INSIDER MONDAY TEAM REPORT
By Douglas Bonjour
Jets Insider.com, Staff Writer
September 8th, 2008
With Week One in the books and with a mark in the win column, the Jets now turn their preparation to a familiar foe. The arch-rival New England Patriots will visit the Meadowlands Sunday, but will be without All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady. However, even though Matt Cassel will start in Brady's place, Mangini is not about to go to sleep on the Patriots.
In 2007, it was Brady and the record-setting Patriots offense that delivered the knockout blow to opposing defenses. The historic year began with a 38-14 rout over the Jets, as Brady silenced the Meadowlands crowd with his 297-yard, three touchdown performance. All was set for a rematch between the Jets and the Patriots' star quarterback this Sunday, until New England suffered a knockout blow out of its own.
After various reports late Sunday night suggested Brady would miss the entire 2008 season with a torn left ACL, an injury he suffered in the first quarter of a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick confirmed the reports to be true today.
Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini commented on Brady during his afternoon press conference.
"Tom has always been such a great guy, a gracious guy. He's unique in a way that over time and with the amount of success that he's had, he's never really changed. He's always been incredibly gracious to me and my family," Mangini said. "Obviously he's a tremendous player...but you never want to see anybody have any sort of major injury."
Now with the 2007 NFL Most Valuable Player sidelined for the season, Mangini will be forced to gameplan for career backup Matt Cassell. Although the task of facing Cassel appears less daunting to the naked-eye, Mangini knows from his six seasons with New England that Belichick will have his team prepared.
"Being part of New England and having a lot of seasons there and having a lot of seasons where there were injuries to key players...one of the things Bill [Belichick] and his staff have always been able to do is to create a plan to win the game that week and to overcome [injuries].
While Mangini says has not begun game-planning for Sunday, he knows his task for preparation is no light matter either. With game-breaking wide receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker and the trio of Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan at running back, the Patriots' offense remains dangerous.
"They've got a lot of serious weapons you have to deal with," Mangini said. "They've got multiple running backs, multiple guys that can run the football extremely effectively or they can throw it to any of those receivers that can score on any play."
With Cassel now starting, Mangini will have a smaller sample of tape to work from. In parts of four seasons (15 games played), Cassel has completed 35-of-57 passes for three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"He's played in the preseason, we can look at those items, he's played in preseasons in the past, he started a game late one year against Miami and we'll look at those things," Mangini explained.
With the attention now on Cassel, Jets linebacker Eric Barton chimed in with his own analysis on the Patriots' new starter.
"[Cassel] looks like a strong-armed kid, he looks like he's smart with the football and he doesn't make very many mistakes, most Patriot players don't," he said.
While the Jets are coming home riding high off their season opening victory, the opportunity to pounce on the battered Patriots and jump ahead in the division is present. Rather than determine the impact of Brady's injury on New England, Jets tight end Chris Baker knows the Jets must maintain their focus.
"Going into the year we looked at the upgrades on our offense and defense. We want to go to the Super Bowl this year so we can only focus on what we can handle and what we can do. We really can't worry about what [losing Brady] does to them," Baker said.
The Jets have experienced the sour taste of losing a star quarterback before, as back in 1999, fresh off a 12-4 season and a trip to the AFC Championship game, Vinny Testaverde was lost for season with a torn achillies tendon. All hopes were deflated as the Jets sputtered to an 8-8 record. Even though a significant injury to a star player can derail once-promising hopes, Mangini knows the Patriots are not about to lose focus. Again, a Belichick-led team knows what it must do.
"Bill [Belichick] is extremely good at keeping everyone focused and identifying the things that you need to do that leads to being successful," Mangini said. "There's a lot of great leadership in the locker room and a lot of guys that have fought through different combinations of injuries and have been very successful."
Whether Belichick can motivate his team is one question, but whether the Patriots can move forward and compete in the AFC remains another. Several Jets believe so.
"I would consider them still the favorite," Barton said. "I think they won what, 18 regular season games? They are, what you would call, the team to beat."
Guard Brandon Moore added, "You can't bury the Patriots just because Tom [Brady] went down. I honestly feel like they're loaded on offense. They have a lot of veterans on offense, the offensive line and the running backs. On defense, they've always been good and solid. I don't think that one piece missing is going to make a huge difference."
Mangini's Kicker Plan
The Jets were momentarily left without kicker Mike Nugent during Sunday's win against Miami after Nugent suffered what appeared to be a thigh injury. Mangini is simply labeling the condition as a "leg injury." Nugent appeared to injure himself after his foot got stuck in the grass during the follow-through on his missed 32-yard attempt, but Mangini said that he injured his leg following the second kickoff. He was unable to kick the PAT following Favre's touchdown pass to wide receiver Chansi Stuckey during the second quarter, but he did return to successfully make his PAT after running back Thomas Jones' touchdown run in the third quarter. If Nugent does not recover in time for Sunday, the Jets plan to work out free-agent kickers.
"We'll definitely go through contingency plans if Mike wouldn't be able to kick this week," Mangini said.
Mangini explained that Nugent must go through "tests and evaluations" before the team can determine the severity of the injury.
Sources have confirmed that the team brought in kickers Jay Feely, Dave Rayner, and Aaron Elling today for tryouts. Feely, who kicked for the Giants in 2005 and is familar with Giants Stadium, would likely be the best choice if another kicker is needed.
Barton, Pennington Connect Helmet to Helmet
Barton delivered his former teammate, Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, a helmet to helmet hit in yesterday's contest. The hit drew a 15-yard penalty, but nonetheless, Barton said the helmet contact was unintentional.
"It's not something I meant to do. It's just something that happens. It was nothing against Chad," Barton explained. "Sometimes it's just hard to avoid it."
Following the hit, Barton said that Pennington did not say anything, instead choosing to point at the penalty flag and laugh.
Jenkins, Defense Gain Praise
In yesterday's 20-14 win, the Jets' revamped defense limited Miami to just 277 total yards. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins stablized the run defense, which held the combination of Ronnie Brown (6 carries, 23 yards) and Ricky Williams (10 carries, 24 yards) to just 47 yards on 16 carries. Mangini pointed toward Jenkins' strong presence on the line, noting that he specifically liked the push Jenkins provided in the running game. Mangini says he has always been impressed by the way the 349-pound Jenkins pursues the football.
"It's hard for bigger men to consistently pursue the football and I thought he did a nice job of that," Mangini said.
Changing Faces on Defense
Mangini explained that he wants to focus on different combinations of defensive lineman and outside linebackers to help keep players fresh. However, Mangini chose not to reveal his hand in suggesting which players he planned to rotate.
The more that you can do that and everybody can take those meaningful reps, it really helps later in the game and as the season grows on," Mangini said.
Gholston Impresses on Special Teams
Linebacker Vernon Gholston had a quiet afternoon yesterday, recording zero tackles, but not all was lost in the rookie's NFL debut. Mangini was impressed with Gholston's performance on the punt return team.
"He put some good pressure on the punter, did a pretty nice job in terms of hold-ups and played some on the kickoff team as well," Mangini said.
During the reps at outside linebacker, Gholston barely missed the chance for his first NFL sack early in the second half. Gholston rushed Pennington at a "wider angle" as Mangini suggested that Pennington's quick five-step drop surprised Gholston.
Lowery Gets Credit from Running Mate
Cornerback Darrelle Revis' interception sealed the win for the Jets Sunday, but lost in the thrill of victory was a strong performance by the starter opposite Revis, rookie Dwight Lowery. Lowery totaled four tackles on the afternoon, but his best play came in the second half, when he dove to swat away Pennington's fourth-down pass at the goal line. Revis had positive things to say about his running mate.
"Lowery played great yesterday. He had a lot of pass break-ups. He's getting closer to [intercepting] balls. In the next couple of weeks, he should be picking some balls and making some great plays," Revis said.
Other than Nugent's "leg inury" the Jets escaped Miami relatively injury-free. Wide receiver David Clowney (shoulder) was inactive for yesterday's win, and there is no timetable for his return. Linebacker Jason Trusnik (leg) remains on the reserve/PUP list.