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http://www.nj.com/jets/ledger/index.ssf?/base/sports-0/1159337528207880.xml&coll=1

JETS CONFIDENTIAL

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

BY DAVE HUTCHINSON

Star-Ledger Staff

Right now, Strait wouldn't trade places with anyone

It was a potentially ugly situation when defensive back Derrick Strait was returned to the Jets after his trade to Cleveland was rescinded because Browns running back Lee Suggs failed his physical.

Strait could have pouted and been a malcontent upon his return, demanding a trade or his release. And the Jets, perhaps looking to unload Strait, could've tried to trade him again or simply cut him. The Browns eventually released Suggs on the final cut.

But Strait, who was initially excited about the trade, returned to the Jets with a team-first attitude and the Jets welcomed him back. He met with coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum and was assured the trade was simply a business decision to benefit both teams.

"Derrick felt good about that meeting," said Michael Lartigue, Strait's agent. "He believed the Jets really wanted him back and traded him just to try to make the team better."

Last Sunday, Strait's hard work paid off in Buffalo as he made his first career start, replacing safety Erik Coleman, who had started 36 consecutive games.

"Everybody just handled the situation real professionally," Strait told The Star-Ledger. "The coaches, everybody upstairs, they were great. I know it's a business. It's about winning games and doing what is best for your team."

Strait, a third-year pro, had two tackles and a pass defended while alternating with Coleman in the Jets' 28-20 victory. He can play cornerback, safety, nickel back and dime back.

"Derrick had a good week of practice," Mangini said. "I've always liked his versatility. He did a nice job with the calls and the adjustments."

That Strait wasn't bitter about the trade didn't surprise Lartigue, who was a bit concerned about how the Jets would treat Strait when he came back.

"Derrick is a guy who never pouts, never complains," Lartigue said. "That's not his style. Besides, getting traded isn't the worst thing that has happened to him. I keep thinking that getting traded is nothing compared to being homeless (which Strait was as a teenager). He has always handled adversity well."

Mangini is noncommittal on who will start Sunday against the Colts but seems to think Strait has a bright future, perhaps similar to Patriots cornerback-turned-safety Eugene Wilson.

"Things are finally starting to turn around for me," Strait said. "I'm just going to try to make the best of my opportunity."

NEXT OPPONENT

The Colts (3-0) got past the Jaguars, 21-14, Sunday in one of the worst regular-season performances of QB Peyton Manning's career.

Manning completed just 14 of 31 passes for 219 yards and a TD against the Jags. His 45.2 completion percentage was a regular-season low and marked only the second time in the past 71 games he has been held below 50 percent.

Without Edgerrin James, the Colts have struggled running the ball. Rookie Joseph Addai is their leading rusher with 123 yards on 26 carries, but they're averaging just 3.1 yards per carry.

The Colts are allowing 19.6 points per game and 161.7 yards rushing. DE Dwight Freeney, slowed by a strained buttock muscle, has no sacks. Colts K Adam Vinatieri (groin), the former Patriot, sat out against the Jags, missing the first game in his 11-year career.

All that said, the Colts are averaging an NFL-leading 30.0 points per game and Manning ranks second in the NFL with 895 passing yards.

GAME PLAN

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has Manning's number and one would assume Jets coach Eric Mangini also has it. By confusing Manning with movement before the snap, the Patriots have frustrated him under Belichick, with Mangini as his secondary coach and later defensive coordinator. Manning is 2-7 against the Patriots since Belichick arrived in 2000 and has thrown 16 TDs and 14 INTs in those games. In two playoffs losses, Manning has thrown one TD and five interceptions.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

The Jets running game gets the hat trick because it's the third consecutive week it needs to get untracked. It did show some signs of life last week with 74 yards and two rushing TDs in the red zone.

INJURIES

Jets: C/T Trey Teague (ankle) and G Pete Kendall (hamstring) remain banged up. Their status for Sunday is unclear.

Colts: K Adam Vinatieri (groin), CB Nick Harper (groin), DT Corey Simon (knee) and S Bob Sanders (shoulder, knee) are nursing injuries. Simon isn't expected to play. WR Reggie Wayne is away helping arrange the funeral for his brother and might not play.

KEY MATCHUP

Jets LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney

Ferguson has played well this season, but this is his biggest test to date. Freeney, a Pro Bowler the past three seasons, is just as athletic as Ferguson but might be quicker and is more experienced.

BY THE NUMBERS

From 1998 to the present, Peyton Manning leads all active NFL quarterbacks in passing yardage.

Peyton Manning 34,084

Brett Favre 31,874

Kerry Collins 26,891

Trent Green 25,711

Jake Plummer 25,623

Drew Bledsoe 25,582

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NOW YOU CAN COUNT ON JETS

10 WINS NOT OUT OF QUESTION

By BRIAN COSTELLO

jetslede09272006.jpg

New York Jets running back Cedric Houston (L) plunges

in for five yards which would be the winning touchdown.

September 27, 2006 -- The following sentence seemed unthinkable three weeks ago: The Jets could make the playoffs.

We know, we know, it's only Week 4 of the NFL season. But the Jets at 2-1 already are a much better team than anyone anticipated before the season began.

They've shown the ability to come from behind, they've shown the ability to stave off a rally, and they nearly knocked off their fiercest rival after spotting it a 24-point headstart.

With Eric Mangini in his first year as head coach, Chad Pennington's health a question mark and Curtis Martin on the shelf, preseason prognosticators had the Jets lucky to win four or five games. Now, it seems, much more is possible.

"If we're underrated, I hope everybody continues to take us for granted," receiver Laveranues Coles said after Sunday's 28-20 victory in Buffalo.

No one is going to rank the Jets as one of the most talented teams in the league, but they don't have to be with their schedule. The Jets entered the season with the fifth-easiest schedule in the NFL. If they remain healthy, it is possible the Jets could finish 10-6, and very likely they could end up 9-7.

Here's how the remaining schedule breaks down:

* Games they could be favored to win: Lions, at Browns, Texans, at Packers, Raiders.

* Games they will be the decided underdog: Colts, at Jaguars, Bears.

* Toss-up games: Dolphins, at Patriots, Bills, at Vikings, at Dolphins.

If they win three of the five toss-up games, that would put them at 10-6. If you want to make them 2-3 in the toss-up games or give them a surprise loss, it's 9-7.

The Jets match up well with many of the remaining teams on their schedule. As Willis McGahee showed last week, the Jets are susceptible to the run. But of the Jets' remaining opponents, 10 of the 13 teams are ranked in the lower half of the league in rushing. The Bills (McGahee), Vikings (Chester Taylor), Jaguars (Fred Taylor) and Patriots (Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney) are the only teams with top-tier running backs.

The Jets also have recent history in their favor. The NFL playoffs seem to always feature teams that have rebounded from dismal seasons. Five of last year's 12 playoff teams had a losing record the year before. In the past three years, 14 of the 36 playoff teams had a losing record a season earlier.

The Jets' 2-1 record bodes well, too. Last season, 10 of the 16 teams that started 2-1 went to the playoffs, and 14 of the 16 finished with a winning record. Over the past three years, 28 of the 48 (58 percent) teams that started 2-1 went to the playoffs, and 37 of the 48 (77 percent) finished with a winning record.

Besides the statistical probabilities, the Jets also have their style of play working in their favor. They already have demonstrated an ability to handle various situations, whether it was the Bills scoring 55 seconds into last week's game or the Titans cutting into the Jets' lead in Week 1.

"Being able to respond to that adversity, being able to adjust to the different situations and ultimately finish the game is the most important thing, and finish is a core Jets value and something we stress day in and day out," Mangini said.

Another area Mangini has stressed has been turnovers. The Jets' turnover margin is plus-5, better than everyone in the NFL except Baltimore and St. Louis. Last year 10 of the top 11 teams in this category made the playoffs.

Oddsmakers have taken note of what the Jets are doing. The online gambling site sportsbook.com had the Jets at 10-1 to win the AFC East before the preseason. Now, they are 7-1.

There's a long way to go, but the Jets' road to the playoffs looks a lot smoother than it did three weeks ago.

brian.costello@nypost.com

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Unpredictable Jets:

Of all the predictions for the Jets this season, none had the words "first" and "place" in them. Yet there the Jets (2-1) are, tied atop the AFC East with the Patriots.

"I think that it's something worth striving for," Jets rookie coach Eric Mangini said of the early stature. "It's a lot better than the alternative."

But the Jets have not scored a point in the first quarter. They have 20 penalties for 153 yards. The running game is the worst in the AFC, averaging 2.6 yards a carry.

Since the franchise began play in 1960, there have been 20 teams that started the season at 2-1 or 3-0. Eight finished above .500.

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The Colts are allowing 19.6 points per game and 161.7 yards rushing. DE Dwight Freeney, slowed by a strained buttock muscle, has no sacks. Colts K Adam Vinatieri (groin), the former Patriot, sat out against the Jags, missing the first game in his 11-year career.

The Colts can be run on -that has been the key to beating them the last couple of years-pound the ball at them physically beat them up

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JETS CHALKTALK

Nice takeoff doesn't assure smooth flight

BY TOM ROCK

Newsday Staff Writer

September 27, 2006

Of all the predictions for the Jets this season, none had the word "first" in it. Yet flip back a few pages in this newspaper and there the Jets are, tied atop the AFC East with a Patriots team that seems even less daunting than it did before the Jets' near-comeback in Week 2 and a deflating loss to the Broncos on Sunday night.

The Jets are 2-1. Halfway to last year's win total. With a lot of winnable games remaining, including Detroit, Houston, Oakland and struggling Miami. Sure, it's only three weeks into the season, but c'mon! First place!

"I think that it's something worth striving for," rookie coach Eric Mangini said of the early stature. "It's a lot better than the alternative, and I'm happy."

For Mangini, that's the equivalent of a fist-pumping and chair-jumping celebration. And he seemed to revel in the idea of being a thorn in the side of "the other place" that shares the division lead.

But what does it all mean? Not that much if you look back at Jets lore.

Since the franchise began play in 1960, there have been 20 other teams that started 2-1 or 3-0. Only eight of those teams wound up finishing the regular season above .500. Only six made the playoffs, and seven finished with six wins or fewer (though that includes the strike-shortened 1982 season, in which the Jets went 6-3 and made the playoffs). The 1975 team, virtual spokesmen for not getting too excited too early, started 2-1 and finished 3-11.

There are some obvious shortcomings to these current Jets. They have yet to score a point in the first quarter of their three games, and they have fallen behind quickly in the last two. They have incurred 20 penalties for 153 yards. The running game is the worst in the AFC, averaging 2.6 yards per carry.

And the Jets' two wins have come against AFC patsies, with the next two games against the AFC elite. After the Colts play their second game in a month at the Meadowlands - just as many as the home team will have played there - the Jets will travel to Jacksonville.

It's safe to say the Jets have exceeded external expectations (if not their own).

"We've gotten off to a pretty good start, but this is only the beginning," said tight end Chris Baker, who has caught two touchdown passes. "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."

Like most NFL coaches, Mangini's focus is on the next game, and in this case, that is against the dangerous Colts. But a peek at the rest of the Jets' schedule is intriguing. Eyeing it with a dash of optimism can easily result in a prediction of nine or 10 wins. Even through jaded glasses, there are six to eight wins.

There were so many doubts about the Jets at the beginning of the season, some of them still unassuaged. The question mark at quarterback seems to have straightened itself into an exclamation point, but the concern about a running back remains real and the adjustment to a 3-4 defense is still a work in progress.

But the Jets couldn't have asked for anything more than this at this point in the season: hope.

Storylines

Brick's big test

After a near-perfect performance against the Bills -- no penalties and no sacks allowed -- rookie left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson will face the most difficult chore of his young career Sunday. The Freeport product will be charged with stopping Colts All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney. The No. 4 overall pick in April's draft, Ferguson has been improving steadily. Freeney does not have a sack this season, but that only means he is due. He has averaged .77 of a sack per game in his four-plus years, behind only Reggie White, John Abraham, Simeon Rice and Derrick Thomas in NFL history.

The plan's the thing

Kerry Rhodes joked that the Jets made J.P. Losman look like Jim Kelly in Sunday's victory. Now they must face one of the NFL's most prolific passers, Peyton Manning, and there's no telling who they could make him look like. But the Jets have coach Eric Mangini, who as a defensive backs coach and coordinator with the Patriots was able to game-plan Manning into submission with regularity. The Patriots beat the Colts seven of nine times during Mangini's tenure. "I have no idea what they did," Rhodes said of the Patriots' schemes, "but I hope [Mangini] uses them this week for us and we can make plays like they did."

A baker's dozen soon?

Tight end Chris Baker is starting to run out of mantel room for his trophy balls. The fifth-year player keeps all of the footballs he catches for touchdowns, and this season he has grabbed a pair of keepsakes. "In college, I thought I would spike them," he said of anticipating his reaction to scoring. But spiking the football only puts the pigskin back into play. By keeping a grip on the football, he can slyly stow it on the side and later have it painted with the date and score. After entering the season with five TDs, Baker is starting to think about what to do with his modest but growing collection.

Statlines

Kerry Rhodes has developed a knack for blindsiding quarterbacks, coming up with three strip-sacks in the last two games. It's just a matter of time before teams start anticipating his blitzes -- and he probably won't catch up to the Ravens' Bart Scott or the Eagles' Trent Cole, who lead the league with five each -- but for now Rhodes is tops among NFL safeties in sacks.

Sacks Rank

Kerry Rhodes, Jets 3.0 T9th

Chad Williams, 49ers 2.5 T18th

Michael Lewis, Eagles 2.0 T22nd

Adrian Wilson, Cards 2.0 T22nd

Sunday

Colts at Jets

1 p.m.,

TV: Ch. 2

Radio: WEPN

(1050), WABC

(770), WRCN

(103.9)

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Try Pat answer to halt Manning

By RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

36-mcginest_manning.JPG

Willie McGinest and Pats

kept Peyton Manning under wraps.

204-mangini_jets.JPG

Eric Mangini

Shortly after Sunday's win in Buffalo, Kerry Rhodes started to look ahead to the Jets' next opponent, thinking to himself, "How are we going to stop Peyton Manning?"

Suddenly, it occurred to him: They have a not-so-secret weapon - Eric Mangini, who spent six years on a New England coaching staff known for its ability to famously frustrate the Colts' gunslinger/TV pitchman.

"The Patriots always played the Colts well with the schemes they had," Rhodes said. "I have no idea what they did, but I hope he uses it this week, so we can make plays like they did. They made a lot of big plays and had a lot of picks against Peyton."

In nine games against the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots, from 2000 to 2005, Manning went 2-7 and managed only 16 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions. Those are not the kind of numbers you'd expect from the most prolific passer of the 21st century.

Mangini, Belichick's sidekick, played a role in that mastery, and now it'll be fascinating to see if he can transfer some of that to his new job.

The Colts (3-0) are coming to town this weekend, which means Mangini still has about 96 hours to perfect his strategy. Maybe he can dust off the old Patriots-Colts game plans, assuming they were among the items he was able to take before being barred from his old office in Foxboro last January.

Describing the ideal game plan for the Colts, former Patriots LB Ted Johnson once said, "Stop the run with the front seven and kick the crap out of their receivers."

Simple, but it works.

In their best games against Manning, most notably the 2003 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots pulverized his receivers. That's harder to do now with the stricter enforcement of the rules, but the best way to disrupt the Colts' rhythm is to jam the receivers at the line and take away Manning's first and second reads.

"They don't like it - at all," Johnson said of the physical play.

A sound plan is one thing, but it doesn't mean diddly if you don't have the players to execute it. That's where the Jets will run into problems.

Can cornerbacks Andre Dyson, David Barrett and Justin Miller bully receivers like Ty Law used to? Can OLB Bryan Thomas walk out to the slot to jam a receiver the way Willie McGinest once did? Can the Jets pressure Manning with a four-man rush, allowing them to drop seven into coverage? That's how the Patriots did it in the '03 title game, when they intercepted Manning four times.

Another key question: How will Mangini deploy Rhodes, the Jets' top playmaker on defense? The safety has emerged as a blitzing force, but is it wise to send him, leaving the secondary vulnerable?

There will be a lot of Xs-and-Os talk this week in preparation for Manning, but make no mistake: More often that not, talent wins. Mangini knows that all too well. A year ago, the Patriots' injury-ravaged defense was shredded by Manning, who threw for three touchdowns and 321 yards in a 40-21 win.

Mangini, a rookie coordinator, called the plays in that one.

The Clipboard

HOT SEAT: RB Kevan Barlow. He's losing ground quickly to rookie Leon Washington.

X'S AND O'S: S Kerry Rhodes has more sacks (three) in the last two games than DE Shaun Ellis (2-1/2) has in his last 16.

WHISPERS: The offensive players love Brian Schottenheimer's creativity and aggressiveness as a play caller.

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Changing of the guard: Katnik cut

Norm Katnik has gone from starting left guard to left out. In a surprising move, Katnik was waived yesterday, the Daily News has learned. LB Ryan Myers, a special-teams contributor, and OLB Trevor Johnson also were waived.

Presumably, Katnik's departure means Pete Kendall (hamstring) and backup Trey Teague (ankle) are ready to return. Katnik started two games in Kendall's absence, playing every snap in the win at Buffalo.

The Jets have three roster openings. Yesterday, they worked out four veterans: former Falcons safety Keion Carpenter (15 starts last season), former Cards fullback James Hodgins, former Titans LB Cody Spencer and former Raiders DE Ryan Riddle.

Small wonder

Rookie Leon Washington could be the answer for the Jets' sluggish running game, especially against the Colts. In their win over the Jaguars, the Colts couldn't tackle Maurice Jones-Drew, a 5-7 rookie who rushed for 103 yards on 14 carries.

The 5-8 Washington is a Jones-Drew clone, dangerously elusive. One opposing scout believes Washington could be more effective than Kevan Barlow, Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston in the Jets' scheme, which often requires the tailback to line up seven yards behind the quarterback.

"Leon will be quicker to the line of scrimmage than those other guys," the scout said. "He's not a dancer, not one of those little guys who looks to bounce it outside."

Before a disappointing senior year at Florida State, Washington was rated by this scout as a solid second-round pick. The Jets chose him in the fourth.

"He's hard to find back there because he sneaks behind the guys on pulling and trapping plays, and he's on top of the safety before you know it," the scout said.

Brickwork

The Jets drafted left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson for games like this: He'll be matched against Colts DE Dwight Freeney, who, despite a three-game sack slump, is a premier speed rusher.

"I don't think Freeney will be that big a challenge," one AFC scout said. "He'll do fine against the speed and quickness guys. It's the big, strong guys he has to worry about."

At Virginia, Ferguson was regarded as a superior athlete, not a mauler. Asked to evaluate the rookie's early showing as a run blocker, the scout said, "I think he's a really good pass protector. You can read between the lines."

Would you consider him an average run blocker?

"I'm not sure if he's that good," the scout said.

But know this: On Houston's five-yard TD run, Ferguson opened a big hole by riding Bills DT Larry Tripplett out of the play.

Rich Cimini

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Jets look ahead

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Colts at Jets

Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 2

Early line

Colts by 9

The last time the Jets were bigger home 'dogs was in 1995 when Miami was favored by 10. (The Jets won, 17-16.) The Jets as underdogs vs. the Manning Colts since 1998 are 1-5 outright (1-3-2 vs. the spread). Indianapolis has lost its past two as nine-point road favorites, both late in the season (Denver in '04, Seattle in '05). Since 2003, Tony Dungy's Colts are 21-7 on the road (17-8-3 vs. spread), including their season-opening Meadowlands win over the Giants.

On the hot seat

Chad Pennington

The Jets' quarterback shoulders his biggest challenge yet. The Jets' defense has given no indication it's ready to slow down an offense as finely tuned and talented as Indianapolis, so Pennington may have to trade big plays with Peyton Manning -- and he'll have a great opportunity vs. a secondary that may be missing CB Nick Harper and S Bob Sanders. Pennington lost a modified shootout in a 38-31 loss at Indy in 2003, going 11-for-14 for 219 yards to Manning's 27-for-36 for 401.

Game plan

Put up a quick touchdown for the home crowd. The last time the Jets scored the first TD in the first quarter was in last year's home opener against Miami. The Jaguars hung in vs. the Colts so long last week through solid defense following a long TD drive to open the game. Also, if the Jets bend against Manning, they can't break. The red-zone "D" was sharp at Buffalo (four drives, one TD allowed, one takeaway), but dull vs. New England (five drives, three TDs).

-- Randy Lange

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Jury still out on Jets' RBs

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

By RANDY LANGE

STAFF WRITER

Eric Mangini loves boxing, we know, and he probably is a closet fan of ultimate fighting and pro wrestling. He keeps throwing four guys into steel cages to see what happens.

Chad Pennington supported the four-way quarterback competition publicly, then was declared the clear winner. He, his shoulder and the Jets' offense clearly seem to be the better for it.

Similar battles have been and still are being fought at wide receiver, outside linebacker and safety.

But the most intriguing of all -- and perhaps the most important to the direction this first season of Mangini-ball takes -- is the current tailback tango.

Heading into Buffalo, Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer faced several interesting decisions. First was what to do about Cedric Houston.

"Cedric has been doing a really good job in practice," Mangini explained. "He created that opportunity to be in the game."

But to activate Houston for the first time, someone had to be deactivated. There aren't enough snaps for three tailbacks in your average NFL game, let alone four.

So Mangini gave Kevan Barlow his first start as a Jet -- and deactivated Derrick Blaylock, his starter the first two games.

"It's not just one player. It's also the other players who are in competition and their roles on special teams," he said, declining to go into details. "There's more than just one factor that goes into it."

Then the question became: How to use the backs at Buffalo? It was natural to assume Barlow would get Blaylock's 50 snaps, Houston would get Barlow's 15 and Leon Washington would get another series of on-the-job training, as he had against New England.

Surprise: Barlow got 26 snaps and 12 carries, but when he came out, it wasn't Houston who went in but Washington. The small, powerful, infectious rookie started the third quarter, got 21 plays in all and rewarded his coaches' faith with one of the plays of the game -- the darting, dashing 47-yard screen pass that set up the Jets' first touchdown in the second quarter.

Is this good coaching? What about continuity? Don't featured backs need multiple carries to get their heart pumping? What about the players' feelings?

Well, Washington has no complaints. "Twenty carries, five carries, it doesn't matter," he said. "My focus is to make the best of my opportunity to help the team out."

Same with Houston, who just won't utter a discouraging word.

"Running back by committee? I've seen it work," he said, after finally getting his first two carries of the season -- which he took for 10 yards, two first downs and the Jets' ultimately crucial final TD. "I did it three years in college. I know it works."

Barlow, once "the Man" in San Fran, may not be thrilled at this tailback time share. And Blaylock, a team player and, last week, a father for the fourth time, must wonder why he's being punished.

If Mangini were fixing something that wasn't broken, that wouldn't be good. But the running game, waiting for Curtis Martin, had slowed to a walk. Mangini's fighting instincts have prevailed. Week 4 of this season's tailback four-for-all begins at today's practice.

E-mail: lange@northjersey.com

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