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Jets try to Overlook their past

Sunday, September 24, 2006



ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As home-field advantages go, Ralph Wilson Stadium is not terribly special.

Buffalo's home winning percentage in the past decade is in the middle of the NFL pack, and the difference between how the Bills fare there and on the road is good, but it's no Texas Stadium.

However, each team just has places where it doesn't play well, its own particular Overlook Hotel (the fictional lodge in "The Shining," of course).

And lately, "The Ralph" has made Gang Green want to ralph.

The Jets have lost eight of their last 11 in the concrete structure with the rabid fans in blue and red who roar as one whenever the herd of buffalo thunders across the end zone Jumbotron. In those eight losses, they haven't held a second-half lead for a single second. They've lost their past three visits here.

And they arrive today in a tough spot: trying to post an upset in the first home opener of the Dick Jauron era of Bills football.

"We're going into a hostile environment," defensive end Shaun Ellis said. "We can't let that get the best of us."

How to prevent that? In the second road game of the Eric Mangini era of Jets football, the idea is to treat this day in this stadium simply as not existing on the time-space continuum.

"This year is a clean slate," running back Derrick Blaylock said. "It's the first time."

Quarterback Chad Pennington almost had to be reminded that this is the same stadium where, in 2004, he first hurt his right shoulder when linebacker London Fletcher fell on it at the end of a scramble.

"I haven't thought about it much at all," Pennington said.

Even Trey Teague, working his way back from his broken ankle with the Jets after starting four years as the Bills' center, didn't buy the roadhouse-of-horrors theory.

"I don't know that it freaks anybody out," Teague said. "There's issues with the weather sometimes, but that's anywhere in the NFL. The crowd's loud, but the crowds are loud in a lot of stadiums."

Well, something goes on there. Take Buffalo's running game. Whether the name on the tailback's back has been Thomas, Smith or Henry, the Bills have thundered in those 11 Jets games for an average of 164 yards. The past two seasons, Willis McGahee pounded away for 132 and 143 yards.

This is of more than passing interest to the Jets. Last week, New England ran on the Jets' evolving 3-4 defense for 147 yards in part by keeping linebacker Jonathan Vilma from flying to the ball.

Vilma knows McGahee well from their University of Miami days. And he knows that how well his defense has adapted from the Patriots should dictate how well or poorly they contain McGahee, and thus how good their chances are of winning.

"The defense is different," he said. "In the 3-4, there's always something to learn, always a little tweak that I can do or I can adjust to. It's just going to be a work in progress.

"One thing about Willis -- he's 'the man' up there. And he doesn't wear down. If you did have a guy who would wear down, it'd be easier."

If Vilma, nose tackle Dewayne Robertson and company come up stout, sheltered quarterback J.P. Losman will be exposed more. Some sacks and the Bills' first turnover(s) of the season could result.

The Jets' offensive line also is under the microscope -- they must match the energy the Bills' defenders are expected to display, to give their own anemic running game some traction and keep Pennington upright.

If those things happen, the Jets may surprise people with their second road win, whether the Mangini physics book allows them to acknowledge the existence of the past or not.

"My experience in Buffalo hasn't been good. I'm 0-2," Vilma said. "We've played out of character there. We've got to switch that around."

"In Buffalo, we're 0-0," Blaylock said. "We're going up there with that mind frame and coming out with a victory."

E-mail: lange@northjersey.com

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Jets already face must-win game



(Original Publication: September 24, 2006)

ORCHARD PARK — Nothing's been said. Nothing had to be. The Jets know they're already facing a crucial, gotta-have-it game in Week 3.

Sounds strange, right, considering nobody outside the Jets' locker room has made a playoff prediction for this team? But the players obviously believe otherwise, and dropping today's 1 p.m. game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium would significantly damage their chances.

The Jets (1-1) lost to another AFC East rival, the New England Patriots, 24-17 last week. The next two weeks brings games against AFC powers Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The excitement of that season-opening win at Tennessee could quickly turn to the gloom of a 1-4 start under first-year coach Eric Mangini.

"You definitely don't want to start off the season 0-2 to teams in the division," Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "It also hurts in the long run as far as a conference loss. You don't want to start in a bad position like that. We know if we start off like that, it's hard to finish strong like you want."

It certainly won't be easy today. The Bills (1-1) just haven't been a kind host to the Jets lately, winning the teams' last three games in Buffalo and eight of the last 11. Plus, this is the Bills' home opener after a loss to the Patriots and a win at Miami last week.

"They're a very good home team," said Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, who is coming off the first back-to-back 300-yard performances of his career. "I think they do a good job of feeding off the crowd. It's a college-type atmosphere there, very raucous crowd, very loud crowd."

And suddenly, the Bills, after sacking the quarterback seven times in a 16-6 win over the Dolphins, also have higher expectations in their first year under ex-Bears coach Dick Jauron than what was predicted for them this season.

Which was to be slightly better than the Jets. But not much.

Like the Jets, the Bills played the Patriots tough, losing their season opener 19-17.

"The similarity that we're seeing is that the Jets continued to get better throughout the preseason and the regular season," Bills quarterback J.P. Losman said. "It seems like they're getting a better bead on the coach's style. Every week, they're improving. That's what you want to see from your team. That's not what you want to see from your opponent."

The Bills' strong point has been an active defense that has withstood the loss of veteran safety Troy Vincent and, for the time being, linebacker Takeo Spikes, who is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Losman, who started eight games last season, has been solid, if unspectacular. He has completed 26 of 41 passes this season for 247 yards and one touchdown. The Bills, as a team, have yet to turn the ball over, though they have fumbled three times.

"We know that we have a long way to go as a team and (Losman) knows he has a long way to go as a quarterback," Jauron said. "He has handled the offense, he hasn't turned the ball over, we haven't turned the ball over. Really, that is what has kept us in these games."

The Jets have not done as well. Pennington has one interception and the Jets have lost two fumbles.

They did rally last week from a 24-0 deficit on the strength of their passing game, but the Jets are averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. Kevan Barlow, the former featured back for the 49ers, will likely get the bulk of the carries today instead of sharing carries with Derrick Blaylock.

But Barlow's numbers could pale compared to those of Bills running back Willis McGahee, who has posted three straight 100-yard games against the Jets.

In all, a tough test in a crucial spot for the Jets.

"It's important not to get two straight losses, period," Jets defensive back Derrick Strait said. "It's a big difference (if we win) because we'll be 1-1 in the division and we'll hopefully try to get something started."

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It all upstarts here: Bills, Jets show new spunk

September 24, 2006


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Takeo Spikes refuses to budge from his belief this is a rebuilding season for the young and retooled Buffalo Bills. What the star linebacker didn't anticipate was how far ahead of schedule the process might be.

''We took a major step last week,'' Spikes said, referring to the Bills' efficient, if not eye-opening, 16-6 victory at Miami. ''Nobody gave us a chance to win.''

And that group of doubters might have included Spikes himself. He was upset last week after the Bills placed veteran safety Troy Vincent on injured reserve, a move depleting the team's already thin leadership core.

''Outstanding,'' Spikes said this week, with the Bills (1-1) preparing for their home opener today against the New York Jets (1-1). ''I think everybody is excited around here.''

There's an upbeat mood, too, in New York, where the Jets are also going against the grain of low expectations.

After beating the Tennessee Titans on the road to open the season, the Jets showed resolve in rallying from a 24-0 deficit before losing 24-17 to New England last Sunday.

''Last time I checked, we were only supposed to win four games this year,'' Jets receiver Laveranues Coles said. ''From my perspective, we'll always be better than what you give us credit for.''

Funny what one victory can do for the Jets and Bills, two division rivals discounted in preseason projections because both had new coaches and questions at quarterback and were knocked for being too young. The only thing they were supposed to compete for is avoiding the lowly title as the AFC East's Least.

While the Patriots (2-0) are predictably on top, few thought the Dolphins (0-2) would falter so early. The Bills and Jets are eager to make some inroads.

''It's any man's division right now,'' Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.

''Pretty much nobody expected anything out of us,'' Bills guard Chris Villarrial said. ''We have something to prove that we can play. We want to be a contender.''

The Bills are showing signs of progress under coach Dick Jauron, hired after Mike Mularkey resigned in January. Jauron, the former Bears coach, has introduced a much simpler plan on offense and defense and established a sense of stability to a team that unraveled both on and off the field after a 5-11 finish last year.

Buffalo's defense, although very young, has made up for its inexperience with an aggressive attack. The Bills smothered the Dolphins with seven sacks, taking the pressure off a young defensive backfield that features two rookie starting safeties, Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson.

The offense is still a work in progress under second-year starter J.P. Losman, whose key responsibility so far has been to minimize mistakes. That was particularly evident against Miami, when Losman finished 11-for-18 for 83 yards and a touchdown.

More important, Losman and the offense have yet to produce a turnover in two games.

It's a relatively modest overall attack that leans heavily on a strong special-teams unit and relies on a less-is-more mentality stressed by the even-keeled Jauron.

''I'm not sure my personality has a lot to do with how they perform on game day,'' Jauron said. ''You'd love to think it was all you, but over time you understand that it's not.''

The Jets remain a work in progress under Eric Mangini who, at 35, is the NFL's youngest head coach.

The Jets have so far relied on the strength of quarterback Chad Pennington's surgically repaired shoulder and a Vilma-led defense that has switched to a 3-4 scheme, which has struggled against the run.

Pennington has been impressive, with consecutive 300-yard passing games for the first time in his career. What's missing is a running attack -- veteran star Curtis Martin is out for at least the first six weeks because of a knee injury.

The Jets' offense will be challenged further today because of a banged-up offensive line that could be without two veterans, guard Pete Kendall (hamstring) and tackle Trey Teague (ankle). It's a unit that already starts two rookies, first-round picks tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.

''Defensively, I am very impressed with the motor that [the Bills'] players play with,'' Mangini said. ''It's going to be a really good challenge for us offensively to match that energy. They've been able to take control of games early.''

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September 24, 2006 -- NEVER has break-even felt so rife with possibility. Never has .500 seemed like such a welcome address.

The Giants and the Jets entered the season with different ambitions, residing on different football planes, seeking different destinations. For now, they are at the same place, sea level, 1-1. And by the close of business today, both have a splendid opportunity to let us know what kind of football season we can expect around here.

If both quarterbacks keep doing what they've been doing, continue playing as they've been playing, there is every reason to believe that when New York re-emerges from the cocoon of a baseball October, we really may have some kind of football November to look forward to. To say nothing of December. And, dare we say, January. Or even February.

For the Giants, 1-1 is a treasure, if only because so many already had written 0-2 in ink after the Eagles dominated them so completely for three quarters last week at Lincoln Financial Field. At 0-2, with today's brutal challenge awaiting them in Seattle, this would have felt like an elimination game of sorts, and Sept. 24 is far too early to be playing one of those (ask the Buccaneers; ask the Panthers).

At 1-1, it is something else. At 1-1, the Giants can take on the Seahawks understanding that their season isn't at stake, that every step, every misstep, every false start (and you know there'll be plenty of those) won't be magnified by a multiple of 10. They aren't playing with house money necessarily; only winning that winnable opener against the Colts would have provided that. But the Giants are playing without a hangman's noose around their necks. That should be a huge benefit.

More so will the presence of Eli Manning, who held his own against big brother two weeks ago then held the Giants' season together in Philadelphia by bouncing back to his feet after so many throttlings by the Eagles defense, whose quiet confidence morphed all across the fourth quarter and overtime into a stirring swagger that can only help these Giants attain their lofty objectives. When he plays that way, anything seems possible for the Giants. And anything includes a date in Miami on the final Sunday of the season.

For the Jets, 1-1 is a reward, if only because so many non-believers had already written 2-14 next to the Jets' name before the season began, before they jumped to that 16-0 lead in Tennessee two weeks ago then responded to a whisper of collapse by scoring a winning touchdown in the waning minutes. At 0-2, there already would have been a whisker of inevitability attached to this team, even if they made that stubborn second-half run at the Patriots last week in a losing effort.

At 1-1, it is something else. At 1-1, the Jets travel to Buffalo to take on their ancient Western New York rivals knowing they have an opportunity to quickly seize the mantel of the NFL's most surprising team, a title the winner of this Upstart Bowl at Ralph Wilson Stadium will carry with them to Week 4 and beyond. Nobody takes the Bills or the Jets seriously as playoff contenders yet, and even at 2-1 either will have a lot of skeptics to convert. But the Jets are still in the conversation. That's a gratifying thing to know.

More so is the arm strength and confident air of Chad Pennington, who already seems like he's played out four different careers in his time as Jet, and is well on the way to a fifth. Phenom Chad helped the Jets beat the Colts 41-0 in a playoff game four short seasons ago. Wounded Chad went down in a heap against the Giants in the preseason seven months later. Gritty Chad led the Jets to the brink of the AFC Championship less than two years ago; Finished Chad limped away from the lost 2005 season and, so many assumed, from a career that would fill Jets fans with might-have-beens for decades to come.

Now, we have Resurgent Chad, with a pair of 300-yard outings in his pocket, returning to the building where, two years ago, his arm miseries began. He is playing well, he is playing smart, and as usually happens, his teammates tend to elevate their games when he elevates his. This all still could be merely the difference between 8-8 and 6-10, but we won't know that for a while. And at 2-1, the Jets certainly could extend the meaningful segment of their season longer than anyone could have reasonably expected.

It's been a week for the baseball teams, much as the next month will be for the baseball teams. There were a couple of beer baths, a pair of champagne showers, much laughter and joy and celebration, much eager anticipation for the games and weeks to come. Soon enough, football will ease its way to a secondary spot in the city's conscience, the necessary rhythm of a baseball town's calendar.

But a couple of 1-1 teams and a couple of quarterbacks, a couple of No. 10s, have a chance today to make sure we have something else to talk about in the next few weeks. And across the next few months.

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LEG MEN: Kevan Barlow and the Jets carry the NFL's second-worst rushing average - 2.5 yards - into today's battle with the Bills. It's an area that needs immediate improvement if Gang Green are to prevail at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Photo: WireImage

September 24, 2006 -- Eric Mangini constantly stresses consistency. So far, though, the only consistent thing about the Jets' rushing game has been how bad it has been.

As the Jets (1-1) enter Buffalo today for their game with the Bills (1-1), they know they need to be able to run the ball to have any success. In their first two games, the Jets have averaged 2.5 yards per rush; only Tampa Bay (2.3) has been worse in the NFL.

Their inability to run the ball has forced the Jets to be a pass-first team. Quarterback Chad Pennington has had back-to-back 300-yard games, but the Jets know they cannot just rely on throwing the ball.

"It puts a lot of pressure on us," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "Anytime you become one-dimensional, it puts a lot of pressure on the offense. We just want to do what we can to create more of a balance to our offense, so we will be able to do multiple things."

The Jets have used Kevan Barlow and Derrick Blaylock as their primary backs in the first two weeks. There has been some speculation this week that Mangini may activate Cedric Houston for today's game to get a different look.

Barlow and Blaylock have combined for 121 yards and one touchdown. Receiver Brad Smith has the longest run of the season, 12 yards against Tennessee. Against New England last week, the Jets failed to run for a single first down.

"We approach every game with the intent to run and pass effectively," Mangini said. "Each week it's so important to understand how that defense is going to play. That's the key thing: How is that opponent going to play and what are the things they're going to do, [and] what are the things we need to do in order to execute our plays effectively?

"It is so radically different week in and week out, whether it be scheme or personnel. That's what we're working on."

Buffalo has not been stout against the run, so this may be the week the Jets can get some rhythm. Bills opponents are averaging 4.5 yards a carry. Patriots backs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney rushed for 159 yards against them in Week 1.

For much of the past decade, the Jets' run game never was a concern because of Curtis Martin's presence. With Martin's future in doubt this year, the Jets have had to search for a replacement. Blaylock came to New York last year from the Chiefs but has been a disappointment. Barlow is still getting used to the Jets' system after coming over in a trade from the 49ers a month ago.

"I wish I would have been here when the offense first got put in," Barlow said. "I'm doing the best I can to learn everything. I'm asking a lot of questions and trying to get here as early as possible and leave as late as possible."

The blame does not fall completely on the backs. The Jets' offensive line features two rookies and is missing injured guard Pete Kendall.

"I know that I said this multiple times, but I think that it really comes down to a collective effort there," Mangini said. "Improving the way that the backs hit the hole; improving the way the line is blocking, whether it be the down guys or the entire front seven improving; the receiver blocks on the perimeter run support; could be the down safety of the run support corner. And as a coaching staff, us improving our approach.

"Each week it's all of us. It's all of us. It's me, it's the offensive staff, it's the players. We're all in this. Collectively we need to improve in that area."



The Bills' defense had seven sacks last week and will bring the beat against the Jets' patchwork offensive line. Jets QB Chad Pennington needs some help from the running game to buy some time. In the end, the difference will be McGahee, who will get the best of the Jets' D and former U. of Miami teammate Jonathoan Vilma. - Brian Costello


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The Coles truth

WR earns Mangini's respect

Jets at Bills, at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 1 p.m.




Laveranues Coles will try to

turn the Bills' world upside

down today.

ORCHARD PARK - Laveranues Coles never has been bashful about expressing his opinions to coaches. As a rookie, his mouth got him into trouble with Al Groh, who benched Coles after being cursed out by the hot-headed receiver.

Before the season, Groh made a smart-aleck comment that "pinched a nerve," according to Coles. Referring to the infamous Dillard's incident in which Coles was arrested and thrown out of Florida State for accepting discounted merchandise, Groh told the rookie he'd wind up working at the department store if he didn't shape up.

Coles lost it.

"---- you!" he snapped at Groh.

The next day, the Jets signed veteran receiver Vincent Brisby. Coles, in the doghouse, spent the first three games as a bystander.

Six years later, in his second incarnation with the Jets, Coles still is a bit of a rebel. Just the other day, he described Eric Mangini as "ornery" and "a mean, little guy." The coach laughed it off, basically agreeing with the depiction - testimony to Coles' stature within the organization.

Not many could get away with that - Mangini fines players for speaking out of line - but Coles has won the respect of the new coach. He leads the NFL with 253 yards on 14 catches, emerging as the top playmaker in an offense still searching for a running game as it heads into Ralph Wilson Stadium today to face the Bills.

The numbers are nice, but what impresses Mangini the most about Coles are his intangibles.

"I think Laveranues is a role model of toughness," said Mangini, who will be relying on that toughness as the Jets try to record their first division road win since Oct. 3, 2004.

Coles is banged up and may be limited - he injured his left calf last week and didn't practice - but he's expected to play. The Jets need him. He brings a street fighter's mentality to the offense, intimidating opponents with his icy glare and white-hot intensity.

In the locker room, Coles is completely different, providing comic relief. When he tweaks his notoriously hard-driving coach, it prompts chuckles from nearby teammates. He articulates the thoughts of others.

"Things guys are afraid to say, I'm not afraid to say," Coles said.

The Coles-Mangini relationship isn't as compelling as, say, Terrell Owens and Bill Parcells, but it is fascinating in its own right. Coles doesn't like Mangini's relentless coaching style, and Mangini probably thinks Coles is too opinionated, but there's a mutual respect.

Asked about Coles' "ornery" comment, Mangini smiled and said, "That's a good SAT word. Shoot, there are a lot of people that have called me ornery. He may not be alone in that depiction."

Coles isn't one to get too close to his coach. He did that once, with Herm Edwards, and it led to a hard lesson about the business of pro football.

After a breakout year in 2002, Coles was told by Edwards that he'd be rewarded with a fat contract, but he felt that the Jets low-balled him in negotiations. Feeling betrayed, he signed with the Redskins as a free agent. That, too, ended bitterly after two years.

Coles is glad to be back, but even now he's troubled by the cut-throat side of the sport. That was reinforced last offseason when he saw good friend Chad Pennington forced to swallow a $6 million pay cut.

"I watch how things go on around here," Coles said.

For now, he prefers to stay at arm's length from his boss.

"I respect him and I understand what he's trying to get done," Coles said. "I know he has a great understanding of the game - I could never downplay that - but I know there's a business side of it. And he's on that business side.

"Whether I choose to like him or not like him has no bearing on what goes on around here," Coles added. "If I continue to perform well, I'll be here. If not, I know he has a decision to make. I try to keep the personal side out of it because I know I'll be on the end of that lashing stick at some point."



THE LINE: Bills by 5.5

TV: Ch. 2 (Dick Enberg, Randy Cross)

RADIO: WABC 770-AM, ESPN 1050-AM, (Bob Wischusen, Marty Lyons)

FORECAST: Showers, windy, 67.


WR Laveranues Coles (calf) is expected to play, but LG Pete Kendall (hamstring) probably will miss his second straight game. CB David Barrett (hip) is iffy, so Derrick Strait might have to play in the nickel package. Bills LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring) is not likely to play. He'll be replaced by rookie Keith Ellison.


WR Laveranues Coles and WR Jerricho Cotchery vs. CB Nate Clements and CB Terrence McGee

Coles and Cotchery are the most prolific tandem in the NFL so far this season, but they haven't faced a cornerback duo as good as this one. Clements is one of the best pure cover corners in the business. The Bills don't play as much man-to-man as they did in the past, but they do mix in some man coverage underneath the two-deep zones.

ILB Jonathan Vilma and ILB Eric Barton vs. Willis McGahee

McGahee is becoming a Jets killer, having rushed for three straight 100-yard games against them. Vilma and Barton, attacked last week by the Patriots, still are feeling their way in the new 3-4 scheme. If they're anything less than stout against the Bills, it'll be four straight for McGahee.


"The Jets can't run the ball, but they can throw it. The Bills are just the opposite - they pound the ball with Willis McGahee and ask J.P. Losman to just manage the game. Under these circumstances - loud stadium, Buffalo's home opener - I have to think the Buffalo formula will work better. If Chad Pennington pulls a Daunte Culpepper (seven sacks last week), and the crowd gets into it early, it could be a long day for the Jets."


This is an early barometer game for Eric Mangini, who faces another rebuilding team with a new coaching staff. The Jets have dropped eight of their last 11 in Orchard Park, so Mangini has a chance to overturn some bad karma. With the Colts and Jaguars ahead on the schedule, the Jets need this one or they could be looking at 1-4.


Bills, 17-13

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Back in Buffalo, wing OK


Newsday Staff Writer

September 24, 2006

Victims of an accident sometimes return to the scene to gain a measure of closure. It helps to put the bad memories behind them.

Then again, Chad Pennington might not need any reassurance. His back-to-back 300-yard passing games to begin the season have assuaged any doubts, in his mind or others', that his twice-repaired throwing shoulder is capable of NFL-level duty.

But this week, instead of focusing on his comeback, Pennington will be dealing with going back. To Buffalo. Where his long, grueling, career-threatening battle with shoulder injuries began in 2004.

"I haven't thought about it much at all," he said this week.

That he had to be reminded of his last game in Buffalo is a testament to how far he has come. Or, perhaps, a sign of how much has happened to him. With all of Pennington's issues and injuries, it can be hard to keep track of the geography.

In the first quarter on Nov. 7, 2004, Pennington scrambled up the middle for a 12-yard gain, diving instead of sliding and taking a hit from linebacker London Fletcher that forced a fumble. Pennington continued to play, but as his arm stiffened, he was removed from the game and stood on the sideline with his arm immobilized.

Pennington missed the next three games with what later was diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff. Though he eventually returned and led the Jets to the playoffs, he underwent the first of two surgeries on the shoulder in February 2005. After trying to come back last season, he reinjured the shoulder in Week 3 and had a second surgery in October.

Pennington now is emerging from two of the most successful games in his career, throwing for 319 yards against the Titans and 306 against the Patriots. He is ranked fourth in the NFL in quarterback rating (107.1), is third in passing yardage (sandwiched between big guns Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning), and tied for fourth with four touchdown passes. Receivers who knew him before his injuries say he is throwing as well as ever.

"If there's one positive of having the injury, it showed the flaw in my mechanics," Pennington said. "I was able to study how I was more of an arm thrower than what I thought I was. For me to have the velocity that I need to make the throws that Coach wants me to make, I needed to become more of a body thrower and understand how to use my body to an advantage to make those throws.

"When you have a shoulder injury, it's so easy to concentrate on your shoulder, but you've got to concentrate on the whole picture, total perspective."

This week the whole picture has the Jets facing the Bills in an AFC East game between two 1-1 teams. Pennington said he'll have a lot on his mind today, trying to decipher Buffalo's defensive schemes and dealing with what always is a hostile crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium. But the one thing he won't be thinking about is his shoulder.

"I don't feel like physically I'm having to worry about too much besides just staying strong and staying durable," he said, "doing normal maintenance things that everyday athletes do."

Jets vs. Bills

TIME: 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2

Radio: WABC (770), WEPN (1050)




The Bills took a chance when they drafted Willis McGahee in the first round of the 2003 draft, just a few months after his gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. So far, the gamble has paid off. McGahee has posted a pair of 1,000-yard seasons for Buffalo and this season, after dropping 10 pounds, he is even faster and quicker. Bills coach Dick Jauron does not flinch when asked about McGahee's role. "We are depending on him, in the running game, to carry the load," Jauron said. "Really, he is the guy, and we intend to give him the ball."


Every team uses the "go" route. It is most effective when reciever acts as if he's going to run a route he had run before then sprints upfield.



The Bills' fastest receiver Lee Evans, races upfield...


...while J.P. Losman takes a seven-step drop and fires the ball


A safety will often provide deep help for the cornerback, as the receiver runs under the ball

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Jets at Bills

Time: 1 today.

Line: Bills by 5 ½.

Records: Jets 1-1; Bills are 1-1.

Last meeting: Jets won 30-26 at New York on Jan. 1.

Notebook: Bills have won last three meetings in Buffalo.... Jets' Chad Pennington off to fast start with four TDs vs. one interception. Bills' Willis McGahee, averaging 3.6 per carry this season, has rushed for 100 yards in last three games vs. Jets.... Both teams playing tougher than expected, and Pennington-to-Laveranues Coles combination will be a problem for Bills. But they can handle 'em.

Pick: Bills 17, Jets 16.

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Coles is tough, but he's still questionable for Jets game

By Peter Botte

New York Daily News


NEW YORK - Eric Mangini lauded Laveranues Coles for the "rare toughness" he shows while catching balls over the middle and for the way he deals with injuries. But the Jets' leading receiver admitted his normally high threshold for pain often is tested in the NFL, and this will be one of those weeks for him.

With Coles limited in practice for the second straight day and still listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Buffalo with a left calf injury, the Jets' depth at wide receiver figures to be challenged against a Bills defense that has excelled this season against the pass. Meanwhile, a thigh injury has slowed Tim Dwight.

If Coles is unable to play, expect an increased role for forgotten man Justin McCareins, who lost his starting spot to Jerricho Cotchery during the summer.

"You'd have to talk to Laveranues to find out what's happening with him, but we're focusing on what we have to do at every position at the receiver spot just in case anything happens in the course of the game," McCareins said before practice Thursday at Hofstra.

"I don't think there's too many guys right now in this offense feeling selfish. I know I'm certainly not. Guys want to win games and be productive and everyone wants to contribute.

"I know I'm going to get chances, regardless. And I plan on making the most of them every week."

Coles has picked up where he left off as the go-to-receiver for Chad Pennington, leading the NFL with 253 yards on 14 catches through the Jets' 1-1 start. Cotchery has hauled in 12 receptions already - seven shy of last season's total - and scored two touchdowns, including a highlight reel 71-yard score in Week 2 that might have been the play of the season so far in the NFL.

McCareins, who caught 99 passes in his first two seasons with the Jets, has been a less-frequent target with six catches for 85 yards.

"(Not starting) is not that big of an adjustment. I'm usually in there by the second or third play anyway," McCareins said. "Whether it's labels, or a little bit of a pride thing, life goes on and you focus on what you have to do out there. . . . Whatever you're trying to prove, you do on the field. But I don't focus on whether I'm starting or not. You have to make the most of your opportunities either way."

With Cotchery likely to draw more double-teams if Coles is out or ineffective, McCareins and rookie "slash" receiver Brad Smith, the former Missouri quarterback, will have to penetrate a Buffalo defense that limited Tom Brady and Daunte Culpepper to an average of 163 yards through the air (seventh in the NFL) the first two games.

Not helping matters, of course, is the Jets' running game, which has averaged only 71 yards through two weeks.

Coles participated in early noncontact drills during Thursday's practice before reporters were cleared from the field. He otherwise leaned on Mangini's policy not to discuss injuries when asked about his status.

"There's a lot of receivers here doing excellent things and I'm proud to be a part of it," Coles said. "There's no doubt, these guys are the best. I enjoy working with them and just being around them and seeing the work and effort they put into things, they are a great group. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do some of things I've been able to do."

This week, the others might have to see what they can do without Coles.

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McCareins Is a Wide Receiver Often Caught in the Middle


Jets receiver Justin McCareins, right, had four receptions last week against New England, three on third downs that resulted in first downs

September 24, 2006


At the sound of the official’s whistle, a calm settles over Jets receiver Justin McCareins. The voice in his head that catalogs his shortcomings during the week are muted. He is oblivious to the voices on the other side of the line calling his number. He hears nothing but the snap count and his own steady breathing.

Explaining his fondness for football Sundays, McCareins said, “You can just lose yourself in competition and just get in the moment and enjoy what you do.”

Six days of the week, McCareins heaps stress upon himself with his ceaseless striving. But on N.F.L. game days, during the most frantic, nerve-racking situations, McCareins is a 6-foot-2-inch beacon, directing the offense his way.

Against the New England Patriots, he had four catches, three on third-down plays that resulted in first downs. He has six catches in two games, ranking him third on the team behind Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery.

“When his number has been called, he’s been making big plays,” Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said of McCareins. “He’s important to our offense. Very important.”

Try telling that to McCareins, who lost his starting job to Cotchery during the preseason after starting every game in the previous two seasons. Outwardly, McCareins, a six-year veteran, appears to have taken his new role in stride, working harder, if that is possible, and without a peep of complaint.

“Any time you go through a transition like that, it’s going to take its toll on you,” said Coles, who was limited in practice last week because of an injury to his left calf. “But I think Justin’s handled the situation better than anybody I’ve ever been around.”

For McCareins, whose inner voice is his worst critic, the strain of his situation became plain this week when he initially begged out of an interview, saying he preferred to wait until he was in “a better place.”

He has been in a personal purgatory since the opening of training camp, when he failed a conditioning run and was listed as physically unable to perform for three long days.

It was a stunning development, akin to Rachael Ray’s serving a burned casserole. McCareins is considered one of the hardest workers on the Jets and he had impressed Eric Mangini, their first-year coach, with his performance in the off-season conditioning program.

“Of course I was upset with myself for letting that happen for whatever reason,” McCareins said after eventually agreeing to let his guard down — but only a crack. “All I could do was just move on and play catch-up.”

He added: “I’ve talked to Coach Mangini. I know that he’s always had good feelings about me. I wasn’t angry at him for what he did. He had his rules. He’s got to be consistent and stick to his program. I understand that. I actually respect him for it.”

If cloth were McCareins’s chosen canvas instead of turf, he would be the artist who stands apart from the gallery crowd admiring his painting, fretting that his signature in the bottom-right corner is crooked.

“I enjoy success,” said McCareins, who averaged 16 yards a catch for his first five seasons as a pro. “Maybe not as much as I should. To me there’s always more to do if you’re trying to strive for the perfect game or the perfect play or whatever.”

On Sunday, McCareins will return to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., which was the stage last year for the first 100-yard receiving game of his pro career. McCareins caught five passes for 116 yards in the Jets’ 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills last October.

Asked this week what he remembered from that game, McCareins replied, “That we lost.”

Is that it?

“I’m sure there were still things when I watched the film from that game that I wasn’t happy with,” he said. “You always see things you could have done differently that would have made a little bit of a difference.”

McCareins has a theory on why he is so hard on himself.

“It might be a middle-child thing,” he said.

McCareins’s older brother, John, graduated from Northwestern and received his master’s in business administration from Dartmouth. His younger brother, Jay, graduated from high school with a 4.3 grade-point average and was an all-American selection last year as a senior defensive back at Princeton.

“I just had two brothers who were always so successful and so popular and so smart and so driven,” said McCareins, who was a four-year starter at Northern Illinois. “It used to drive me crazy how easy everything came to my younger brother. I have a pretty high-achieving family. I guess I took those qualities, good or bad, and have gone with them.”

In the Jets’ family of receivers, the 27-year-old McCareins again finds himself a middle child of sorts. He is desperately trying to carve out an identity separate from that of the older Coles, 28, and the younger Cotchery, 24.

“If I don’t do well or there’s something that doesn’t happen the way I want it, like the situation with Jerricho or whatever, it’s over and done with,” McCareins said. “I’m not going to beat myself up or pout or spend any energy being angry at the coaches or the decision makers. You move on and you do the best with what’s put in front of you. That’s what I try to do.”

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