These days at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, it should be easy to forget about the 2007 season. After all, last year's 4-12 debacle has been responded to with an 8-3 record and sole-possession of first place in the AFC East.
However, as the Jets prepare to face the Denver Broncos (6-5) on Sunday after grabbing road victories over the rival Patriots (7-4) and the previously undefeated Titans (10-1), Jets running back Thomas Jones is not turning his head away from last season. Instead he's pointing toward it as motivation for staying focused.
"We've got a lot of football left and we've got a lot of leadership on this team," Jones said. "Where we were last year at 4-12 at the end of the season, we are in no place to look ahead, we're in no position to look past anybody."
Whether the disappointment of last season lingers or not, these Jets have carried the same focus that has carried them to where they are today.
"I've been happy with the way that after we complete a game, the focus then shifts to the next opponent and doesn't shift to celebrating the last victory or looking ahead," head coach Eric Mangini said. "That's something that I stress consistently."
Mangini explained that the focused message "is not something that has just been brought up this year or the past weeks" but rather it's "been this way throughout the time I've been here."
After the Jets' 34-31 overtime victory over the Patriots on Nov. 13 which carried them into sole possession of first place in the division, it would have been comforting to savor the victory for a bit longer than a win over the Rams, but the Jets kept their focus. While Mangini explained that there was a "very good mood" on the plane ride back from Foxborough, the team's attention was "shifting to the things that we needed to get corrected.
"That, to me, is really important, appreciating the victory, but also starting the process of honestly evaluating, 'hey, this stuff needs to get corrected,' or, 'we have to do this a lot better'," Mangini said.
The attention turned to the undefeated Titans and the Jets responded with a convincing 34-13 victory. While the Jets were again giddy after handing Tennessee it's first loss, Gang Green took some meaning away from their big victory.
"It's like anything else, the victory that you have the week before just makes the next game that much more important," Mangini said. [Denver] is an AFC opponent. It's a division leader and explosive offense. They've done a lot of good things."
While Denver sits atop the AFC West with a 6-5 record, they are attempting to rebound from an embarassing 31-10 loss at home to the lowly Raiders. The Jets are sure to be tested, as Denver's passing attack ranks third in the NFL. Led by quarterback Jay Cutler, the Broncos will look to exploit a Jets' secondary that has been threaded in recent weeks by Chiefs quarterback Tyler Thigpen and Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel. However, Mangini doesn't view the secondary's recent struggles as solely one function.
"Pass defense, defense, it's all coordinated. The rush has to be able to get there. The lanes have to be disciplined. The plan has to be executed. It's like anything else, if the corner gives up a deep ball it seems like it's all on the corner. That's never really the case," Mangini said.
Linebacker David Harris, kicker Mike Nugent and safety Eric Smith all practiced for the Jets today. Mangini said he's been "happy" with the recovery of Harris and Smith and "where they are." Mangini said that both players are "making big strides" and that he needs to speak with team doctors before making a decision on each player's status for Sunday....Mangini explained that a decision between Nugent and Jay Feely will be made at "the end of the week." Feely has kicked in ten games for the Jets this season and has connected on 20 of his 24 field goal attempts...Reggie Hodges' punts consistently sailed between 40 and 50 yards as Leon Washington stood back for returns. Hodges has averaged 42 yards (37.6 NET) in his 20 punts with the Jets...Darrelle Revis, Chansi Stuckey and Leon Washington all returned kicks today...Brett Favre connected with Washington and Stuckey on touchdown passes.
Cutler's Mobility a Dangerous Asset
While Jay Cutler's arm strength is what catches the attention of most defenses, his legs are nothing to shy away from. Cutler's surprising mobility in the pocket can pose problems for opposing defenses.
"He makes a lot of really athletic, defensive players miss," Mangini said of Cutler. "It's not like he can elude the rush and only throw something 15-20 yards. It can easily go 60 as easily as it can go three."
Keller Finds His Niche in Passing Attack
In the last three weeks, the Jets' offense has scored a franchise-record 115 points and have vaulted themselves into sole possession of first place in the AFC East. In wins over the Rams (47-3), Patriots (34-31) and Titans (34-13), Jones carried the offense on the ground, as he totaled 349 yards and five touchdowns. While Favre has compiled a 113.5 quarterback rating in those three victories, Dustin Keller has found his niche in the Jets' passing attack. The rookie tight end leads the Jets in receptions dating back to his breakout performance (six catches, 107 yards, one touchdown) against the Rams on Nov. 9, recording 20 receptions for 236 yards and one touchdown.
With Keller complimenting wide receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, Mangini knows the presence of a strong pass-catching tight end diversifies the offense.
"It takes some of the pressure off of the guys that are out on the perimeter, it forces [Keller] to be accounted for in different ways," Mangini said of Keller's impact on offense. "The more that you can do that to a defense, the more threats you have, the better chance you have."
Mangini noted that when both Keller and Chris Baker are featured in the same formation, they put "a significant amount of pressure on the internal part of the defense" and opposing defenses cannot "push coverage or push as much coverage outside" to the wide receivers.
Moore Playing to His Nickname
Jets guard Brandon Moore has been handed a nickname and he's lived up to it. From Moore's days as a defensive tackle at the University of Illinois to his six years on the Jets' offensive line, Moore has been a staple of strength and consistency.
"His nickname is 'meat' and he plays to that," Mangini said. "He is very strong and powerful. He brings a strength to that position which is useful."
While the Jets' offseason overhaul included two new offensive linemen, (Alan Faneca, Damien Woody) Moore found himself in the same position he had been for the previous 57 games...starting at right guard for Gang Green.
"As a converted defensive lineman, moving to the offensive line, carving out a starting role and now playing at a very good level, it doesn't happen very often. It's all because of him and how he works," Mangini said.
Richardson a Master at His Craft
Before Tony Richardson signed with the Jets in March to serve as the team's new fullback, one trait of Richardson's always stood out to Mangini: "His ability to always find his guy," Mangini said. Over Richardson's 14-year career which has been highlighted by three trips to the Pro Bowl (2003, 2004, 2007), Richardson has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in six different seasons (Priest Holmes 3, Larry Johnson, Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson). This season is sure to be no different, as Jones leads the AFC in rushing (217 carries, 950 yards, 4.4 avg.)and sits just 50 yards shy of 1,000 yards.
"He's very good at adjusting when things aren't right," Mangini said of Richardson's effectiveness to read defenses. "He's seen so many different things over the course of his career and he has a great sense of anticipating the problem and then reacting to the problem and fixing the problem. For him, that happens in a split second."
Jones called Richardson “the best fullback in the league” and explained that the communication between the two is solid.
"He helps me out with certain situations with a look that I'm confused with, that I can't really see from where I am. He sees it and comes over to talk to me, 'hey look at this, look at that'."
Rebound "Satisfying" for Mangini
While the Jets have plenty of unfinished business to take care of as they sit alone in first place in the AFC East with five weeks remaining in the regular season, Mangini knows that the rebound from last season's 4-12 finish has been "satisfying."
"It's always what you look for, the collective improvement and consistency," Mangini said. "It's satisying to see a guy like Leon [Washington], who I've been with the whole time, in his preparation continue to improve; and Darrelle Revis and his personal preparation continue to improve."
Jones an "Excellent Runner"
Last season, Jones found the endzone just twice (one rushing, one receiving) in the Jets' disappointing campaign. Now Jones has a career-high 11 touchdowns and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is one to credit him.
"He's an excellent runner. I think from the time this season started, he had a sense of confidence. He felt really good about where we were, again, his second year in the system," Schottenheimer said. "I think the credit I give him is just his production of getting the ball in the endzone has been terrific."
Questionable: LB David Harris (groin), S Eric Smith (head)
Probable: WR Laveranues Coles (thigh), WR Jerricho Cotchery (shoulder), DE Shaun Ellis (back), TE Bubba Franks (hip), CB Dwight Lowery (thigh), K Mike Nugent (right thigh), WR Brad Smith (shoulder), LB Jason Trusnik (knee)
Out: S Marlon McCree (ankle)
Doubtful: LB DJ Williams (knee)
Questionable: CB Champ Bailey (groin), WR Eddie Royal (toe), LB Nate Webster (knee), RB Selvin Young (groin)
Probable: G Ben Hamilton (groin), RB Peyton Hillis (shoulder), WR Brandon Marshall (hip), DT Kenny Peterson (achillies), RB PJ Pope (ribs), DT Dwayne Robertson (knees), DT Josh Shaw (shoulder), DT Marcus Thomas (hamstring)