Jets LB Calvin Pace knows stopping the Bengals and their high-powered offense won't be an easy task. (JI Photo)
New York Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini has studied the art of the 3-4 defense under the tutelage of NFL greats, Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. He experienced the thrill of a Super Bowl title in 2002, 2004 and 2005 as a defensive assistant on the New England Patriots' staff. He's even watched a season spiral out of control, as last year's Jets plummeted to a 4-12 record. But if there's one idea that Mangini has grasped over his 14 seasons in the NFL, it's that the standings never tell the complete story.
"I never get caught up in the records, I really just don't believe in that, because I've been part of too many teams where you go in with one mind-set," Mangini said.
One of those teams was the 1999 Jets, where Mangini served as a defensive/quality control coach. Heading into December that season the Jets were sputtering with a 4-7 record, having lost quarterback Vinny Testaverde to the season with a torn achillies tendon. They were facing a 5-6 New York Giants team that was decimated by injuries and were fresh off a three-game losing streak. Simply put, the Giants were "snowballing," as described by Mangini.
On paper the Jets had more momentum having won three of four games heading into the matchup, but the Giants steamrolled the Jets 41-28.
"We were rolling pretty good and they crushed us, they crushed us," Mangini said. "And you never would have looked at it from the outside looking in objectively and said the score would be whatever it was."
While neither team pulled off any sort of miracle run following the game and both quietly descended into the abyss as the season drew to a close, the loss stuck in Mangini's mind to the point where he had to turn back to it nine years later.
Now as head coach of the Jets, Mangini finds himself in what he deems as a similar situation. After trouncing the Arizona Cardinals 56-35 to halt a two-game skid and then enjoying a bye week to refresh, the Jets return to the field this week to face the 0-5 Bengals.
Again, just like the 1999 "Battle of the Meadowlands," the Jets have the advantage and in front of them sits a team beaten, but not dead. Yes the Bengals are 0-5, but three of those five losses have come against the Titans, Giants and Cowboys, which have combined for a 13-1 record.
Thus the Jets are not about to sleep on their opponent, especially seeing that the Bengals are not your average 0-5 team.
"They are a scary team to play against whether they are 0-5 or 5-0," wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. "They could just as well be 5-0 as they are 0-5. They are a very good football team."
The Bengals entered the season with playoff aspirations, centered with a Pro-Bowl quarterback in Carson Palmer and two game-breaking receivers in TJ Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. However even with the winless mark, one word continues to ring through the Jets' locker room about Sunday's opponent: "Dangerous."
"They're even more dangerous now than they would be if they were 5-0," cornerback David Barrett said.
Linebacker Calvin Pace, who is second on the team with 2.5 sacks, added "[They're] dangerous. You're talking about another team with another group of pro-bowl players. It's going to be a challenge. It's not going to be one of those games that you can look at and say it's going to be easy."
No game this season has come easy for Gang Green. Even after heading into halftime with a 34-0 lead on the Cardinals last week, the Jets had to sweat out the Cardinals' offensive outburst in the third quarter before pulling away with a 56-35 win.
With head coach Marvin Lewis leading the Bengals, Mangini anticipates another well-prepared Bengals team.
"It's not gone the way he would have liked it to have gone here in the early part of the season," Mangini said, in speaking of Marvin Lewis' team. "I've known [Lewis] for a long time and know how he works and prepares, so I anticipate a very well-prepared team."
The Jets activated running back Jesse Chatman from the reserve/suspended list. Chatman was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on steroids and related substances.
Jets to Remember Titans Again
For the second time this season the Jets will wear their blue and gold New York Titans uniforms this Sunday. The jerseys replicate the uniforms worn by the franchise from 1960-1962. The Jets practiced in the navy blue, gold-striped Titans helmets today.
Smith Battling for Touches
Through the Jets' first four games, wide receiver Brad Smith has been invisible on the field. After catching a career-high 32 passes for 325 yards last season, Smith has yet to record a catch this season, and has just one carry for 16 yards. Mangini said he remains a "huge Brad Smith fan," but balancing touches for all the offensive targets remains tough: "I have confidence in all those guys that whoever gets a chance is going to be able to capitalize on that chance, so to have to force one thing or the other for the sake of balancing up numbers, I don't think would be a positive step," Mangini said.
Jets' Kicker a Model of "Consistency"
With Nugent sidelined for the past three weeks with a right-thigh injury, eight-year veteran Jay Feely has connected on four of six field goal attempts for Gang Green. Mangini provided his analysis on Feely today.
"I've liked the things he's done," Mangini said. "He's been a consistent kicker over time, especially, you know, at [Giants] Stadium, so he's been positive. He's really treated the situation exactly how I expected him to, and he's had a very mature approach to it all."
Wide receiver David Clowney (shoulder) practiced today and was again wearing a red pinney, meaning he was out of contact drills. Clowney has been out of action since the Aug. 16 preseason loss to the Washington Redskins, but he is progressing steadily.
"He got to work a couple days last week, and he's still fast, you know, he's still fast," Mangini said. "Now it's a process of getting back into it, being in the huddle, getting the plays, getting the adjustments on the plays."
As for Nugent (right thigh), the Jets remain hopeful that he can return for Sunday's matchup with the Bengals, but the team is cautious not to rush him back.
"I don't want to rush anything there and have a set-back that ends up being much longer than it should be, so we're staying with the same path, and I think it's a good path, a good formula," Mangini said.
Cornerback Justin Miller (foot) is also nearing a return from an injury suffered in the Aug. 23 preseason win over the New York Giants. Mangini said that the team anticipates Miller having a good week of practice and "getting back in the mix," but he did not provide a timetable for Miller's return.
Safety Abram Elam worked exclusively with the first team in 11-on-11 drills, in place of the suspended Eric Smith. This morning Mangini said that Smith is going through the appeal process of his one-game suspension with the league office today and he expects a decision either today or tomorrow. If Smith is unable to face the Bengals on Sunday, the combination of Barrett, Elam and Hank Poteat is expected to fill in at safety Sunday: "Some combination of those players, or depending on how the week goes, maybe one or more than the other," Mangini said. ....Drew Coleman and Poteat both shared time at nickel corner with the starting defense.... Nugent ran light windsprints and calisthenics along the sidelines during practice while Feely continued to handle kicking duties. Linebacker Jason Trusnik, who remains on the reserve/PUP list, rode the exercise bicycle alongside head strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi....Cornerback Dwight Lowery got beaten twice during 11-on-11 drills, once by wide reciever Chansi Stuckey on a slant pattern and then by Coles on a go-route in the endzone. Lowery was flagged for defensive holding on the pass to Coles, sending the rookie cornerback to the sidelines to run a lap....The Jets opened the practice with kickoff coverage, in which running back Leon Washington, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, Lowery, Miller and cornerback Darrelle Revis all saw action as returners....With Ben Graham released, Reggie Hodges resumed his role as punter. Hodges' kicks consistently sailed 40-50 yards with a solid hangtime. Washington and Cotchery split duties at punt return.