It's Jets Coach Eric Mangini squaring off against mentor Bill Belichick. Can the pupil school the teacher on Sunday?
The green and white ocean that has engulfed the Meadowlands grows completely silent. On the Jumbotron, a fireman with a green and white helmet is standing on his seat, scouring at the crowd of over 75,000 with his hands at his sides. As he raises them, all in attendance triumphantly yell their battle-cry to the heavens, fists pumping in unison: J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! That’s right; the long wait is finally over as Gang Green returns to New Jersey for the 2006 home opener.
The Jets look to be the first New York team to record a win at Giants Stadium this season, which is shared by the Giants and Jets. In Week One, the Giants lost their home-opener to the AFC-powerhouse Indianapolis Colts, and on Sunday the 1-0 Jets will face a similar dilemma as they take on the mighty New England Patriots.
Already a great rivalry, the match-up between the AFC East’s co-leaders takes on a whole new level of intrigue on Sunday as Jets rookie-Head Coach Eric Mangini will get his first opportunity to coach against both his former team and his mentor, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.
Mangini, who won three Superbowls while with the Patriots, doesn’t buy into the hype surrounding his first game coaching against his lifelong friend and teammate, calling the media’s buildup of the bout “pretty funny” in a press conference earlier in the week.
“It's Patriots versus Jets and that's the important thing,” Mangini told reporters. “It's a division game and it's Patriots/Jets. For Bill and I there won't be any passes thrown or balls caught or tackles made; it's the team.”
Mangini is right in trying to place the focus on the players rather than the coaches, but coaching is still a vital part of the game and it will be interesting to see how Mangini will hold up against the man who taught him much of what he knows about coaching.
One of the most important lessons Mangini learned from Belichick during his years in New England was that each week needs to be approached as its own entity. “Each week we're trying to create the best plan for that opponent,” said the Jets head coach, “and New England is the next opponent.”
The Patriots’ defense, a perennial strong-point of the team, looks to be in good shape once again despite losing some key players in the offseason. The most notable loss was star-LB Willie McGinest, who signed with the Cleveland Browns, but the vacancy was quickly filled by veteran-LB Junior Seau.
New England’s offense, on the other hand, is currently in state of flux and uncertainty. The team lost two receivers from last year’s squad to free agency, with WR David Givens signing with the Titans and WR Tim Dwight joining the Jets, but the biggest offensive loss happened earlier this week with the trading of top-receiver Deion Branch. Branch, a former Superbowl MVP with the Patriots, had been holding out in hopes of landing a larger contract and was finally traded to the Seattle Seahawks this week for a first round pick in the 2007 draft.
When asked about establishing connections with other receivers like he had with Branch, Patriots QB Tom Brady was optimistic but assured reporters that it was not an easy process. “That takes a lot of time,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Brady may be unsure of his current options, but Mangini believes the Patriots will still show a strong passing game. “They are going to be tough to defend and they are going to do a lot of things to attack the things that we do and minimize our strengths.”
The Jets seem to have developed an effective passing offense now that QB Chad Pennington is back to full health, but the same cannot be same for their running game. RB Derrick Blaylock, who got the start in Tennessee, appeared helpless against a powerful defensive line – not a good sign considering the Patriots defensive he may have to face.
RB Kevan Barlow was much more successful last week and showed both power and agility. He seems a likely candidate to get the start at running back, although RB Cedric Houston may challenge him for the role. Although Houston did not play last week, he is very strong and excels at breaking tackles, both of which might prove useful against New England.
One stat working in Barlow’s favor in terms of getting the starting nod is how he performed against the Patriots two seasons ago as a member of the 49ers. In the final game of the season, Barlow managed 103 yards on 25 carries in a losing effort against New England. He also caught two passes for 11 yards.
With a build-up of such epic proportions, it’s difficult not to get excited for Sunday’s game. Even Coach Mangini’s young son, Jake, is getting pumped for the game.
“He's really improved his J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets,” Mangini joked earlier this week. “We’ve got a real chance there.”
-Adding to the already-complex relations between the two teams, the Patriots filed a tampering complaint against the Jets over the past week. The Patriots claim that the Jets tampered with the Deion Branch situation by informing Branch of the compensation they were offering. The Jets have declined to comment on the issue.
-The Jets lead the all-time regular season series against the Patriots 47-43-1. They also hold a slight lead in Jets home games, edging New England 18-17. However, the Patriots have beaten the Jets 10 out of 17 times in September.
The last time the teams met at the Meadowlands was December 26th, 2005, when the Patriots defeated the Jets by a score of 31-21.
-Kicking games should play a key role in determining Sunday’s outcome, with both teams currently in somewhat-iffy situations. The Jets are hoping K Mike Nugent can recover from his horrendous game against the Titans in which he missed two chip-shots and an extra point.
The Patriots kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, had a better day than Nugent in Week One, nailing his only field goal attempt and hitting 2-of-2 extra points. Those were the first three kicks of his NFL career, however. Gostkowski is a rookie out of Memphis and has been given the monumental task of filling K Adam Vinatieri’s shoes. Vinatieri is now the kicker for the Indianapolis Colts.
-Even with all the receivers New England has lost, they still have their top touchdown-catcher from the December 26th game on their roster: LB Mike Vrabel. Vrabel caught two one-yard touchdown passes in the first half of the Patriots victory.
-Mangini and Belichick have faced off on opposing teams once before. On October 6th, 1996, Mangini was a member of the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff when they faced the Patriots in Week Six. Mangini was an offensive assistant coach for the Ravens, and Belichick was an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Patriots, who were coached by Bill Parcells. The Patriots won the game on the road, 46-38.
Curtis Martin led all Patriots rushers in the game with 49 yards on 19 carries, and Vinny Testaverde (then with the Ravens) led the game in passing with 353 yards and three touchdowns. The game-winning play was a blocked-punt for a touchdown by Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi, who is still a member of the Patriots.
New York Jets
-OL Trey Teague (Ankle): Doubtful
-CB David Barrett (Hip): Questionable
-WR Tim Dwight (Thigh): Questionable
-OL Pete Kendall (Thigh): Questionable
-LB Matt Chatham (Foot): Probable
-LB Trevor Johnson (Neck): Probable
-S Kerry Rhodes (Ankle): Probable
-S Derrick Strait (Chest): Probable
New England Patriots
-LB Tedy Bruschi (Wrist): Questionable
-S Artrell Hawkins (Thigh): Questionable
-WR Chad Jackson (Hamstring): Questionable
-T Nick Kaczur (Shoulder): Questionable
-HB/TE Garrett Mills (Flu): Questionable
-QB Tom Brady (R Shoulder): Probable
-WR Doug Gabriel (Hamstring): Probable
-S Rodney Harrison (Flu): Probable
Game time is at 4:15PM on Sunday, local TV on CBS 2 and local radio on 1050 ESPN radio and WCRN 104.3 on Long Island. Be sure to check back to JetsInsider.com after the game for a complete recap!
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