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Jets have plenty of work ahead despite 2-1 start

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer

September 25, 2006

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- It wasn't supposed to be this way for the New York Jets.

They have a winning record, are tied for the AFC East lead and have won both of their games on the road. Is it time for the skeptics who predicted a long rebuilding season full of gloom and doom to start believing?

"I don't think we've proved anyone wrong yet," tight end Chris Baker said Monday. "We're 2-1. This is only the beginning. We haven't even gotten to the first quarter of the season. It's good to get off to a good start, but we have to keep it rolling."

These Jets know better than to get too excited this early in the season, not when they've got games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville next. But, at 2-1, and coming off a hard-fought 28-20 victory at Buffalo on Sunday, they recognize they've accomplished enough to feel pretty good about their efforts.

Just look at the division standings, where the Jets sit at the top with New England. That's a spot few could've predicted New York would be in, even if it's only three games into the season.

"It grabs me better than the alternative," coach Eric Mangini said with a laugh. "I think that it's something we're striving for. It's a lot better than the alternative, and I'm happy."

When asked what he thought Patriots coach Bill Belichick would think of sharing the top spot with New York, Mangini smiled.

"You'll have to ask Bill about that," the former New England assistant said, again drawing laughs.

It's not all laughs and chuckles, though. The Jets know they have plenty to work on, and the statistics from the game against the Bills tell the story.

They were outgained 475-256 and again struggled with the running game, rolling up just 74 yards. New York also overcame Willis McGahee's career-high 150 yards rushing, and J.P. Losman's career-high 328 yards passing.

Still, the Jets found a way to win.

"I'm really happy with the way these guys have worked, and I'm happy with the way that in each of the different situations, they've finished," Mangini said. "I like some of the toughness they've shown both physically and mentally, and I think that's so important. And now, consistency is important."

Chad Pennington's streak of 300-yard games ended at two, but he led three drives of 58 yards or more that led to touchdowns. He was 19-of-29 for 183 yards and a touchdown as the Jets had multiple three-and-out drives, but made the plays when they counted most.

That was due in large part to the offensive line giving Pennington time to make decisions, when he's at his most dangerous. He was sacked just once and didn't rush many throws.

"It's important for us as a unit, just to execute," rookie tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "By executing, we allow for other people to do their jobs, and our No. 1 job is to protect and serve."

The running game struggled to get going for the third straight game, with Kevan Barlow, Leon Washington and Cedric Houston splitting carries and finishing with 74 yards on 24 rushes.

"We need to continue to improve in the running game," Mangini said. "That's something we need to consistently work on. We made some progress this week, but each week we want to get better in that area."

Derrick Blaylock, who started the first two games, was inactive against Buffalo. That gave Houston his first playing time of the season, and he responded with two carries for 10 yards and a touchdown.

"After the touchdown, the O-linemen told me I hadn't celebrated with them, and I told them I was in shock," Houston said. "It's been a while since I had been in the end zone."

Whether Houston will get more playing time this weekend is uncertain. Mangini is taking his running back-by-committee one game at a time.

"I think for the Buffalo Bills, it was the right package, and that's how it'll be," Mangini said. "We're going to approach it based on who they are and what we're trying to get done against that team."

The Jets have lacked punch offensively early, failing to score in the first quarter for the third straight game. They'll probably have to be active on the scoreboard early if they intend to give Peyton Manning and the Colts a run Sunday.

"We need to continue to improve at the beginning of the game, not have the three-and-outs there early," Mangini said. "We need to get some drives going early, and that's something we will focus on and work on this week."

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The Jets Show Resilience After Another Slow Start


Published: September 26, 2006


Coach Eric Mangini and the Jets will face

a stern test against Peyton Manning and

undefeated Indianapolis at Giants

Stadium on Sunday.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y., Sept. 25 — The resilient, pugnacious and form-shattering Jets awoke Monday to find themselves tied for first place in the American Football Conference East with the New England Patriots. Eric Mangini, the Jets’ first-year coach, seemed underwhelmed.

“It grabs me better than the alternative,” Mangini said with a weak laugh during his news conference Monday.

The Jets have won two of their first three games, but Mangini said he still had plenty to teach his team. The Jets play Indianapolis (3-0) next, and they have a long list of areas in which they need to improve before they can classify themselves as a surprise.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anybody wrong yet,” tight end Chris Baker said.

Mangini was delighted that the Jets found ways to beat Tennessee and Buffalo, but he would like his team to start faster and run the ball better. The Jets have not scored in the first quarter and are 27th in the N.F.L. in rushing, averaging 72.3 yards a game.

After the Jets outlasted Buffalo, 28-20, on Sunday, quarterback Chad Pennington said the team was slowly building an identity by winning close, tough games. But right guard Brandon Moore frowned when told what Pennington had said.

“That’s a good quote by Chad, but we’ve got to go out and prove it next week,” Moore said.

The Jets are not exactly hammering out victories. The are averaging 2.7 yards each rushing attempt, worse than any N.F.L. team except Tampa Bay. Only one Jets running back has more than 50 yards rushing: Kevan Barlow, with 108 yards on 37 carries.

While Barlow was plodding to 31 yards on 12 carries Sunday, Leon Washington, the shifty rookie from Florida State, gave the Jets a lift by running for 25 yards on 7 carries and catching 2 passes for 52 yards, including a 47-yarder in the second quarter.

“When you have the opportunity to go out and make a play, you make it,” Washington said.

Mangini would like the Jets to make plays earlier. Their first three possessions against the Bills ended with punts. That seems to have become a trend. Their first two drives against Tennessee and New England ended with punts.

“Believe me, we work on it,” Mangini said. “I think some of it is just execution. It’s just so important to execute early the same way that you’re able to execute late.”

Mangini said Monday that he and the offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did not script the Jets’ first 10 to 15 plays. Rather, they talk before a game about what plays might work against different defenses.

“It’s not a set-in-stone-type thing,” Mangini said.

The Jets fell behind in their last two games. Moore says the Jets need to start games with more intensity, rather than generating it as the games progress. Indianapolis has the No. 2 offense in the A.F.C. The Jets need to play a little keepaway.

“Not too many teams can keep pace with those guys, the way they throw the ball around,” Baker said of the Colts.

The Jets have scored six touchdowns and two field goals on 10 drives inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. Cedric Houston, who had not carried the ball in the Jets’ first two games, scored on a 5-yard touchdown run Sunday to give the Jets a 28-13 lead.

“Once I got into the game, I saw their defense was a lot slower than I expected them to be,” Houston said.

But the Jets are averaging only 3.63 yards on first down, 30th in the 32-team league. Mangini found himself answering questions again Monday about whether the Jets’ fleet of four running backs — Barlow, Washington, Houston and Derrick Blaylock — can work.

“There’s more than just one factor that goes into it,” Mangini said.

He was referring to those assigned to block. Mangini said he loved how Moore consistently threw punishing blocks Sunday. Moore’s effectiveness seemed to infuse his teammates. Mangini said the rookie left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson had a good day.

“It’s important for us as a unit to execute,” Ferguson said. “By executing, we allow for other people to do their jobs.”

Now the Jets need to execute better, and earlier. Moore said he was not too excited with the victory over the Bills. Tougher tasks loom, and the Jets are less than a quarter of the way through a long season.

“It’s one game,” Moore said. “It’s nice to get credit, but it doesn’t really mean anything.”

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Breakaway breakthrough

Rookie Washington is an escape artist who may get more touches


Newsday Staff Writer

September 26, 2006

Growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., Leon Washington played a game called "hotball" in which one kid would have to elude the tackles of the other 20. Here on Long Island, it's sometimes called "kill the guy with the ball," a more descriptive and not entirely inaccurate moniker.

Washington developed into a pretty good player - especially considering he was around 11 years old and competing with his 15-year-old brother and his friends - and he built a strong vocabulary of jukes, spins and cuts to elude capture.

Running away from 20 kids on a sandlot is not the same as skittering past 11 NFL defenders. But it did provide a base for what the Jets saw from Washington on Sunday and what they hope to continue to get from the rookie tailback.

"Things like that you take for granted as a child, but they help you out in the National Football League," Washington said. "You get a chance to get out in the open field, you've got all these linebackers and DBs out there, it looks like 20 guys."

Washington has shown he has a knack for making them miss. His 47-yard reception on a short pass and run included a staggering cut that caused the Bills' Nate Clements and Terrence McGee to collide like Keystone Kops. The play ignited the offense and led to the Jets' first touchdown of the game. He flashed even better moves in the third quarter when he took a shovel pass from Chad Pennington and, through a series of condensed contortions in tight quarters, turned it into a gain of about 13 yards that was negated by an illegal player downfield.

"I saw it on film this morning and I was kind of like 'Yeah, wow,'" Washington said.

Washington provided a spark, but at 5-8 and 202 pounds, there is some question whether he can develop into an every-down back like Curtis Martin (who has been in Washington's ear providing tips) or Marshall Faulk (whom Washington grew up emulating). On Sunday, he took only seven handoffs but gained 25 yards, nearly as much as starter Kevan Barlow grinded out (31 yards on 12 carries). Washington may not be the answer to the Jets' running woes - an AFC-worst 2.6 yards per carry - but he is sure to be a slice of the solution. If Barlow's leg injury late Sunday is more than a ding, Washington may become more a chunk than a slice.

Washington and fellow explosive rookie Brad Smith seem to be developing their own playbook for the Jets, a repertoire of gadgets and gimmicks to go along with their natural abilities.

"Anytime you can get Leon the ball in the open field," Pennington said, "you guys can see how exciting he is and how elusive he is."

Notes & quotes: TE Chris Baker wore a throwback Jets jersey with Ronnie Lott's No. 42. Any significance? No, he just wanted to wear his bright green leather Nike sneakers yesterday and it was the only shirt he had that matched ... Eric Mangini named his players of the week: S Kerry Rhodes, G Brandon Moore and Drew Coleman on special teams. LB Anthony Schlegel was practice player of the week ... Cedric Houston said the offensive linemen gave him a hard time because he didn't celebrate his fourth-quarter touchdown run with much gusto. "It had been a while since I'd been in the end zone," Houston said of his first TD since last season's finale. "I wasn't in shock, but it was different for me." ... S Erik Coleman also had a different experience when he did not start for the first time in his career. "I tried to help those guys out with what I saw from the sideline," he said. He had four tackles ... Mangini smiled when asked how it grabs him to be tied for first place in the AFC East. "It grabs me better than the alternative," he said. Asked how he thinks it feels to be tied for first in the division at the other place (the code name for New England), Mangini said, "You'll have to ask Bill [belichick] about that."

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Ferguson studying hard for next test: Freeney

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Jets rookie left offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, picked fourth overall in April's draft, is the real thing. He's a man of few words but his blocking is doing his talking.

Ferguson, 6-6, 312 pounds, pitched a shutout against three Bills defensive ends in Sunday's 28-20 victory in Buffalo and next up for him is Colts Pro Bowl DE Dwight Freeney.

Against the Bills, Ferguson faced the trio of Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney, who rotated at both end spots. None got close to Jets QB Chad Pennington from his all-important blind side. The previous week, the Bills had recorded seven sacks against the Dolphins.

"I thought he played well," Mangini said. "All three of those defensive ends that they use are tough, high-motor and relentless. It's a challenge the way they rotate those guys. There are no breaks (for Ferguson). To have different guys with the same type of motor each play, your focus has to be incredibly sharp."

Ferguson, who says he's just trying to improve with each game, knows Freeney will be coming hard. Freeney has yet to get a sack this season.

"He's an excellent player," Ferguson said. "I'm just going to make sure I do what I need to do on and off the field in order to be in a good position to block him."

Rookie RB Leon Washington, who had a 47-yard catch-and-run vs. the Bills and had a 13-yard run off a shovel pass called back, could be the spark the Jets are searching for in their running game.

"Anytime you get Leon the football in the open field, you guys can see how exciting he is and how elusive he is," QB Chad Pennington said.RB Derrick Blaylock, a fifth-year pro, refused to take a shot at Mangini for deactivating him when he's healthy, the first time that has happened since his rookie year. "Whatever they decide to do, they decide to do," he said. "I can't control that. I'll continue to focus and work hard."WR Laveranues Coles leads the NFL in receptions (24) and is second in yardage (331) behind the Colts' Marvin Harrison (334).... G Brandon Moore (offense), S Kerry Rhodes (defense), CB Drew Coleman (special teams) and LB Anthony Schlegel (practice) were the Jets' players of the week.

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Jets are prepared for success

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Wearing a Ronnie Lott Jets throwback No. 42 jersey with a matching kelly green pinstriped Yankees cap tilted to the side, tight end Chris Baker made his way out of the Jets' locker room yesterday and into the rich mid-afternoon sunlight.

It was a spectacular autumn day.

But Baker, who caught his second touchdown pass of the young season in the Jets' 28-20 victory on Sunday at Buffalo, wasn't headed to Manhattan to celebrate. He was headed home to study the game tape of the Colts-Jaguars and the early scouting report on the Colts that he had under his arms, along with the football he caught for the touchdown against the Bills.

The Jets (2-1), who are tied with the Patriots for first-place in the AFC East, will play host to the undefeated Colts (3-0) on Sunday at Giants Stadium.

"It's a little more on the players to be prepared now," Baker said when asked to explain the Jets' surprising start. "I'm going home now to start studying. After we have our (Monday) afternoon meetings and talk to you guys (the media), the last game is history. It's on to the next opponent."

Therein lies one of the keys to the Jets' early success under rookie coach Eric Mangini. His mentor, the Patriots' Bill Belichick, is regarded as the best coach in the NFL at preparing for the next opponent and Mangini is proving to be a quick study.

Through three games, several players said yesterday that nearly everything Mangini has told them has rung true regarding preparation for the upcoming opponent and they're more willing than ever to follow his lead.

Tough practices, attention to detail and sound game plans, they said, are the reasons why the Jets are winning. The Jets have already won two road games after going winless away from home last season.

"We practice hard and it's carrying over on Sundays," Jets wide receiver Justin McCareins said. "I'll bet if you ask a lot of guys who have been playing in the league with different coaches, this is one of the most detail-oriented teams in the league.

"It's not only on the field, it's in the classroom, too. Guys are working for each other, guys are doing a little extra on the field and in the classroom, guys are executing on Sunday what we work on during the week."

Mangini's game plans, the players said, have been right on point. Opponents may have surprised the Jets with a new wrinkle or two, but the players have discovered that if they do what Mangini asks of them, they'll have a chance to win.

"Everybody knows the game plan for both the offense and defense," guard Brandon Moore said. "Eric stresses that these are the points that are going to win the game. Like (the Patriots game), it showed up on film that we didn't follow the game plan and that's why we lost.

"Guys are buying into that if Eric says this is what it's going to take to win, we have to do it. We saw it against Buffalo and we saw it against Tennessee. We executed the game plan and we won."

The players' hard work and execution have been appreciated and applauded by Mangini, even if the Jets still have their share of problems.

Against the Bills, the Jets rushed for only 74 yards (but had two rushing short-yardage touchdowns), and they committed eight penalties. On the upside, they were 3-for-3 in the red zone and had no turnovers.

Overall, the Jets have a plus-five takeaway/giveaway ratio this season.

"I'm really happy with the way these guys have worked," Mangini said. "And I'm happy with the way that in each of the different situations, they've finished (the game). ... Now consistency is important."

Suddenly, the Jets appear to have a real shot to compete for the AFC East title. The Patriots (2-1) clearly miss wide receivers Deion Branch and David Givens and are struggling. The Dolphins (1-2) aren't as good as everyone expected. And the Bills (1-2), much like the Jets, are a wild card. Both teams are young, hungry teams.

"It's so early," Baker said. "We're not even thinking about (being tied for first place). What we want is to have a share of first place at the end of the year."

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Media Changing Tune on the Jets

It's funny what a couple of road wins can do for a team's reputation. The Media is spewing praise at the Jets, after a tough road win at Buffalo. Now don't get me wrong, there not suddenly predicting the Jets to go to the Super Bowl, just that the team looks like it will be very competitive this season. Funny, I remember writing that BEFORE the season started, but who am I to brag. It's way too early to brag about anything anyway, this team has started solid but has a ton of football to play. This weekend's contest against the Colts will be a true barometer of just where this football team is. The Patriots' game was too strange to tell where the Jets stand against the top teams in the league. Although they did come back and only lose by 7, the team was still down by 24 points at one time. I would like to see Gang Green play a solid game all the way through this contest on Sunday. Play the Colts tough right until the end and hopefully find a way to pull it out. Right now, I don't know if it can be done, but I'm very anxious to see what happens.

Rhodes a Huge Talent

Eyebrows are raising around the league for Jets' safety Kerry Rhodes. He had another great game against the Bills with two sacks and two forced fumbles. He also totaled nine tackles and was singled out by Eric Mangini as the outstanding defensive player for the team yesterday. Jonathan Vilma is no longer the only "playmaker" on the defensive side of the ball. Rhodes is making people take notice and in the process is turning this Jets defense into a unit that causes havoc for opponents. The defense did give up a bunch of yards to the Bills yesterday, but the big plays were what kept the team alive for the win. I often write about wanting players who "make plays" or having someone step up to make a play. This defense seems to do it, especially Rhodes, who is looking like a legitimate pro bowl candidate early in this 2006 season.

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September 26, 2006 -- JETS REPORT CARD

QUARTERBACKS B Chad Pennington (19-29, 183 yards, one TD, 94.5 rating) was efficient and avoided making big mistakes on an extremely windy day in Buffalo. He had a big fourth-down conver sion on a sneak in the fourth quarter.

RUNNING BACKS C Hey, they got a first down this week. Kevan Barlow had 31 yards on 12 carries and one TD. The revelation, though, may have been rookie Leon Washington, who set up a TD with a 47-yard reception.

WIDE RECEIVERS B- Laveranues Coles showed his toughness, making 10 catches for 78 yards despite an injured calf. Has anyone seen Justin McCa reins?

TIGHT ENDS B Chris Baker was wide open on his TD. He did a nice job chipping the Bills ends all day to keep them out of the backfield and off of Pennington.

OFFENSIVE LINE C There are two different sides of this grade. The pass blocking deserved an "A" as it limited the Bills to just one sack. The run blocking was a different story, and drags this grade down.

DEFENSIVE LINE C- Willis McGahee ran for a career-high 150 yards, gashing the Jets' line. NTs Dewayne Robertson and Rashad Moore were pushed around in the middle.

LINEBACKERS C- If the Bills get 475 yards on this defense, what can the Colts do? Jonathan Vilma looked lost on the Bills' first TD. Victor Hob son atoned for roughing the passer with his third- quarter fumble recovery for a TD.

SECONDARY C+ The group can thank S Kerry Rhodes for raising this grade. Rhodes made two huge strip sacks, one that resulted in a TD. Otherwise, there is not much to be happy about.

SPECIAL TEAMS B- All week, Eric Mangini talked about how strong the Bills' special teams were, but the Jets did not give up any big returns. The flubbed onside kick was a near disaster, but the de fense bailed them out.

KICKING GAME A P Ben Graham deserved the game ball after this one. The Australian averaged 48.3 yards and pinned the Bills inside the 20 four times on a day with brutal elements.

COACHING B The Jets are 2-0 on the road after not winning a road game last year. Mangini de serves credit for preparing his team to play in a hostile environment and keeping them from quitting when they got down early. It was also re freshing to see him keep throwing when the Jets had a lead in the fourth quarter.

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WASH OUT: Jets running back Leon Washington (right) has

his facemask grabbed by the Bills' Terrence McGee at the

end of a 47-yard run during Sunday's 28-20 victory in Buffalo.

September 26, 2006 -- JET NOTES

The Jets running back shuffle stopped on Leon Washington on Sunday and the rookie made some impressive plays.

The 5-foot-8 back from Florida State had just one carry before the Jets' 28-20 victory over the Bills, but Jets coach Eric Mangini gave him more of a chance and he produced. He turned a short pass from Chad Pennington into a 47-yard gain, and ran for 25 yards on seven carries.

"You have the opportunity to make a play, you want to go out there and make a play," Washington said. "You know when you do make a play, somebody sees it, the coaching staff sees it and the rest of your teammates sees it and they get that trust in you. That's the main thing as a young guy you want to try to do."

The play that was perhaps Washington's best was negated by a penalty. He took a shovel pass from Pennington at midfield and made some nifty moves to avoid three or four Bills and gain 13 yards. Nick Mangold, however, was flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield.

Washington's performance likely earned him more carries next week against the Colts.

"The more that he takes advantage of the opportunities, the more they'll come to him," Mangini said.


The odd man out of Mangini's running back shuffle was Derrick Blaylock. The starter at tailback in the Jets' first two games was inactive in Buffalo.

Blaylock, who missed a practice last week when his wife gave birth, said he knew it was a possibility he would be relegated to watching the Bills game.

"You could kind of tell at practice what was going on," Blaylock said. "There was a possibility that I would be up or be down. It happened. I'm just going to go out and pre pare and work hard at prac tice this week and see what happens."


Tight end Chris Baker was clutching the ball he caught for a touchdown Sunday in the second quarter. Baker keeps all of his touchdown balls.

"That's why I don't spike them," Baker said.


Safety Kerry Rhodes hopes some of the Patriots' magic against Peyton Manning comes to the Jets with Mangini. The Pats were 7-2 against the Colts while Mangini was defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator there.

"The Patriots always played the Colts well. I have no idea what they did but I hope he uses this week for us and we can make plays like they did," Rhodes said.


Mangini gave out his player of the week awards to Brandon Moore (offense), Rhodes (defense), Drew Coleman (special teams) and Anthony Schlegel (practice).

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HANGIN' LOOSE: Chad Pennington directs the Jets offense

during Sunday's 28-20 victory over the Bills in Buffalo.

Although the win put them in a first-place tie with the Patriots

in the AFC East, the Jets were quick to downplay the

significance of the standings this early in the season.

September 26, 2006 -- Even Eric Mangini had to smile at the question.

"How does it feel to be tied for first place in the division?"

The season is only three weeks old, but the Jets are indeed tied with the Patriots atop the AFC East with a 2-1 record.

"It grabs me better than the alternative," Mangini said. "I think that it's something we're striving for. . . . I'm really happy with the way these guys have worked, and I'm happy with the way that in each of the different situations, they've finished."

After their improbable 28-20 victory over the Bills on Sunday, the Jets were happy yesterday, but reserved. No one is making any playoff proclamations or calling out the preseason pundits who predicted this year would be a repeat of last season's 4-12 debacle.

"I don't think we've proved anything wrong yet," tight end Chris Baker said. "We're 2-1. We've gotten off to a pretty good start, but this is only the beginning. We haven't even finished the first quarter of the season. We can't really buy into too much of that we're proving everybody wrong. We have a tough stretch coming up. That's not the case right now. We're just getting started."

One look at the stat sheet from Sunday shows there are areas that still need improvement. The Jets were outgained 475-256 in yards by the Bills. Buffalo running back Willis McGahee and quarterback J.P. Losman each had career days. The Jets' own running game continues to falter.

Now, the Jets must face Peyton Manning and the unbeaten Colts on Sunday at Giants Stadium. But preparation for that game can wait. Yesterday, the Jets were still enjoying the "How did they do that?" victory over the Bills.

For the second straight week, the Jets fell behind early only to rally. Against the Pats, the comeback fell short in a 24-17 loss, but Sunday the Jets seized control from the Bills in the second quarter and figured out a way to win. The no-quit mentality is something these Jets pride themselves on.

"That's been pretty apparent in the first three games," Baker said. "Some of the stuff that happened, last year I don't know if we would have been able to bounce back and get the victories. We just go out and keep playing, and whatever happens, happens."

Safety Kerry Rhodes, who forced two fumbles on sacks, credits Mangini with instilling the never-say-die attitude.

"That's the mentality he brought to us from the beginning," Rhodes said. "He just gave us the confidence to know that we're never out of a situation. We took to that advice and we've been able to get some wins here."

Still, no one's getting carried away with the nice start.

"It's early," Rhodes said. "We've only played three games. It's nice to be sitting in a tie for first or whatever we are but we've got a long season left and we have a lot of work to do. Two games don't get you into the playoffs."

But they do give you reason to smile. Mangini flashed another one yesterday when he was asked at the end of his press conference how he thinks mentor Bill Belichick feels being tied with the Jets for first.

"You're going to have to ask Bill about that," he said.

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Backfield in motion once again

The Jets, hoping to jump-start their dormant running game, could be mulling another change at running back.

Coach Eric Mangini is believed to be considering an expanded role for rookie Leon Washington, who flashed big-play ability in the Jets' 28-20 win over the Bills.

Washington's rushing totals were modest (seven carries for 25 yards), but he brought some sizzle to the offense, especially as a receiver. He gained 47 yards on a screen pass. He also showed his quick feet and cutting ability by eluding tacklers for a 13-yard gain on a shovel pass - a play nullified by a penalty on rookie center Nick Mangold.

Washington has made significant progress since training camp, according to Mangini, who added, "The more he takes advantage of his opportunities, the more they'll come to him." The rookie had nine touches against the Bills, and that number could increase at the expense of Kevan Barlow.

Barlow, who replaced Derrick Blaylock in the starting lineup, limped off the field late in the game with an undisclosed injury. Prior to that, the organization hadn't been too impressed with his three-game performance.

Barlow has a team-high 108 yards, but he's averaging only 2.9 per carry and hasn't had a run longer than 11 yards.

Mangini also praised Cedric Houston, who stepped in for Barlow and scored on a 5-yard run. Once again, Blaylock (inactive) could be the odd man out when the Jets face the Colts Sunday at Giants Stadium.


HAPPY DAYS: News flash: Mangini smiled yesterday, albeit briefly. It came in response to a question about being tied for first place in the AFC East.

Asked how that "grabbed" him, Mangini replied, "It grabs me better than the alternative."

Someone wondered how the Patriots might feel about being tied with the Jets at 2-1.

"You're going to have to ask Bill (Belichick) about that," Mangini said, smiling again.

NOT SO SPECIAL: Special teams coach Mike Westhoff told Mangini that Sunday was the first time in 26 years of coaching that he saw an opponent try an onsides kick in the middle of the field. It worked, as LB Matt Chatham, a member of the Jets' "hands" team, fumbled it back to the Bills with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Jets appeared to be fooled by the play. They could've called a timeout, but Mangini insisted, "There wasn't a moment where you felt we weren't prepared for what was going to happen."

They averted potential disaster, as the Bills' desperation drive fizzled with a few wild throws by J.P. Losman.

IF AT FIRST: The Jets are one of five teams yet to score a point in the first quarter. The others: the Broncos, Bucs, Titans and Raiders. ... Mangini honored RG Brandon Moore (offense), SS Kerry Rhodes (defense) and DB Drew Coleman (special teams) as the players of the game.

Rich Cimini

Originally published on September 26, 2006

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Mangini trying musical backfield



(Original publication: September 26, 2006)

HEMPSTEAD — Those quick cutbacks and jukes that Jets rookie Leon Washington used to keep the Buffalo Bills flatfooted against him Sunday were born in his sandlot games back home in Jacksonville, Fla.

"We had a game called 'hot ball.' It'd be like 20 guys have to tackle one guy,'' the running back said yesterday. "You get a chance to get out there in the open field, you got all these linebackers and defensive backs running around and, yeah, it looks like 20 guys, so you're trying to avoid them the best you can.''

Washington, who came into Sunday's 28-20 win at Buffalo with one carry and no yards in the first two games for the Jets (2-1), finally got his chance out of the backfield after being used primarily as a returner on special teams. The fourth-round pick out of Florida State had 25 yards on seven carries and caught two passes for 52 yards as the primary backup to Kevan Barlow.

But Washington's playing time, as well as that of second-year running back Cedric Houston, who suited up for the first time this season, came at the expense of six-year veteran Derrick Blaylock, who plummeted on the depth chart from starter to fourth string (inactive).

First-year coach Eric Mangini, as he is at several positions, is keeping his players guessing.

"I'm not going to get down or anything like that,'' said Blaylock, who has 43 yards on 25 carries. "I knew it was a possibility that I wouldn't be up. You've got to get the information from him. Hey, I'm just like you. I don't know.''

It was the first time a healthy Blaylock has been inactive since his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs. But he said he doesn't think he's being made a scapegoat for the struggling running game — the Jets' 2.6 yards per carry ranks last in the AFC.

Then again, he's not sure.

"No, no finger-pointing,'' Blaylock said. "Really, I don't know. It's not unsettling for me. I just go out and do my thing, practice hard, focus. Whatever they decide to do, they decide to do. I can't control that.''

Overall, the Jets are 13th in the conference, averaging 72.3 yards rushing yards per game. That's after gaining 74 yards against the Bills, though Barlow and Houston each had short touchdown runs.

"I think for the Buffalo Bills (the personnel) was the right package, and that's how it'll be,'' Mangini said. "We're going to approach it based on who they are and what we're trying to get done against that team.''

The Indianapolis Colts are this week's opponent. Given Peyton Manning and Co.'s high-powered offense, it's a distinct possibility the Jets will be doing plenty of passing to catch up on the scoreboard.

That plays into Washington's game. The knock on the 5-foot-8, 202-pound Washington is he's not sturdy enough to take the pounding 20-25 carries a game would bring. But it's obvious he's got the best big-play potential of any of the Jets' running backs.

He turned a quick dumpoff from quarterback Chad Pennington at the line of scrimmage into a 47-yard play in the second quarter, sidestepping defensive end Aaron Schobel immediately after catching the ball and faking out rookie safety Ko Simpson downfield. Additional yardage was tacked on thanks to cornerback Terrence McGee's facemask penalty, placing the ball at the Bills 3-yard line.

Washington also turned Pennington's shovel pass into a 13-yard gain in the third quarter, cutting through the middle of the line. But rookie center Nick Mangold was called for being downfield illegally, negating the play.

"You have an opportunity to make a play, you want to go out there and make a play,'' Washington said. "You know if you do make the plays, somebody sees it. The coaching staff sees it. The rest of your teammates see it, so they get that trust in you. And that's the main thing as a young guy.''

Being the young guy is a role he's used to. His older brother got him into those "hot ball'' games when Washington was 11 years old. The other 20 guys were 16.

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Mangini gives it Strait up



HEMPSTEAD — To say third-year safety Erik Coleman is used to starting is a bit of an understatement. He won the job in training camp as a rookie and had a 34-game streak going into Sunday's game at Buffalo.

His name is even listed as a starter in the official game stats, but Jets coach Eric Mangini actually had Derrick Strait on the field to start the game.

"Derrick had a very good week of practice,'' Mangini said. "Different guys are going to play based on what they do during that week, and I thought Derrick did a nice job.''

Coleman admittedly did not have a good game in a 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 2. He was beaten on a 29-yard pass from Tom Brady to Daniel Graham at the end of the first quarter and was called for a third-quarter defensive holding on a third-and-20 from the Jets 22-yard line. The Patriots made it 24-0 three plays after the automatic first down.

"You have to come out and play hard every week in order to help the team win. That's how you've got to look at it,'' said Coleman, who had four tackles in the 28-20 win over the Bills. "It was a little different (Sunday), but I got in there on kickoffs. I stayed involved in the game and tried to help those guys out from the things I saw on the sidelines, as they do for me when I'm out there.''

Far from sulking, Coleman views the demotion as a challenge.

"When you're under pressure, they say that shows your true character — if you rise to the occasion or you're going to fold,'' Coleman said. "I've just got to keep working hard and becoming a better player.''

Way too early: Thanks to the Patriots' Sunday night loss to Denver, the 2-1 Jets are tied with them for first place in the AFC East, though New England holds the early tiebreaker with its win at the Meadowlands.

Mangini joked that being tied for first "grabs me better than the alternative,'' and the team rightfully isn't taking it too seriously.

"No, not at all,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said. "It's early. It's nice to be sitting in a tie, but we've got a long season left, and two games don't get you into the playoffs.''

Building a collection: Tight end Chris Baker was quite a sight in the Jets' locker room, wearing an old-style No. 42 Ronnie Lott white Jets jersey with a green Yankees cap and bright green sneakers. He also was clutching the football he caught for a 1-yard score Sunday. It was his second touchdown catch in three games, giving the fifth-year pro seven for his career.

"I've got to find somewhere to put them,'' Baker said. "That's not a bad thing, though.''

This and that: Right guard Brandon Moore (offense), Rhodes (defense), cornerback Drew Coleman (special teams) and linebacker Anthony Schlegel (practice), the third-round pick who was inactive for the third straight game, were named as the team's players of the week. … Moore was called for a false start in the third quarter against the Bills, but he took the rap for an undisclosed teammate, most likely either center Nick Mangold or right tackle Anthony Clement. Of Moore's four penalties this season, including two false starts and a declined holding call in Week 1 at Tennessee, he's been wrongfully accused on three. "They also said my number was 66 last year,'' No. 65 said. Left guard Pete Kendall wears No. 66.

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Jets fly on top of East

Tuesday, September 26, 2006



HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- It is not true that Eric Mangini didn't know his Jets were back in the AFC East's catbird seat because he was focused intently only on the next day, the next practice, the next opponent.

How does it grab you to be in a first-place tie with New England, he was asked Monday, the day after the Jets stunned the Bills at Buffalo and the Patriots lost to the Broncos at home.

"It grabs me better than the alternative," Mangini said with a smile. "That's something we're striving for. It's a lot better than the alternative, and I'm happy."

Happy, but not about to forget one of his core Jet values, which is to have short-term memory loss about any game except the one in front of him -- which happens to be undefeated Indianapolis at home on Sunday.

"We've only played three games," said safety Kerry Rhodes, one of the stars of the opportunistic win over the Bills. "It's nice to be sitting tied for first or whatever. But two [wins] don't get you into the playoffs. We've got a lot of work to do."

"We want to have that share at the end of the season," tight end Chris Baker said, wearing a Ronnie Lott Jets throwback jersey -- not to impart any message of special toughness to his teammates -- but to color coordinate with the shiny green sneakers he wanted to wear.

Perhaps the Jets are buying into this coaching cliche so eagerly not only because their coach believes in it so fervently but also because they know they really do have much work ahead.

They have nothing to apologize for from the Bills victory -- after three years of not holding any second-half leads at Buffalo, they were dealing from strength with the lead the entire second half.

Yet what will Peyton Manning do to a pass defense that was shredded for 328 yards by J.P. Losman? The following week, what will the Jaguars' fourth-ranked run defense do to a running attack that hasn't had a 10-yard run in two games -- a drought the Jets hadn't experienced in more than a decade.

" 'Character-building' -- that was a good quote by Chad [Pennington]," guard Brandon Moore said of his quarterback's postgame assessment. "So we've got character this week. But if we go out and stink it up next week, it doesn't mean anything."

Besides any shortcomings these Jets have, being in first place this early has guaranteed them little since Super Bowl III. Since 1969, they've been first in their division alone or tied seven times. Three times they earned an AFC wild-card berth; four times they missed the playoffs.

Another issue they eventually need to address is getting ahead of New England. It was handy that the Patriots' loss recreated this tie, but the week before the Pats thumped the Jets in the first half and held on for a 24-17 win.

In the 71 weeks since the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, the Jets have been ahead of the Patriots in the AFC East standings just once: the final week of the '02 season.

But for now the Jets will try to slay other dragons.

"In years past, people said we couldn't finish games, couldn't win on the road. We seem to be exorcising those demons," Moore said. "This is a new team, with 20-something new guys. What does that mean? We didn't finish games last year, but that's the whole model with Eric -- finishing games, playing hard.

"You've got to prove it each week and not get excited over being 2-1. And I think that's going to be one of our strengths."

E-mail: lange@northjersey.com

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it's funny how all of the players refer to hardwork both on the practice field and in the classroom. i think the word "gameplan" was used more in these articles than in entire 5-year edwards career as hc of the jets.

tannenbaum should also be applauded for how thouroughly he purged the roster of locker room lawyers and surrounded mangini with his type of players.

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Jets notebook

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sandlot hero

Leon Washington is a product of the Jacksonville, Fla., sandlots. He said a game he played there growing up -- "Hot Ball" -- helped prepare him for his NFL rookie season.

"Whoever catches [the ball] gets to be tackled by 20 guys," Washington reminisced Monday. "I look back on it and see that it helped me a lot.

"Now you've got a chance to get in the open field with all those linebackers and DBs running around -- it looks like 20 guys. And you try to avoid them the best you can."

Washington did major avoiding on his 47-yard screen pass to the Bills' 6, setting up the Jets' first touchdown.

It was the longest reception by a Jets' back since Richie Anderson, now an assistant coach, went 56 yards with a short pass, also from Chad Pennington, in the 2002 playoff romp over Indianapolis.

Erik adjusts

Erik Coleman is another Jet rolling with the punches after coach Eric Mangini gave him a new role for Buffalo: backup safety.

"It was a little different," Coleman said of playing behind Derrick Strait and therefore not starting for the first time in three seasons with the Jets. "But I got out there on kickoffs, stayed involved in the game and tried to help those guys out when they came off the field just like they'd help me out."

Coleman said of New England the week before, "I didn't play my best game by a long shot," adding, "I had a lot better game [against the Bills]."


Mangini's players of the week: RG Brandon Moore (offense), S Kerry Rhodes (defense), Drew Coleman (special teams) and Anthony Schlegel (practice). ... Moore was called for a false start in the third quarter, but he said he didn't commit the foul. That's the third straight time Moore incorrectly was singled out by officials.

-- Randy Lange

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How did the Buffalo Bills lose to the New York Jets despite racking up 475 yards?

Buffalo drove the ball well offensively most of the day but really lost this game on penalties, turnovers and field position. Jets punter Ben Graham pinned the Bills inside the 20-yard line four times, forcing the Bills to go a long way to score. Even with a good running game and improved play by quarterback J.P. Losman, the longer you must go to score, the greater chance for an offensive mistake or a defensive big play to kill the drive.

Jets strong safety Kerry Rhodes really helped turn the game around with his blitzing, creating a turnover that led directly to a touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills defense, which itself has created turnovers with its pass rush, was not able to get to Chad Pennington, who kept the Bills off balance all day with his short passes and up-tempo style that wore out the Bills front and slowed down their pass rush.

When you eat up yards and control the clock, it is a formula for success provided you protect the football and don't give up big plays defensively.

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Adam Schein / Special to FOXSports.com

Posted: 51 minutes ago

The Jets are oozing with confidence.

In a game very much similar to how the Colts game went, albeit on a smaller scale, the Jets got seriously outplayed in the first half, yet made key plays at big times en route to beating the Bills in Buffalo.

It's an enormous win for Eric Mangini's 2-1 Jets. To drop the Bills, fresh off their upset win against Miami, shows you how tough the Jets are under Mangini.

And safety Kerry Rhodes continues to make game-changing plays every week.

Twice defensive coordinator Bob Sutton called well-timed blitzes and Rhodes sacked JP Losman on both attempts, jarring the ball free both times. On the second brilliant play Rhodes blitz, Victor Hobson scooped up the loose ball and rumbled into the end zone to give the Jets a 21-10 lead.

Speaking to Rhodes on Monday, he credited Mangini for instilling confidence in him, telling the safety he can be a leader and a star in this defense.

And Rhodes also gave credit to his quarterback when he said, "The way Chad (Pennington) works, the way he plays, the decisions he makes, the way he studies, if you can not take your cues from him, you are missing something."

Pennington once again made clutch throws, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer mixed up the play selection and also the running back rotation, using rookie Leon Washington to ignite the offense in key spots.

And the Bills' coaching staff did some goofy things in this one, including Dick Jauron faking a field goal up 7-0 while the Bills, behind Willis McGahee, were dominating the game. And speaking of McGahee, Mangini should send offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild an early Christmas card for opting to put the ball in Losman's hands in the second half, as opposed to churning it out with the running back. Especially since the Jets can not stop the run.

Next up for the Bills is a date with the Vikings in lovely Western New York. And the Vikings will be angry after .

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Elusive Washington gives Jets an exciting playmaker

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer

September 26, 2006

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- Leon Washington zigzagged all over the field and eluded would-be tacklers with some shifty moves, leaving opponents on the ground completely frustrated.

That was back when he was just a pesky little kid growing up in Jacksonville, Fla. Now, the New York Jets rookie running back is showing the same kind of elusiveness in the NFL.

"I was pretty good at that," Washington said with a big grin. "I also still have some tapes from Little League football because my coach, he put them on DVDs. It's kind of amazing, man, some of the cuts I've been making since I was 9, 10, 11 years old."

It's no surprise, considering the highlight show he put on against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. After being used mostly on kickoff returns in the Jets' first two games, Washington had 25 yards on seven carries and caught two passes for 52 yards. Modest numbers, indeed, but it was the way he appeared straight out of a video game that caught everyone's eye.

"It's all instinctive," the 5-foot-8, 202-pound Washington said. "I just try to set up guys with my eyes and make a cut, and whatever happens after that is instinctive."

In the second quarter, Washington took a dump-off pass from Chad Pennington and turned it into a 47-yard play, using a series of cuts and fakes to get downfield and spark the Jets' offense.

Actually, his best play didn't even count. With Pennington facing a rush in the third quarter, Washington turned to his right, took a shovel pass and sidestepped Donte Whitner. He then eluded Kyle Williams, bounced to his left and avoided a diving Aaron Schobel before finally being brought down by Chris Kelsay for a 13-yard gain for a first down. But the play got called back on a penalty, although Washington made his point.

"I just try to use the ability that I've been blessed with and go out there and try to treat it, not necessarily like sandlot, but just go out there and have fun and just try to make plays with my legs," Washington said.

He's been doing that even before his days as a star running back and Gator Bowl MVP at Florida State. Washington and his friends played a game called "hot ball," where one person runs around with a ball while the other kids try to catch and tackle him.

"It was huge," Washington said. "It was probably the most important part of my adolescence playing football."

He often played with his older brother's friends and was usually one of the youngest kids on the field -- and one of the fastest.

"I look back at it and it helps me out a lot now because when you have a chance out there in the open field and you've got all these linebackers and DBs running around, it looks like 20 guys, so you're trying to avoid them the best you can," Washington said with a chuckle.

The Jets saw that ability in the undersized Washington when they drafted him in the fourth round with the pick they got from Kansas City as compensation for the Chiefs' hiring of Herman Edwards. Washington was considered a change-of-pace back who could return kickoffs and punts.

He may end up being much more for a running game that has been stagnant so far.

"The progress he's made from Day 1 to right now has been significant," coach Eric Mangini said. "And he's made that progress because of the way that he works at practice and finishes runs and stays after practice and is taking the coaching and spending time with some of the older guys."

Since training camp, Washington has huddled up with Curtis Martin, the NFL's No. 4 career rusher who's sidelined until at least after Week 6.

"He's given me little small points that as a running back, a young guy, that I really need," Washington said. "Instead of going out there and being so instinctive with all my runs, he's helped me learn to read defenses and how to pick up blocks."

That could all come in handy against Indianapolis this Sunday, when Peyton Manning brings his high-powered offense to the Meadowlands. Washington's ability to catch passes out of the backfield might become a major asset, especially if the Jets are trying to match the Colts on the scoreboard.

"The more that he takes advantage of the opportunities, the more they'll come to him," Mangini said.

Whether he can become a game-changing dual threat like his idol, Marshall Faulk or Brian Westbrook or Dave Meggett remains to be seen.

"We're a long way from that right now," Washington said. "I'm only in my third game in the National Football League. It's an honor to be mentioned among those guys. I'm just going to work hard, keep my head down, keep working and who knows what will happen in the future."

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