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Not As Close As You Think

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
September 19th, 2006
Tom Brady and the Patriots are still Kings of the AFC East. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Tom Brady and the Patriots are still Kings of the AFC East. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Don't be fooled, Jets fans. Donít be lulled into a false sense of, "Oh, we're really not that far off after all,'' after witnessing the Jets' 24-17 loss to the Patriots.

The game ended up being that close because of a couple of unusual _albeit magnificent _ plays that sparked the team and rattled the otherwise unflappable Patriots.

If you come away as a Jets' fan feeling warm and fuzzy about things, you're mistaken and so, too, will the Jets' players if they buy too much into their comeback.

Give the Jets credit for the comeback, but be realistic, too.

After all, what were you thinking in the first half as Tom Brady was toying with the Jets' defense, competing pass after pass whenever he needed them most?

What were you thinking when the Jets' offense failed to cross the New England 46 yard line in five possessions in the first half while falling behind 17-0?

You surely weren't thinking that the Jets have closed the gap on their AFC rivals, whoíve now won the last seven meetings between the two teams and nine of the last 11.

There were differing vibes inside the Jets' locker room after the game Sunday.

Eric Mangini was typically stern about the loss but also complimentary about how team's comeback.

Jets' defensive end Shaun Ellis talked about how the Jets "sent a message'' to the Patriots' with their comeback.

"I think we've got a really good team," Jets' running back Kevan Barlow said. "We might be young, but that's just an excuse. I think once we start getting into the rhythm of things, there's no reason why we can't make it to the playoffs this year."

Added Jets' receiver Laveranues Coles: "From my perspective, we'll always be better than what you give (reporters) us credit for. Last time I checked, we were only supposed to win four games this year. At least this week we've (already) accomplished 25 percent of that."

Jets' linebacker Jonathan Vilma disagreed with any and all silver-lining thinking, saying this team is not playing to "earn respect; we're playing to win games.''

The problem for the Jets was this Sunday: The Patriots are still better than they are. Theyíre better even without kicker Adam Vinatieri. They're better even without receiver David Givens. They're better even without Dieon Branch.

Whether they're seven points better than the Jets or 24 points better is moot.

The reality is that the Jets might actually have faced the Patriots at the ideal time Sunday, because the Patriots came to Giants Stadium at least a little bit unsure of themselves with a rookie kicker, still reeling emotionally from the reality of the popular Branch's departure and coming off of a shaky season debut the week before against Buffalo.

So don't forget about those factors when assessing where the Jets are.

Donít forget, too, that Tennessee was clobbered 40-7 by San Diego on Sunday.

Up next for the Jets is a road game against a Buffalo team that's become hard to read, particularly after its impressive road win Sunday in Miami.

The best thing the Jets should do as they assess Sunday's game against the Patriots is to look at that the Patriots did with their final possession.

After the Jets had wrested all the momentum of the game from the Patriots, the New England offense took possession of the ball up one touchdown with 9:14 remaining in the game at their own 30-yard line and methodically moved 63 yards to the Jets' seven-yard line al the while eating more than eight minutes off the clock. They converted three clutch third downs along the way to keep the drive alive and the ball out of Chad Pennington's hands.

Sure, the Jets blocked the field goal at the end of it, but they had only 1:05 to move 91 yards with no timeouts, something they were unable to do.

That drive is what championship teams are made of.

"That's why they're the three-time Super Bowl champs," Pennington said. "That's what we have to look at and understand that if we want to get to that level of play and press a lot of teams, that's what we've got to do. Just look at it as an example of how to suffocate a team and really take the momentum back."

Patriots' center Dan Koppen described the mindset of the final drive.

"Just keep going," he said. "Don't look up. Don't look at the clock. Don't worry about what's already happened. Just get hats on hats. I like the way we've stepped up the last two weeks. For us to perform that well late in a game is a good feeling. We've still got a long way to go, but we responded pretty well that last drive. I think we've got a lot of gutsy guys on this team."

Matt Chatham, the former Patriot and current Jets linebacker, said, "We did two out of three things that we have to do to win. "The Patriots know this. That's kind of their thing. You've got to be tough. You've got to be physical. And you've got to be smart.

"We were physical and we showed a lot of resiliency, especially in the second half, but we were not smart. I think that's the difference between their team and ours."

Said Patriots' linebacker Tedy Bruschi: "What we do a good job of is staying in the moment.''

And at the moment, Bruschi's Patriots continue to own the Jets, comeback or no comeback.

INSIDER EXTRA POINTS

If Bill Belichick thought it was a bother all week to be asked about Eric Mangini time and time again, he easily could have diffused it by giving some typicallyĖbland answer about what a good, young football mind his former apprentice is and how much he wishes him well _ except this week.

But Belichick instead chose the route he did _ going out of his way to not compliment Mangini or even speak his same _ for a reason. There's an agenda behind everything this guy does, just like with his mentor, Bill Parcells before him.

For Belichick to deny there are any hard or awkward feelings about Mangini leaving his program to coach the Jets is an utter joke. Trust us on this: Belichick, who has no respect whatsoever for the Jets' organization and their owner, didnít think Mangini should have taken the job and because Mangini did the mentor has been put off ever since.

Anyone tells you anything different then explain why Belichick has been playing such silly mind games all week. Explain why a such a supposed good friend never even acknowledged Mangini's first NFL victory.

The irony here is this: Mangini, who doesnít mind being associated with the likes of Belichick and Parcells and the other great minds he's worked under, came to the Jets wanting to be himself, not a Belichick clone like so many have wanted to portray him.

Well you know what?

The goings on this week have shown Mangini as his own man and not a Belichick clone.

If you don't think Belichick's act and his attitude toward Mangini since Mangini took the Jets' job hasnít irked Mangini some then youíre naÔve.

But Mangini took the high road this week, espousing the virtues of Belichick and talking about wow they'll always be close friends.

Friends donít let friends drive drunk, and friends donít treat friends with the disdain Belichick treated Mangini this week.

Mangini, too, wasn't telling the actual truth when he said Belichick was the last thing on his mind last week. You can't fight human nature.

It was positively comical watching the two during pre-game warmups, always a time in the NFL when coaches and players from opposing teams have a quick chat on the field in between stretches and warm-up drills.

Belichick and Mangini were at opposite sides of the field almost throughout. Patriot players Kevin Faulk and Rodney Harrison both at one point stopped by and said hello to Mangini. Keep an eye on the waiver wire this week for one or both of those guys to appear jobless.

"I don't even know if it's really gamesmanship with Bill," Chatham said. "I just think Bill is one of the most focused human beings on the planet. I just don't think he allows any kind of outside distraction. I don't think it has any real reflection on how they'll be like when the season ends.

"I just think at this time of day, he doesn't care about his dry cleaning, he doesn't care about his friends, he doesn't care about anything but football and whatever agenda he has with the Patriots. That's just how he is and how he's always going to be. It doesn't always come off very friendly and it rubs people the wrong way a lot of times, but you've got to respect him because he is consistent.''

****

Happy to see Jets' kicker Mike Nugent come out of his mini-slump? You should be. Nugent kicked a clutch "must-have'' 42-yard field goal to keep the Jets' comeback hopes alive in the fourth quarter.

When Nugent, who missed a PAT and field goals of 34 and 30 yards in the season opener at Tennessee, made his first PAT on Sunday, the Giants Stadium crowd greeted him with a loud, sarcastic Bronx cheer.

Nugent said he didn't hear it, but was amused.

"If I was a fan,'' he said, "I would have done the same thing.''

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