a line of 10-17 for 71 yards. On a cloudy north Florida day, Pennington looked anything but the same passer who threw for 300 yards in consecutive games earlier in the season, though the six sacks surrendered by the offensive line contributed to the ugly statistics.
"It goes back to execution across the board," Mangini said. "And sometimes a throw isn't going to be down field, it's going to be underneath, it's going to be to the back or to the tight end. The important thing is to go through your progression and take what the coverage allows."
On special teams, the Jaguars blocked Ben Graham's punt attempt to set up a score, and turned two of the three picks into touchdowns. Even when the defense made a stop, two borderline roughing the passer penalties prevented the Jets from gaining any momentum. In all, Taylor and Jones-Drew rushed for 170 yards.
"They have a good running back, then they have another good running back coming off the bench and that's a one-two punch," defensive end Bobby Hamilton said. "I'm not trying to make an excuse, but running backs are good these days. We've just got to prepare each week, continue working hard and keep believing in each other."
With a game against division rival Miami coming up next, the Jets have a chance to get their record back to .500 and not fall hopelessly behind 4-1 New England for the AFC East lead. The Dolphins have struggled to a 1-4 start, and they will be attempting to stop a two-game losing streak.
Mangini has been able to motivate his team since taking the job in the off-season. With the next two games at home against the Dolphins and winless Lions, the Jets have their best shot to stay in playoff contention late into the year, but any drop-off in intensity could unravel the season before the bye week November 5.
"I don't know about them as a team, but on defense they have some great players," running back Kevan Barlow said. "They have Traylor, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, they're a solid defense. It doesn't get any easier each week, it gets harder. This is a good team and we have to prepare for it."
As part of that preparation, the discipline must be better when Miami visits Giants Stadium Sunday for the 4:15 p.m. kickoff. New York was called for six penalties that resulted in 59 yards last week, and the personal foul calls sustained two drives. Those mistakes must be avoided or else another blowout could soon follow.
"Penalties will kill a team," linebacker Eric Barton said. "You can not just give away yards, especially to a good team. We can not put ourselves in a position to even be called for them. They will kill you, they will kill drives. They will give teams first downs and that sucks the life out of you."
Should those penalties and mistakes continue, it could suck the life out of the home crowd as well.