New Jets K Jay Feely won't have Ben Graham holding for him this Monday in San Diego. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The 2008 season was not supposed to begin this way for the San Diego Chargers. They entered fresh off a trip to the AFC Championship game, hungry to jump the ultimate hurdle and bring the franchise its first NFL title. They watched their quarterback, Philip Rivers, evolve into a fierce leader during last year's playoffs as he bore the pain of a torn ACL and courageously hobbled down the field. They welcomed back a talent-laden offense, loaded with elite players such as running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. Their play-making defense, led by cornerback Antonio Cromartie and linebacker Shawne Merriman also remained in tact.
But little did the Chargers suspect that just three weeks into the 2008 season, urgency would settle in. Then again, that's what two last-second losses, added with injuries to your lead rusher and pass rusher will do to you.
"We certainly feel the urgency and have that sense of urgency to get a win," Rivers told reporters today in a conference call. "We certainly don't want to slip into any deeper hole than we've already dug ourselves into."
Beaten and battered, the Chargers suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the AFC West, having allowed 65 points in two losses. With Tomlinson nursing a jammed toe and Merriman no longer wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks due to torn knee ligaments suffered during the preseason, the uphill climb for San Diego has begun.
The attention now turns to the New York Jets, who after last week's 19-10 loss to the Patriots are dealing with their own adversity. After opening the season with a 20-14 win over Miami, the Jets find themselves a mediocre 1-1 in the standings. Head Coach Eric Mangini knows that Monday will be a good test for Gang Green.
"It's not just handling adversity, it's handling success. It's both those things. The goal is constantly up, down, whatever the result on Sunday is to come back and have a very consistent level of practice week-in and week-out and I can't stress that enough," Mangini said.
What Mangini cannot stress enough is not just rigourous preparation, but the state of their next opponent. He knows that San Diego is no average 0-2 team. Pointing to the offense, which has scored 62 total points, is one area to start.
"It's a lot of things that jump out as challenges. Gates, [Chris] Chambers, Tomlinson, [Darren] Sproles, Rivers, good offensive line. They throw it short, catch and run, formation adjustments, different personnel groups. I mean, the list goes on," Mangini said.
Much of the early success can be contributed to Rivers, who has already totaled six touchdown passes in his two starts.
"[Rivers] is a very talented guy," Mangini explained. "I don't know him personally, but through Brian [Schottenheimer], just an excellent work ethic just the way he's continued to work at understanding not just the offense but the defense and you see the jumps each season."
While Tomlinson has battled a toe injury for much of the week, forcing him to miss practice, the Chargers have other options to throw at the Jets defense. Enter running back Darren Sproles, the "do everything" back that can change the game instantly.
"To be able to go from Tomlinson to Sproles and have that same type of threat; he's so dangerous, not just with the ball in his hands but on running plays," Mangini explained.
To help combat that explosive Chargers offense, the Jets will call upon their improved defense. Just two games into 2008, the Jets have allowed a total of 33 points, thanks in large part to nose tackle Kris Jenkins.
Through just watching film, Rivers can already see the difference Jenkins has made.
"When he's standing right there in the middle, he's the anchor of that defense. To me, he's where it all starts," Rivers said. "When you see some of the habits he's caused in the run game and in the pass game, he's a game changing-type player."
In the 35 minutes the media were allowed to view, the Jets opened with 11-on-11 drills and then moved into kick coverage drills. The 11-on-11 session opened with Brett Favre leading the Jets' starting offense against the starting defense. Favre went 1-for-4 in the drills, with his lone completion being a ten-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dustin Keller.
Following the drill, Jay Feely jogged onto the field to attempt field goals. On the first attempt, punter Reggie Hodges, replacing the released Ben Graham as the team's new holder, botched a clean snap from James Dearth. Feely ended up 1-for-2 on field goals, as he missed wide-left from 35 yards, but was successful from 37 yards.
Punter Waylon Prather, who was signed to the Jets' practice squad yesterday, displayed his booming leg in kick coverage drills. Prather's first three punts sailed over 50 yards and had a considerably longer hang-time than Graham's boots often carried.
No Concern for California Trip
Rather than leave Sunday for San Diego, the Jets' players voted to leave a day earlier. Mangini said he is not concerned about the long flight, as head strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi spent time in the offseason researching the effects of long-distance flights on the body. Asked whether having the West Coast trips broken up or back-to-back would be preferable, Mangini said he prefers the former.
"I don't mind having it broken up. I've done the extended stay out in the West Coast, and it's been okay," Mangini explained. "When you look at win, losses, doing it the different ways, it's not consistently skewed one way or the other."
Goal-Line Stand a Setback?
The Jets have turned their attention to the San Diego Chargers, but Mangini continues to face questions about the Jets' conservative play-calling in last week's loss to the Patriots. With Favre at quarterback and a revamped offensive line paving the way, Thomas Jones was handed the ball on three consecutive plays at the New England 3-yard line. The result? Gain of one yard, gain of one, loss of two.
During Mangini's morning press conference, he was asked whether the inability to create a hole for Jones was a setback for the offensive line: "I don't think that's some sort of defining moment," Mangini deadpanned.
As for the offensive line, the Jets' head coach continues to see the chemistry building.
"There has been good chemistry throughout training camp, throughout the early part of the season. And that group as a whole with the mix of younger guys, older guys, we have some new guys from different systems in there and you wouldn't know it," Mangini said.
Adding Up the Mileage
The Jets trek to San Diego will represent the first of four West Coast trips the team is scheduled to make this season. Mangini took a humorous spin today when asked what his reaction was to the Jets' high-mileage schedule.
"Well, it's down in Miami to start things off where it's nice and hot. That was always good. Going to the West Coast however many times, just build up the frequent flyer miles, maybe take a vacation to Disney after the season or something," Mangini laughed.
Jenkins Playing Big up Front
In Sunday's 19-10 loss to the Patriots, Jenkins wreaked havoc along the defensive line. He recorded six tackles (three for loss) and added one sack. This represents Jenkins' first year playing in a 3-4 defensive system, but Mangini knows that Jenkins has exceeded expectations.
"Kris is going to be disruptive in any system. He just is," Mangini said. "He's playing with good technique and doing a good job reading the blocks which makes it that much more challenging."
Favre on High Expectations: "So What?"
When the Jets added Favre as part of the offseason overhaul, there was little doubt around the league that the team's expectations had skyrockted. But after the team's sluggish performance against New England, Favre was asked if those expectations stood a bit steep.
"We made some changes this offseason that have bettered this team across the board, and that brings high expectations. But so what?," Favre asked. "We have a chance to win. Now we have to do it. We have to win."
Wide receiver David Clowney (shoulder) is "out" for Monday's game, but is progressing. Clowney was out riding the hand-bike during practice today. As for a possible return, Mangini has not provided a timetable.
"He's doing well. He's moving along with his rehab and no real timetable. Just whenever he's ready to go," he said.
Kicker Mike Nugent (thigh) is also "out" for Monday, while cornerback David Barrett (shoulder), wide receiver Laveranues Coles (thigh), and cornerback Justin Miller (foot) are listed as "questionable."