Can the pupil school the teacher? We'll find out on Sunday as the Jets will try to knock off the Pats. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Working under his long-time friend and mentor, Bill Belichick, Eric Mangini never lost a postseason game in Foxboro. The Patriots went 5-0 in home playoff games over the span en route to an unprecedented three Super Bowl victories in just four seasons. The two will meet in New England once again for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card bout, but with Mangini now coaching the Jets, only one can come away with victory number-six and a trip to the next round of the playoffs.
Mangini’s Jets split the season series with the Patriots in 2006, with each team winning on the road but falling at home.
The Pats won the first meeting, a Week Two game at the Meadowlands, by a score of 24-17. Jets WRs Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles each caught six passes for 100+ yards and a touchdown, but the team’s anemic running game – led by RBs Kevan Barlow and Derrick Blaylock – put up just 51 yards on the ground. The Jets trailed 24-0 at one point, but a late rally got them close until Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi picked off a pass in the final minute of play, sealing the deal.
Belichick drew scorn from around the nation for refusing to look at Mangini during their brief, post-game handshake. Both coaches insisted the action held no significance, saying neither harbored any ill-will toward the other.
Tensions began to gradually die down until the week before their second match-up, when Belichick would not mention Mangini’s name to reporters. Mangini was clearly not bothered by the commotion, leading Gang Green to a big 17-14 win over the Patriots in New England. Many Jets players, including LB Eric Barton, said that win marked the turning point of the season.
”We all knew that if we wanted to do something special this year, we had to win that game,” said Barton. “We did, but it was just a step. We knew if we had won that game, but come up short in some other games, it would not have mattered.”
The victory also marked a very significant achievement for the team. “That was the game where we came together,” Barton explained. “We played as a team.”
While Barton wasn’t incorrect by noting that the team played together as a whole in the big road-victory, what was truly noteworthy was how the defensive unit came together. After a bye week filled with calls for the firing of Defense Coordinator Bob Sutton by angry fans, the Jets’ defense was unstoppable against the Patriots, sacking QB Tom Brady four times and forcing three turnovers.
The Jets defensive has been gaining momentum since, and should play a prominent role in deciding Sunday’s outcome. New England’s offensive line has allowed plenty of pressure to be put on Brady in the latter part of the season, and with the DE Shaun Ellis and LB Victor Hobson racking up sacks recently, look for Sutton to send the blitz often.
Jets CB Andre Dyson may not be healthy enough to play on Sunday, which is all the more reason to send pressure so that Brady – statistically one of the best postseason-quarterbacks of all time – can’t pick the Jets’ “D” apart.
New England’s secondary isn’t in ideal shape either. S Rodney Harrison will miss Sunday’s game after sustaining an injury to his knee in the Patriots’ final game of the regular season. Harrison’s absence will soften up the Patriots pass-defense across the middle of the field, a favorite spot for Laveranues Coles.
Coles still isn’t thrilled about the prospect of facing the Patriots secondary in the playoffs, with or without Harrison. “I think it’s pretty much the same,” said Coles. “He (Harrison) has a lot of leadership skills… but each time we’ve played against them, their secondary has done an excellent job with us.”
Jets RB Cedric Houston could be a key player in Sunday’s game as well. Houston was inactive for both regular season games against the Patriots (first game for match-up, second game due to injury), yet in the games he has played this season, he has been the team’s most consistent rusher.
Rookie-RB Leon Washington should also get involved, especially in the Jets’ passing game. In Gang Green’s win over the Dolphins on Christmas, Washington recorded a career-high 108 yards on four receptions.
In the end, however, the Jets’ chances of pulling off an upset and getting Mangini his first postseason victory as an NFL head coach rest on the shoulders – nay, shoulder - of AP Comeback Player of the Year Chad Pennington. Coming back from his second rotator-cuff surgery in as many years, Pennington set career-high marks this season in completions, yards, and (most importantly) starts. The seven-year veteran of the NFL started 16 games for the first time in his career in 2006, leading the Jets to the playoffs for the 12th time in team history.
Historically, Pennington has fared pretty darn well in Wild Card games, too. He’s 2-0 as a starter in the Wild Card round of the playoffs with wins over the Colts (2002) and Chargers (2004), throwing for a combined 501 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions.
The Jets may be underdogs, but given the outcome of the last game between the two up in Foxborough, the thought of eking out a win isn’t too farfetched. ”That was one of those games where we realized if we do what we are supposed to do, practice and study hard, we knew we could beat anybody,” said Barton.
Lets just hope that “anybody” is the Patriots and not, as was the case in the infamous Doug Brien-meltdown the last time New York saw postseason action, themselves.
-The Jets and Patriots are set to do battle in the playoffs for just the second time ever. On December 28, 1985, New England beat the Jets at the Meadowlands by a score of 26-14 in an AFC Wild Card match-up.
-New England is 5-0 all time against the Jets when Rodney Harrison, who joined the team in 2003, is in the lineup. They are 2-1 when he does not play (the one loss was Week 10 of this season).
-Worried that no CuMart will kill all Wild Card chances? Think again! In the two Wild Card games Pennington has played in for the Jets, Curtis Martin did not score and only led the team in rushing in one of the two games (San Diego – 66 yards). LaMont Jordan was the only Jets’ running-back to score in either game, going in twice during the historic 41-0 blowout of Indianapolis in 2002.
-The Jets scored 17 points in both games against the Patriots this season, splitting the two games. In the earlier meeting between the teams, New York gave up 24 points to the Pats, losing. In the victory in Foxborough, the Jets allowed just 14 points, including no rushing touchdowns (two in previous game).
-Jets CB Justin Miller and Patriots RB Laurence Maroney are ranked number-one and number-two in average yards per kickoff-return, respectively. Miller, who is headed to the Pro Bowl, also has two kickoff-returns for touchdowns.
-If the Jets win on Sunday they will play the Chargers if KC Beats Indianapolis and the Ravens if the Colts win.
New York Jets
-FB B.J. Askew (Foot): Questionable
-RB Kevan Barlow (Thigh): Questionable
-CB David Barrett (Hip): Questionable
-WR Laveranues Coles (Jaw): Questionable
-CB Andre Dyson (Knee): Questionable
-FB James Hodgins (Knee): Questionable
-C Nick Mangold (Thigh): Questionable
-OL Brandon Moore (Ankle): Questionable
-S Kerry Rhodes (Knee): Questionable
-DL Dewayne Robertson (Knee): Questionable
-LB Matt Chatham (Foot): Probable
-RB Cedric Houston (Calf): Probable
-QB Chad Pennington (Calf): Probable
-DB Eric Smith (Foot): Probable
-DE Bryan Thomas (Shoulder): Probable
New England Patriots
-S Rodney Harrison (Knee): Out
-WR Bam Childress (Ankle): Questionable
-RB Kevin Faulk (Knee): Questionable
-CB/S Chad Scott (Back): Questionable
-TE Benjamin Watson (Knee): Questionable
-NT Vince Wilfork (Ankle): Questionable
-QB Tom Brady (Right Shoulder): Probable
-CB Ellis Hobbs (Wrist): Probable
-DL Richard Seymour (Elbow): Probable
-LB Mike Vrabel (Back): Probable
Game time is at 1:00PM on Sunday, nationally-televised on CBS with local radio coverage 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!