Jets Want To Extend Magical Run In Foxboro
HEMPSTEAD, NY-Painted alongside the green-and-white hallway wall in the coordinator that connects the public relations offices to the locker room in Weeb Ewbank Hall are emblems that commemorate every single Jets' post-season appearance.
Before reaching the dressing room, it serves as a brief history lesson of the team's excursions into the playoffs, ranging from the franchises' origins in the AFL days to the Super Bowl III championship, ending with the latest ouster in the Divisional Round from the 2004 season.
Compliments of Eric Mangini, the Jets will be adding to the wall. Such an accomplishment would have been considered far-fetched in the summer, when the rookie head coach was simply looking to change the attitude of a team that finished 4-12 last season. They also had to bounce back from losing future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin for the entire year to a career-threatening knee injury.
Not only did the Jets remain relatively healthy and buy into Mangini's program, they did so at a rapid pace. Sunday's 23-3 victory over the hapless Raiders at Giants Stadium capped a 10-6 season, helping turn the 35-year-old Mangini into a viable candidate for Coach of the Year honors.
The only remaining question is the type of logo that the 2006 entry will possess on that wall. In typical fashion, no player talked about a possible championship run yesterday, but a surprisingly pleasant season can turn magical starting this Sunday when Mangini and his team will travel to New England to play the division-rival Patriots for the third time this season in the AFC Wild Card round.
"One great thing our coaching staff has done through out the year is never changing their approach and maintaining their approach," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "We know we have a huge challenge no matter who we play. They are all worthy of being in the playoffs. They are all championship caliber teams. It's on the road. It's a hostile environment. We have a big challenge in front of us."
New England won the AFC East with a 12-4 record. One of those losses was against the Jets, who spilt the season series but won in Foxboro after winning there Nov. 14. Start counting the subplots now to the 1 p.m. elimination game, which features another chance for Mangini to matchup against Patriots' coach Bill Belichick. It also will give former Patriots like Hank Poteat and Matt Chatham a chance to send their former employers home early.
Before becoming the NFL's youngest head coach, Mangini served as Belichick's defensive coordinator last season after acting as the defensive backs coach during the team's three Super Bowl championship season. After posting that 17-14 upset on that rainy New England day, Belichick was caught on-camera giving a cold-fish handshake to his former pupil, only adding to the rumors of a falling out between the two.
The game itself will take precedence over any personal issues, which is what Mangini said he will be solely focusing on. Instead of remembering the glory years against his old organization, he will be focusing on how to add new wrinkles against a team they have become very familiar with over the course of the season.
"There are definitely things that you can take away from it, the lessons from the first game, the lessons from the second game," Mangini said about the lessons learned from the previous two encounters. "But their approach is very opponent?specific and it's very game?specific.
"There may be some things they have seen since we played them last that they like offensively or defensively on special teams and that's not a set approach week?in and week?out. What's set is that their approach is unique to us, but it's important for us to go back and see the pluses and minuses of those two games as well as what we have done since the last time we played them to anticipate some of the things they may do."
Leon Washington lessened the impact of Martin's absence, as the rookie running back led the team with 650 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry while adding four touchdowns. He will be new to the post-season experience, but said that victory last month in tough conditions can serve as a precursor for next week.
"Knowing that we had won before lets us know that we can win again, and that will give us a lot more confidence this time around playing this team," Washington said.
"It will be tough; they're playing well, we'll be in New England and they have a lot of veterans that have been there before. Me being a young guy, I'm just looking for any kind of help I can get from my veteran players to go out here and play a good game against these guys."