CONTENDERS OR PRETENDERS?
By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
September 12th, 2006
That the Jets are en route to the AFC East title and beyond?
That they’re headed to the playoffs?
That they'll be at the very least, respectable this season?
Or that Sunday in Tennessee was a fluke, a win over a team that's poor as well and that they're going to end up being the four or five-win team everyone predicted them to be at the start of the season?
After having witnessed the game up-close Sunday, I can tell the Jets are better than the last assessment and, barring a rash of major injuries, will remain competitive throughout the season.
The Titans are not a very good team, though they're not awful, either. Tennessee did, however, do the Jets a huge favor by starting Kerry Collins at quarterback. And they continued to be giving when they reinserted Collins after No. 1 draft pick Vince Young played a series.
Jeff Fisher is a better coach than that, making the move very curious.
And, while we’re on the subject, when did Billy Volek's stock bottom out so rapidly?
It wasn’t long ago that the Jets were trying to wrest Volek away from the Titans for a decent draft pick. If Tennessee was that down on him and knew it was going in another direction, why not get something for Volek when they could?
Now, with Volek toiling on the bench as the No. 3, he has no trade value.
As for the Jets, Chad Pennington was magnificent, and good for him after what he put himself through to get back onto the field following two shoulder surgeries in less than a year.
Pennington's performance _ arguably the best among all quarterbacks in Week One in the NFL _ was eye-opening. So, too, was offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's play calling in his first go-'round as a coordinator.
The Jets' use of the no-huddle almost all game on offense was brilliant. It seemed to constantly have the Titans off-balance on defense and it prevented them from binging in different situational personnel. It, too, exposed the Titans as not as fit as the Jets.
Tight end Chris Baker, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass, noticed the Titans tired and he reveled in the moment, knowing that those tedious two-and-a-half-hour practices in training camp had the Jets fitter than their opponents.
Baker noticed the Titans' defense scuffing to keep up while the Jets ran their effective no-huddle offense for most of the game.
"I know for a fact the (Titans') defensive guys were a little tired, you could tell,'' Baker said. "They also never showed us a lot of the looks they had on film.''
Jets' linebacker Matt Chatham said, "We put so much emphasis on that no huddle you got a sense it was an advantage for us.''
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
Let's not push panic buttons on Jets' kicker Mike Nugent. He's going to be fine. Two missed field goals and a missed PAT in one game is ghastly, but it doesn’t make the second-year Nugent a head case overnight.
Nugent's three misses, too, were all slightly wide right. On Monday after watching film he talked about seeing his foot consistently hit the ground before the ball, which causes him to push kicks. So he seems to have ironed out the issue.
We, of course, won't know for sure until he faces another big kick. But Nugent's 22-of-28 FG attempts last season and being named first-team All-Rookie by the Pro Football Writers of America should be enough to keep the vultures away.
Talk of the Jets bringing another kicker in for a tryout seem preposterous. The Jets will do a lot better to believe in Nugent and move on.
"Being mentally tough is usually one of my strengths, though I didn't really show that Sunday,'' Nugent conceded. "I've got a lot of work to do this week.''
Maybe Jets' tight end Chris Baker should pretend every week is opening day. A year ago, Baker caught seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown in the season opener at Kansas City. On Sunday, he caught four passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. That’s 11 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the last two openers. Baker said he doesn’t know of a correlation, but he does know he wants to improve on what he did in Week 2 last year: One catch for three yards.
Good for Mangini and Schottenheimer for using their young players and not being afraid of the consequences.
There's a saying in golf that a player should never be afraid to hit any club in his or her bag. Same goes for a coach. Don’t be afraid to use the players on your roster otherwise, why bring them to the game.
Great example is rookie WR Brad Smith, who Mangini said is "carving out'' a niche for himself.
Lost in the other big plays of the game Sunday was Smith's first NFL reception, which happened to not only be a one-handed snare of a pass that was thrown behind him while he was falling to the ground and well-covered, but it helped lead to the Jets' second touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
It also came on a third-and-six from the Titans' 32-yard line, meaning had he not made the catch the Jets would have faced a 50-yard FG attempt, and you know the kind of day Nugent was having.
NOTE: You can listen to Mark Cannizzaro LIVE every Sunday morning from 8 to 10 a.m. on "Tee it Up with Mark Canizzaro'' on 1050 ESPN Radio. Cannizzaro talks football, including a lot of Jets, along with golf, baseball and all other sports.