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A Steady Hand

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
October 14th, 2005
Despite losing both of his QB's to injury, Jets Head Coach Herm Edwards has kept his cool and his team's confidence. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Despite losing both of his QB's to injury, Jets Head Coach Herm Edwards has kept his cool and his team's confidence. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Since the Yankees were bounced from the American League payoffs, Joe Torre's job status has been spoken about as if he's fresh off delivering a vintage Rich Kotite 1996 season.

To hear some of the sports radio freaks talk about Torre, arguably the greatest manager in baseball today and surely right there with the tops in Yankees' history, is everything that's gone wrong in sports today. They want change. They want Lou Piniella. They want a new toy.

Torre's Yankees haven't missed the postseason since he arrived to New York. Every year Torre has managed the Yankees their fans have had legitimate hope of a World Series berth. The playoffs have been all-but guaranteed. Most cities would sign up for that in half a heartbeat.

So, too, would many NFL cities sign up for Herman Edwards and three playoff appearances in four years.

We're not here to compare Torre to the Jets' head coach, but there is relevance to the analysis about how certain coaches are perceived.

Edwards has led the Jets to a playoff berth in three of his four seasons here, last year coming within a Doug Brien field goal of making it to the AFC Championship Game.

No coach in Jets history _ and that includes Bill Parcells, who led the Jets to one postseason in three years in the sideline _ has led the team to three playoff appearances in four years.

Yet there are still numerous Edwards detractors out there. You know who you are. I speak to many of you regularly, see you at games, at tailgates, respond to you on the JetsInsider.com chat sessions.

To this, I ask those of you who think Edwards is doing such a bad job the same thing I ask the antsy Yankees fans out there who are in such a hurry to usher Torre out of town: Who exactly do you want in charge of your team?

Yankees fans seem to think Piniella is going to spark the Yankees to a World Series title the moment he takes over for Torre. Is he going to do that with the same pitching problems Torre dealt with this past season?

Who do Jets fans want?

Bill Belichick? When's he leaving New England? Parcells? He's been here and done this. Mike Holmgren? How many playoff berths has he led the Seahawks to?

Why can't anyone appreciate what's right in front of them anymore?

If things break right for the Jets, Edwards is some two-and-a-half months away from making himself into a sure-shot Coach of the Year candidate.

If Edwards leads the Jets to the playoffs this season after losing both of his top quarterbacks in one game in Week 3, and still somehow gets his team into the postseason what will the detractors have to say about him then?

Certainly, we're stepping a bit ahead of ourselves, but consider this current reality: If the Jets beat the eminently beatable Bills Sunday in Buffalo, they'll be 3-3 overall and 2-0 in the AFC East and no worse than one game out of first place.

Would you have signed up for that at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 25 with the Jets 1-2 and Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler headed for arm slings with wrecked right shoulders, respectively?

Think about the job Edwards has done keeping order with his team in the aftermath of that quarterback crisis.

He's done a hell of a lot better job to date than Parcells did in 1999 when Vinny Testaverde ruptured his Achilles' tendon in the opening week of the season.

That led to Rick Mirer starting and a 1-6 start ruining a season that was supposed to see the Jets in the Super Bowl.

"Looking back on it, the demeanor Bill Parcells took when Vinny got hurt, I think the whole team took on that demeanor: We were in a state of shock for a couple of weeks,'' Jets' veteran center Kevin Mawae recalled. "We were poised to run that year, (Testaverde) was probably one of the most important parts of the machine at the time and everything went to a screeching halt.''

Asked how Edwards has handled the Pennington-Fielder situation, Mawae said, "It wasn't a matter of, 'Oh my God.' ''

"When everyone realized Chad and Jay were going to be out for awhile, we could have gone into an, 'Oh crap' panic mode, but I don't think we did that,'' Mawae went on.

No, they didn't. And you know why? Because Edwards kept his composure and didn't panic. That attitude has been taken on by his players.

Part of Edwards' handling of this crisis situation has come from experience. In only one of his five seasons as the Jets' head coach has Edwards been able to roll with one quarterback the entire year. That was in 2001, his first with the Jets, and the quarterback was Testaverde.

In 2002, Edwards made the bold (and correct) most to transition from Testaverde to Pennington with his team's offense completely struggling.

In 2003, Pennington had his left hand and wrist fractured in a preseason game against the Giants, forcing Testaverde to play nearly half the season.

In 2004, of course, Pennington suffered his first of two shoulder injuries. And this season he hurt the shoulder again.

"I think a little bit of our mindset has been _ and it started five years ago _ that things happen out of your control at times,'' Edwards said. "The only thing you can control is how you prepare to play. You can't worry about the players that aren't playing, and I make a big deal about that. That's why I don't talk about injuries, I never have.

"It's just a matter of the players who are playing,'' Edwards went on. "When we decide that these are the best 53 players to help us win then you have to believe that these are best 53. If somebody gets hurt, the other guy is going to go in. It's about team, and that's all that it's about.

"We've gone through a lot of that here _ more than I would like _ especially at the quarterback position. That goes unnoticed by my mind and I think the team notices. The only year we had the quarterback play all the games was my first year. Every other year it's been a quarterback situation.

"This one was the biggest of all, obviously. I think for the most part, we've handled it in a matter where the guys go, 'OK, lets keep playing. We'll find a way.' ''

Edwards has generally found a way in his four-plus seasons here, and he might yet find a way to the postseason this year. If he does, shame on you if you don't credit him for being one of the best head coaches this franchise has ever seen.

INSIDER EXTRA POINTS

The presence of Testaverde has brought a sense of normalcy to the team after a couple of weeks dealing with its quarterback crisis.

"I think we settled down a little, just dealing with that anxiety,'' Edwards said. "When something like that happens to you you have to find a way to get settled. It was still unsettled against Baltimore (a 13-3 loss with Brooks Bollinger in the game). I think last week was a better indication of being settled down. The whole practice atmosphere, everything was a lot different. This week is a lot different than what it was a few weeks ago.''

Curtis Martin has noticed.

"I think we're encouraged,'' Martin said. "As an offense, it's important to know who your leader is going to be. When things are unstable, it kind of makes your offense unstable. Now, it kind of feels like we have someone in there, Vinny, who's going to be there.

"We get to know who we trust and who's going to be there because you get used to a quarterback a certain way. That's what affects teams the most is when the quarterback goes down because that one quarterback brings a whole personality, a whole philosophy of his own.

"Then when he goes down, it's like you have to grasp a whole other cadence, a whole other way of doing things and that's what becomes difficult. I don't think people understand that's why quarterbacks get paid the way they do. They're such an intricate part of a team. Once he goes down, that affects the entire team, not only offense but defense as well, more than any other position on the entire team.

"Having a new quarterback is close to having a new offensive coordinator.''

****

Things to look for from the Jets against the Bills Sunday:

>>>> Curtis Martin's first 100-yard rushing game of the season and first against the Bills in six meetings. The Bills' defense, ranked 31st against the run, has been susceptible to cut-back runs, which are Martin staples.

>>> Rookie kicker Mike Nugent making a big kick or two _ perhaps even a game-winner late. Nugent needs to be a factor, because Bills' kicker Rian Lindell is 11-of-12 on field goals this season and knows the stadium.

>>> A big performance from the special teams, which must deal with Bills' kick returner Terrence McGee and his league-leading 34.6-yard average. The Jets held Buffalo to a 21.5-yard average last season in two meetings.

>>> Look for more of TE Doug Jolley, whom Vinny Testaverde got involved in the offense last week.

>>> Look for the Testaverde to get the ball to receiver Justin McCareins early in the game. McCareins has been rather quiet this season, which is a surprise because offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was his coordinator in Tennessee.

>>> Jets' Aussie punter Ben Graham should be a big factor in the game of field position, but so, too, might Billsp punter Brian Mooreman, who's averaging 46.8 yards gross.

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