2006-12-29 / Sports

Jets Playoff Chances Not a Pipe Dream Anymore

By Elio Velez

The signs of Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays adorn the landscape outside of Weeb Ewbank Hall at Hofstra University.

But hopefully for the New York Jets after their game against the Oakland Raiders, the next happy sign might be posted with words stating that the Jets are heading to the playoffs.

Because that’s what the scenario is for Sunday’s New Year’s Eve contest with the lowly 2-13 Oakland Raiders. A win gets them a wild card spot and a first round road game. A loss, which might seem improbable given the quality of opponent they are facing would be the most damaging blow this season and might eliminate them from the postseason.

For weeks, head coach Eric Mangini has implored his players to concentrate on their own destiny in shaping their chances to make the playoffs.

And despite numerous questions of their place in the standings, the Jets have not looked past any opponent, especially when they eked out a 13-10 victory in rainy Miami on Christmas Day that improved their record to 9-6.

“Yesterday (Monday) was a tough game, tough place to play, and tough weather conditions against a good team that’s playing good football,” Eric Mangini said in his press conference at Hofstra last Tuesday.

“What I was most happy with was the way that as the game swung back and forth, which we knew it would, the team collectively responded.”

A victory can clinch a postseason berth and what was improbable six months ago when training camp started, has almost become a reality that can be secured with a win.

Mangini says that the approach is the same like every other week even with the possibility of champagne corks being popped if they win.

“We need to take care of what’s in front of us, and what’s in front of us is the Oakland Raiders. That’s all our focus has to be on. Anything else after that point we’ll address when and if it happens,” Mangini says.

“The key thing for us is to take the same consistent approach that we had in week six, week one, week 12, that’s how we’ve been able to make progress. That’s how we’ve been able to be successful and that’s not going to change.”

Chad Pennington, who is by far the frontrunner for the NFL’s Most Improved Award, and the steadiness of Laverneus Coles and Jericho Cotchery are already the bedrocks of the offense.

But they can not carry the burden alone and Mangini has coaxed support from elsewhere to help the cause.

And it has come from contributions such as RB Leon Washington and offensive linemen Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, which has fast tracked the Jets retooling into a playoff contender.

Washington wasn’t even expected to crack the starting lineup when the season began. Though he may not be the feature back, Mangini knows he can turn to his RB when needed.

The Washington heroics against Miami could not be understated as his 64 yard catch with two minutes left in the fourth quarter was the biggest play so far of the Jets season.

Oakland’s defense isn’t the stingiest but they are solid. They are first in the league in allowing the least amount of yards in the air. Running the ball is their weakness as they are 27 th in the league and Washington knows he might get plenty of carries this week.

“My goal is to come out and help the team win, no matter what. That’s the type of player Coach Mangini wants on his team, the guys who come in and want the team to win; selfless players who don’t care about individual goals,” Washington said.

The Jets are going to have to remain keyed up against a ghastly Oakland Raiders team, who at 2-13, are once again on their way to securing the first pick of the NFL Draft.

Not the best of years in any means for the once proud Raider Nation, the Jets defense should be able to hold down a woeful offense ranked dead last in points and yardage. Oakland will also be missing potent playmakers such as former Jet RB Lamont Jordan, Jerry Porter and Randy Moss.

LB Jonathan Vilma likes the advantages that are in the Jets favor. He is still cautious if Raiders throw out Andrew Walter or Aaron Brooks at QB. Both are ineffective but now is not the time to be sleeping on the job he says.

“It doesn’t make it more difficult, it just requires a little more work for us. We’ve seen film on both the quarterbacks, so we have to get ready for both of them. Whoever does play, we have to be ready for them,” Vilma said.

An expected Giants Stadium sellout crowd hopes to do a little more celebrating with a playoff berth added to their planned New Year’s Eve festivities. Vilma wants to do the same by taking care of business.

“We feel good. Obviously, we are not there yet, so we can’t sit here and jump for joy right now, even thought it feels good in this situation. You can tell in the locker room the mood is a little lighter, especially from last year. We just need to go out and play.”

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