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Jets can't get caught up in Packers, Lambeau aura

By Andrew Gross

The Journal News

(Original Publication: December 3, 2006)

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Playing at Lambeau Field is not so much a game as it is an event, though for all the connections between the Jets and Packers, today it could be considered a reunion.

"Hallowed ground," Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said. "It's sacred, a lot of history, and I think it's very exciting to play there."

Pennington should know. He was there twice as a rookie in 2000, once in the preseason and in the season opener. His only start against the Packers came in the regular-season finale in 2002 at the Meadowlands, when the Jets clinched a playoff spot after the Patriots rallied to beat the Dolphins.

If the Jets (6-5) beat the Packers today, it would be a serious boost to their AFC wild-card aspirations. And unlike previous seasons, the Packers (4-7) aren't enjoying their Lambeau advantage. Green Bay is just 1-4 at home.

In other words, there's no time for sightseeing.

"It's just another game," Jets left guard Pete Kendall said. "It's a special place, but it's the NFL, it's a big deal everywhere."

But nothing quite has the feel of Lambeau, especially when it turns cold. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 30s today with possible snow.

In preparation, Jets coach Eric Mangini showed his team video of "The Ice Bowl," the Packers' win over the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL championship game, which was truly played on the "frozen tundra" with temperatures at minus-13 degrees.

"I've played in some cold weather, but never in Lambeau Field," Jets kicker Mike Nugent said. "I've heard it's just unbelievable. I've heard they do a great job with it."

Nugent is part of one of today's reunions as one of three Centerville, Ohio, natives in the game. Jets center Nick Mangold and Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk are the others.

Hawk and Mangold were college housemates and are two of the top rookies in the NFL.

Hawk, the fifth-overall pick in this year's draft, leads the team with 113 tackles and also has 3 1/2 sacks.

"He's as blue-collar as they come," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's all football."

The same could describe Mangold, who has shown a veteran-like calm in anchoring the offensive line.

But their on-field rivalry didn't prevent them from exchanging their usual phone call this week.

"It was just more of me saying, 'How are you doing?' which I think I do every week," Mangold said. "Just because we're playing this week doesn't change the fact that I'll check in to see how he did in the game last week."

It's also likely that Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be greeted today by his uncle, Packers secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer.

Kurt Schottenheimer, the younger brother of Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, said his nephew was more interested in basketball as a youth. But when his father became the Chiefs coach in 1989, Brian Schottenheimer decided to go out for the high school football team as a way to meet people.

By the time Brian Schottenheimer went to Florida, his uncle said he knew he wanted to coach. More specifically, he wanted to learn a sophisticated passing game, so he decided to play for Steve Spurrier.

"You'll see some things in their offense that they have done in the past at Florida," Kurt Schottenheimer said. "Some very unusual and unique things that most people (in the NFL) don't do."

It's the offense that has helped revive Pennington's career after back-to-back rotator-cuff injuries. But Pennington has struggled in bad weather at times.

"That's what football is all about, being able to handle the elements and not let it distract you from your play," Pennington said.

But the distractions might go beyond the weather today.

Given the infrequency of the Jets' interconference visits to Green Bay, this could be the only chance for some players to step foot on Lambeau's field.

"I'm looking forward to it," Jets punter Ben Graham said. "Growing up, the Green Bay Packers were one of the most well-known teams in Australia. Lambeau Field, they talk about it being a tourist attraction. So I'll be taking my camera."

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Jets fans take in Titletown

By Andrew Gross

The Journal News

(Original Publication: December 3, 2006)

GREEN BAY, Wis. - The Titletown Trolley runs along Main Street, past the Titletown Brewing Co. and just a few blocks from the sign that proclaims, "Welcome to Green Bay, population 102,313." Down Oneida Street, one-story homes on quarter-acre lots line block after block until the intersection of Lombardi Way, where an NFL stadium towers over the landscape.

"It's real backwards," said 54-year-old Mario D'Agostino of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. "Sort of country-like. A real farmland."

D'Agostino and his buddy, 39-year-old John Gazzani of Elmwood Park, N.J., yesterday wandered through the Packers' Hall of Fame, which is adjacent to Lambeau Field. They were adorned in Jets wear, just two of the many Jets fans who have come to Green Bay for today's game against the Packers.

Sure, it's not bright lights, big city. But D'Agostino wasn't being derogatory, just comparative.

Green Bay is unlike any other NFL city, and D'Agostino said seeing a game at Lambeau, especially in what could be quarterback Brett Favre's final season, was a bigger draw than seeing the Jets.

Manny Delmas, 36, of Westbury, and his good friend, 41-year-old Mark Papagni of East Meadow, usually take at least one trip a season to see the Jets on the road.

"This is a little different," Delmas said. "We try to do a city like Miami, where there's a nightlife. Here there's a small-town atmosphere. It's like getting caught in a time warp. It's old-school."

Green Bay has a smaller population than Yonkers (196,086 according to the 2000 U.S. Census). It's smaller than Syracuse (147,306). It barely has more residents than Albany (95,658).

Yet, according to statistics compiled in a late-1990s study, the Packers bring in $144 million annually to Brown County, much of it through consumer spending.

Money certainly changed hands with the Jets in town.

Tours of Lambeau Field sold out quickly yesterday - 42-year-old Steve Tuchler of Westbury, lucky enough to secure a spot, said the best part was a simulated run through the tunnel to the field with simulated crowd noise. D'Agostino and Gazzani said they spent $240 per ticket, which had a $70 face value, through a ticket agency. The line to get into the Packers Pro Shop was 50 yards long.

So rather than seeing it as an intrusion the eight times each regular season when fans flock to their little city, Green Bay residents warmly welcome the out-of-towners.

"We're die-hard fans, but we'd like you to leave thinking we're nice people, too," said 59-year-old Tim Kearns, who grew up in Milwaukee but settled in Green Bay 20 years ago to raise his three daughters after retiring from the Navy. "If I came to a game at Giants Stadium, I'd like to feel I could talk to people and have a good-natured rivalry."

Green Bay's hospitality was even impressive to those used to a quieter lifestyle.

Jets fan Mark Schult, 26, and his 28-year-old wife, Christina, drove from their home in LaPorte, Ind., for their first Lambeau experience. Their house is decorated with "Jets everything," Christina Schult said - birdhouses, bird feeders, sprinklers and salt shakers.

But even they got caught up in the Green Bay experience, snapping photos of the Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau statues outside the stadium.

"It seems homey here," Christina Schult said. "It reminds us of where we're from."

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Vilma, Jets look to be tundra-tough

Sunday, December 3, 2006



GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Some Jets who have never visited this biggest little city on NFL Earth expressed reverence about playing in the shrine called Lambeau.

Some said they'll follow Eric Mangini's five-second rule, "appreciating the atmosphere," then moving on to what's important: beating the Packers.

For Jonathan Vilma, five seconds is about five seconds too long.

"To be honest, I'm just going out there and trying to win the game and not worry about anything else," Vilma said, not disrespectfully but matter-of-factly. "It's definitely a business trip. We need to go out there and take care of business."

The business is what Vilma is getting lately from Jets watchers. The progress reports on how the team captain, team MVP and Pro Bowler is transitioning to the 3-4 defense show that his production is down from his 4-3 days.

More directly, he's not making plays.

Seemingly in response, Mangini offered unsolicited praise Thursday for Vilma's communication skills and command of the scheme, likening his impact on the defense to Chad Pennington's on the offense. Those listening to the news conference on the Jets' Web site may have sensed a coach in spin mode regarding a struggling star.

If any of this bothers Vilma, he never lets on.

"I'm getting there, I'm getting there," he said. "This defense is totally different from the 4-3, but now that we're blitzing a little more, there are some more similarities between the 4-3 and the 3-4.

"It has its similarities to learning a language," said Vilma, who speaks three of them. "If there are five levels to learning a language, I'll say I'm at level three."

He was asked if he'd seen enough interior offensive linemen coming into his kitchen so far.

"Oh, yes," he said, smiling. "I've seen more guards this year than in the rest of my career combined."

But the downturn in tackles at or behind the line (12.5 last year, 3.5 in 11 games this season), forced fumbles (4-0) and solo tackles in general don't mess with his mind.

"There's only frustration because I want to be the best I can be," he said. "I'm a perfectionist. I want to be great at what I'm doing. The 3-4, definitely, this right here is my life. I've got to get it right."

Mangini's argument was that Vilma, like Tedy Bruschi making a similar switch with New England, still needs time to get up to his speed and style.

"Back in 2000, I don't think you'd have said, 'Wow, what an impact year Tedy had,' '' Mangini said. "Yet he impacted the defense substantially during that period.

"Jon understands where everybody fits. He's able to move the pieces around without changing the integrity of the defense. He's been a big part of our pursuit.''

Some of those traits were on display last week against Houston. Before one snap, Vilma swatted Dewayne Robertson over from zero-technique (head-up on the center) to one-technique (shading the center's shoulder) and Robertson made the play. A few plays later, he repositioned Brad Kassell to a different blitz gap and Kassell rejected a David Carr pass in the backfield.

"I'm still 'The General' out there," Vilma said with a laugh, "still getting them lined up."

And even though the defense's rankings aren't showing quantum leaps, progress undeniably is being made – making it reasonable to say that maybe No. 51 isn't playing so inconsistently after all.

And like his approach to Lambeau Field, Vilma knows he has to be focused, not flummoxed, today in taking on NFL royalty in Brett Favre.

"If I'm watching him and singing his praises, he's throwing the ball down the field," he said. "Basically, we've got to get after him."

BRIEF: Tim Dwight, who has been the Jets' main punt returner, was placed on injured reserve Saturday with a foot injury he sustained this week in practice. Leon Washington, Justin McCareins and Jerricho Cotchery are candidates to do the punt returning today. Wallace Wright, the practice squad wide receiver/safety, was signed to the active roster.

E-mail: lange@northjersey.com

* * *

Jets (6-5) vs. Packers (4-7)

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.

Today, 1 o'clock

TV: Ch. 2

Radio: WABC-AM 770, ESPN-AM 1050

Line: Pick 'em

What's at stake

Jets: They aim to go two games over .500 for the first time since 2004, improve their road record to 4-2, and continue on their "Race to 10" -- 10 wins that would give them a great playoff shot in Eric Mangini's first year at the helm.

Packers: They want to improve to 2-4 at formerly formidable Lambeau to avoid their first one-win home season since 1986. And they seek a fifth win to validate their progress under coach Mike McCarthy after going 4-12 last season.

Key matchups

Jets OTs D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Anthony Clement vs. Packers DEs Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila: Kampman and KGB have combined for 15 sacks and five strip sacks. Ferguson and Clement need to give Chad Pennington time to find Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery vs. Green Bay's tough cover corners.

Jets LB Jonathan Vilma vs. Packers RB Ahman Green: Mangini says Vilma has led the defense's improved pursuit to the ball. Exhibit A: Houston's 25 rushing yards. If Green, who had three 100-yard games followed by three quiet games, beats Vilma and company to the punch, Brett Favre will become doubly dangerous.

How they'll win

Jets: Pennington, Coles and Cotchery build on their success against the Texans. S Kerry Rhodes leads a tight-covering, efficiently blitzing defense. They accept gifts from the Pack, who give up two turnovers and an NFL-worst 26 points every game.

Packers: Favre regains his form of Games 6-9 (six TDs, two interceptions, 3-1 record). LB A.J. Hawk outdoes former Ohio State roomie, C Nick Mangold, and leads a shutdown of the Jets' rush. Jon Ryan outpunts Ben Graham on the almost-frozen tundra.

-- Randy Lange

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By MARK CANNIZZARO, With wire reports

December 3, 2006 -- GREEN BAY - Wide receiver Tim Dwight was placed on injured reserve yesterday by the Jets, ending his season because of a foot injury.

Dwight, in his ninth NFL season, was listed as questionable all week for today's game at Green Bay with foot and thigh injuries, and didn't fully participate in practice. The speedy 31-year-old receiver had 16 catches - nine on third-down plays - for 112 yards and was the team's primary punt returner with a 10.4-yard average. He also had the Jets' longest run from scrimmage this season, a 28-yard scramble on a reverse against Chicago two weeks ago.

Receiver Wallace Wright was activated from the practice squad to fill the roster spot.


Mike Nugent had his best day as a pro last Sunday against the Texans, and the Jets kicker has forged himself a pretty good season.

Since his horrible opening-game performance, which included two short missed field goals and a missed extra point, Nugent has converted 11 field goals in 12 tries, his only miss a 52-yarder in Cleveland.

When Nugent blasted a 54-yarder through the uprights with yards to spare against the Texans, it was not only his career-long, but his first of more than 50 yards. He entered the game 0-for-3 from 50-plus, with a career-high of 49 yards.

"If you don't have confidence in yourself, you might as well not even be out on the field," said Nugent, who by setting or tying 22 school records at Ohio State, was drafted 47th overall in the 2005 draft, a pick that until last week was questioned by many.


With rookie Drew Coleman banished for the moment and Justin Miller too inconsistent for the coaches' liking, it looks as if Hank Poteat will make his second consecutive start for the Jets at cornerback today.

Coleman, who slipped and missed the tackle on that killer Mark Bradley TD catch-and-run against the Bears, played only in garbage time last week after starting four of the previous six games. He said the coaches told him he needs to work on his tackling.


Only a handful of teams have a winning record against the Packers - including the Jets, who are 7-2 against Green Bay. The only team with a better record against Green Bay is Kansas City, which is 6-1-1.

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December 3, 2006 -- GREEN BAY - Chad Pennington, in his seventh NFL season, will start his 12th consecutive game today when the Jets play the Packers at Lambeau Field. He's never started all 16 games in a single season and his longest starting streak to date is 17 in a row, spanning 2003 to 2004.

Each game Pennington completes is a personal triumph considering his star-crossed career that has already included three surgeries - one for a shattered hand and wrist and two on the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

On the other sideline, when Brett Favre trots onto the field to the usual raucous adoration from the Lambeau locals, it'll mark his 253rd consecutive start, including playoffs.

"It's just unfathomable to me," Pennington said during the week at the mere thought of a quarterback making 253 consecutive starts. "It just doesn't make any sense. It's unbelievable. I'm trying to make it through my first full season, and this is my seventh year in the league. And here he is, it's his 16th year and he has not missed a start."

Pennington was quick to point out Favre's remarkable streak is made even more incredible because "not only has he started those games; he finishes all those games."

"There's a difference between just making a start and then playing four quarters and doing it week in and week out," Pennington said.

"I would say that's one of the most amazing feats in all of sports," said DE Kimo von Oelhoffen, who has faced Favre several times in his career. "This is a very physical game and that guy's been through some wars. He's been beat up and battered. If I had to pick one quarterback I've faced in my career that's the best it would be Brett Favre."

Some of the Jets this week sounded almost in awe of the quarterback they'll be trying to chase down today.

"For me, it's more of a pleasure and a privilege to play against the guy," LB Matt Chatham said. "For me, it's more a cool thing. To get to play against one of these icons for me is as much a pleasure as much as a competitive thing."

Chatham, though, knows once kickoff arrives, the admiration must turn into the anger of competition. Favre is chasing something the 6-5 Jets desperately need as they make a run at a playoff berth, and that's a victory.

The Jets' hope is to force Favre into forcing some passes, which he is sometimes wont to do, particularly when the Packers fall behind.

"There are a lot of guys in league that have issues [such as throwing INTs], but he's much more dangerous," Chatham said. "He's one guy you don't want to get hot, because if he does get hot he can take it to another level that most can't. He's got that little extra thing in the tank that most people don't have."

When asked if Favre still has his fastball, Packers WR Donald Driver, Favre's favorite target, said, "He still throws as hard as possible and he throws like that at practice. You have to keep your eyes on the ball because, if not, he can break a finger or hit you in the face."

Added Packers coach Mike McCarthy: "I think he has a lot of gas left in his tank."

The Jets can relate. They're feeling very good about themselves as the December playoff race heats up, and arrive at legendary Lambeau today having won four of their last six games.

"There are a ton of peripheral reasons why this may be important, but the biggest thing is the calendar; it's December," Chatham said. "Regardless of any other things that are going on, it's December and that's what matters. We feel like we're playing on a team that's playing with a purpose, and that's important. We're getting better each practice, each game."

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December 3, 2006 -- GREEN BAY - One never knows.

Today, for instance, the Packers won't know when Kerry Rhodes is coming, and, as a result, the Jets will keep going toward a playoff spot few suspected they had in them.

And who knew 20 months ago, at a draft-day party gone bad at the Rhodes household in Bessemer, Ala., that fate was actually taking good care of him?

"We had people at the house," Rhodes said. "I was thinking at least second round and it was a little disappointing at first.

"But I hadn't played safety [at Louisville] that long and I was adjusting to a more physical position."

The Jets took him in Round Four, trading up four spots with an extra pick they had acquired in the deal for Doug Jolley.

See, that's what we're talking about: Even a bad trade, just like a bad draft day, can turn out to be for the best.

In fact, Eric Mangini told Rhodes he had a chance to be one of the best players in the NFL, not that this came as any great news to him.

"That's my makeup anyway," Rhodes said. "But when I hear that from a coach who just got here, that was great for me confidence-wise. It challenged me."

Mangini likes hearing this, likes better seeing it. Common perception is the Jets are making a lot out of a little, but that's not true on defense, where they have three Top-12 picks (Shaun Ellis, DeWayne Robertson and Jonathan Vilma), plus a safety who should have been.

"Very rangy, very bright," Mangini said when asked what told him a player who hadn't played a down for him could be special. "If you can play deep and man-to-man and can tackle, those are the flashes I saw.

"His tackling has gotten better. He's working at that. You know, his dancing could improve on 'Cold Pizza.' I thought that was just OK."

On the show, Rhodes did "The Penguin" to mock the shape and walk of his coach. Guess you had to be there, and 11 games into his second season, being there is what Rhodes, who has 28 tackles in the last three games, is all about.

The Jets, blitzing more, often with Rhodes, have played three consecutive dominating defensive games, two of them against probable playoff teams, and are flying to the ball like they are increasingly comfortable in their new 3-4 skin.

"We were going to be a 3-4 team, we weren't going to switch," Rhodes said. "So everybody took it upon themselves to do what they do better."

Four games ago, Robertson wasn't big enough to play the nose and Vilma's sideline-to-sideline talents were being wasted in the 3-4. The Jets couldn't stop the run any more than they can not stop saying they are taking one game at a time.

"Now we're starting to see how good we can be in this system," said Vilma.

See, they never knew, until they tried beating Tom Brady with it, and the second time succeeded. Now the Jets go about their business with a purpose that suggests they don't have to talk about making the playoffs when they know they can.

Rhodes, a high school quarterback, had Brett Favre as a hero, but today another one bites the dust on hollowed ground, too.

"I keep every [interception ball] and that one would be dipped in gold," Rhodes said. "Brett's a legend.

"He's seen lots of fakes and disguises. But if we pressure him like we did David Carr, any quarterback can make a misread and throw it away."

Right, you never know, except that 27 games into a career Vilma terms "limitless as the sky," Rhodes already knows how good he can be.

Thinking about the Pro Bowl, he was asked?

"Last thing I'm thinking about, with five games left," he said.

Like all Mangini's Jets, he would rather show us than tell us.

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Jets Try Not to Pack It In

by: Brian Bohl | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Sunday, December 3, 2006

HEMPSTEAD, NY - Just call Eric Mangini the father of the Jets defense.

When he became the youngest NFL head coach, the 35-year-old brought over the 3-4 base system that helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls when he was an assistant there. But after playing years in a 4-3 set, the process of implementing a totally new scheme must have made Mangini feel like he was raising a teenager.

Like an adolescent who is first reticent to taking in parental advice, the defense is finally starting to learn that their system has a proven winning track record, and a greater familiarity is helping the maturation process to the tune of a 6-5 record and a possible playoff appearance with none of the five remaining games coming against an opponent with a winning record.

The defense limited the Texans to just 11 points in a victory last week, and head into Sunday’s road game against the 4-7 Packers allowing just 35 points over the past three games. Surprisingly, they’ve gotten stronger despite Jonathan Vilma’s average start.

Vilma’s statistics are suffering while he plays on the inside in the four linebacker set, though he is still the team-leader in tackles with 91. The 2004 defensive rookie of the year and reigning Pro Bowler is now called on to help his teammates make more plays instead of compiling the gaudy numbers himself.

“We’re getting used to it and getting better at it,” Vilma said about the 3-4 set. “That was always the issue in the beginning. You can’t be perfect at something when you first start it. Now, we’re seeing how good we can be on defense.”

Though statistically he is not at the high level he consistently played at in his first two professional seasons, Mangini still praised the 24-year-old for the recent success and helping other adapt to the substantial changes. He compared Vilma to a traffic cop, directing players to where they need to be by reading the opposing offense before the snap.

“Over the last three weeks we've been pretty successful in terms of points allowed, and a lot of that goes into things that Jonathan does week-in and week-out,” Mangini said. “Jon is like the quarterback of the defense where he has to talk to the front, he has to talk to the secondary and the sub‑defense…Jon has usually the final say, and he's usually right.”

Unless they win all their remaining games and receive some help, Green Bay won’t be making the playoffs to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their Super Bowl XXXI victory. They still have the NFL’s 11th ranked offense in yard per game, led by three-time MVP and future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.

At 37, Favre is possible playing his last season, but continues to put up decent numbers in the late stages of his career. His record streak of 232 straight games is still on-going, and Favre carries a 57.1 completion percentage and a 14-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio into Lambeau Field Sunday.

Even though his 2,634 passing yards will not match the numbers he put up during his MVP seasons from 1995-1997, he still is capable of causing problems for the Jet secondary, especially if receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings are capable of getting open. Driver leads the Packers with 61 catches, 902 yards and five touchdowns. Jennings has 36 receptions, 561 yards and three touchdowns.

“Favre is a great quarterback; when you think you have him, he throws passes sideways and they still catch them,” said end Bryan Thomas, who signed a five-year contract extension Friday. “He has a rocket as an arm, you never know. We won’t know until we get out there and see what happens.”

While the Jets struggle to find a feature running back among the Leon Washington-Cedric Houston- Kevan Barlow trio, the Packers depend on Ahman Green to help open passing lanes for Favre. Green averages 4.1 yards per carry, putting up 688 yards on the season. He is coming off a sub-par performance last week during a loss to the Seahawks, compiling only 44 yards on 14 carries, but added one touchdown.

The Jets trail Kansas City and Denver by a single game for the last playoff spots in the conference, and might need to win five of their last six to stay in contention. The Packers have struggled overall this season but still will be playing in a venue that historically has been difficult for opponents.

Temperatures are expected to be in the 20’s with a possibility of snow flurries, and Mangini said he will need his defensive leader to work with players like linebacker Victor Hobson and Thomas to help win the field position battle and support an offense that finally broke out of a prolonged slump last week against the Texans.

“It all ties in together, and the better everybody communicates with each other, the more aggressively you can do the things that you're supposed to do on that play,” Mangini said. Communication is such a huge part of the success of a defense, everybody hitting the right spots and having the right fits.”

Vilma no longer can claim sole ownership of the title as the defense’s most dynamic player. Safety Kerry Rhodes leads the Jets with three interceptions (along with Andre Dyson), and only Vilma registered more tackles than Rhodes’ 80 through the first 11 games.

Should the Driver- Jennings duo get open downfield, Rhodes and Erik Coleman will try to provide extra support to the cornerbacks and prevent Favre from adding more milestones to his prolific resume.

“If we play like we’ve been playing, we’ll be okay,” Rhodes said “Everybody is doing the right thing now, we’re in the right spots and everyone is being accountable”.

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Super Favre

Jets in awe of Brett

Jets at Packers, at Lambeau Field, 1pm



GREEN BAY - So you want to hear a Brett Favre story? Come a little closer and listen to Bobby Hamilton, the Jets' graybeard defensive end.

Unlike the SportsCenter generation, which grew up watching the iconic quarterback on glitzy highlight shows, Hamilton witnessed the making of a legend from the best possible vantage point: They were teammates at Southern Mississippi in 1989 and 1990.

Hamilton never will forget the '90 season, when Favre missed the preseason camp because of a one-car accident in July that required surgery in August to remove 30 inches of his intestine.

"He could've died," Hamilton recalled. "I hate to use that word, but it's true. He misses two-a-days, misses our first game. Then he goes out, in the biggest game of his life, against Alabama - that was the year Alabama was ranked No. 1 - and we beat them. That's when I knew Brett Favre was going to be a great player."

Most of the Jets' roster will encounter that greatness for the first (and probably last) time today against the Packers on the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field. The historic trappings, coupled with the stakes (did someone say ‘wild card'?), makes this a unique challenge for the Jets. This is their first trip to Lambeau since the 2000 opener.

"There are a ton of peripheral reasons why this game might be important," linebacker Matt Chatham said, "but the biggest thing is the calendar: It's December."

Which means every game is critical. The Jets don't talk about it much, but they know exactly where they stand. At 6-5, they know it's probably going to take at least a 4-1 finish to make the playoffs, and it starts with a December game against a hero in the late-autumn of his career.

You can practically hear the voice of the late John Facenda, setting the stage.

Four decades after Lombardi patrolled the frozen tundra, a young coach named Mangini ...

The Jets sounded almost like awestruck kids as they talked about the prospect of facing Favre.

"It'll be a pleasure and a privilege," Chatham said.

"He was one of my heroes as a kid," said safety Kerry Rhodes, a former high school quarterback who used to imitate Favre's fake jump-pass after handoffs.

"He's the Last of the Mohicans," said quarterback Chad Pennington, positively blown away by Favre's streak of 232 consecutive starts. An NFL scout, invoking an old Southern saying, once said of Favre, "He's tougher than a 10-mile detour." Indeed, Favre, 36, is playing with a bruised nerve in his throwing elbow, but his fastball still is better than most.

After a week of genuflecting, the Jets are ready to tug on Superman's cape. They respect Favre's arm strength and gunslinger mentality, but they hope to force him into some major mistakes.

Favre, who threw a career-high 29 interceptions last season, is playing more conservatively under rookie coach Mike McCarthy, but he's still prone to occasional blowups. He was intercepted three times in last Monday night's loss in Seattle, giving him 10.

"He does have some issues," Chatham said, "but so do a lot of guys in the league. But he's got that little extra in the tank, which other guys don't have."

The Packers (4-7) are starting three rookies on the offensive line, which should enable the Jets to hurry Favre into ill-advised throws. Rhodes joked that if he intercepts a Favre pass, he'll dip it in gold and keep it as a souvenir.

It certainly would be a gold-plated victory for the Jets, who haven't fared well recently in post-November games. Their record under Herm Edwards was 12-14, although they did manage to back into three playoff berths. They haven't had a winning December since 2002. Mangini has a different approach than Edwards - and most other coaches, for that matter. Instead of lightening the load in practice to keep the players fresh for the stretch drive, he hasn't changed a thing. The Jets still are practicing in pads, causing some players to shake their heads.

"I don't get the feeling it's December," wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. "It feels like the beginning of the season."

Maybe that will change when they soak in the atmosphere at Lambeau, with snow flurries in the sky, playoffs in the air and a guy named Favre reaching for his holster.



LINE: Pick 'em

TV: Ch. 2 (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

RADIO: WEPN 1050-AM, WABC 770-AM (Bob Wischusen, Marty Lyons). In Spanish on 1280-WADO-AM (C.L. Smith Muniz, Alfredo Bejar)

FORECAST: Frozen tundra light. Partly cloudy and cold with highs only in the upper 20s.


Packers free safety Nick Collins may miss his first start with a hamstring injury. His replacement, rookie Tyrone Culver, would be a target. MLB Nick Barnett, who was sorely missed Monday night, is attempting to wear a cast over his broken right hand. RB Ahman Green is listed as probable with a sore knee. WR Tim Dwight (foot) was placed on IR yesterday. Rookie Wallace Wright was promoted from the practice squad. For Jets, RB Cedric Houston (foot), LB Bryan Thomas (shoulder) and DT Rashad Moore (hand) all three are expected to play.


SS Kerry Rhodes vs. QB Brett Favre: Rhodes has been getting Pro Bowl support for his intelligent play. If Favre continues to sling ill-advised passes, especially down the middle against zone coverage as he did in Seattle, Rhodes will have his chances for a momentum-changing pick. The impressive thing about Rhodes is his versatility and how quickly he adjusts to situations, i.e. reacting to passes when he's playing the run, or blowing up West Coast style slant patterns that rely on yards after the catch. He'll also be in Favre's face on the blitz.

WRs Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery vs. CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson: Coles and Cotchery each come off 100-yard games against the overmatched Houston corners while Harris and Woodson combined for three INTs against Matt Hasselbeck. They play a lot of press coverage, with Harris usually matched up against the top receiver. Coles' strength is his physicality and his ability to beat the jam.


"The Packers have trouble when they have to put their nickel on the field, which makes the Collins injury one to watch. The Jets should be able to spread the Packers out with three wides and, although their running game has been inconsistent, they match up against a defense that is both undersized and inconsistent. Blitzing Favre isn't the gamble it once was but I'd look for the Jets to test his patience by giving him a lot of different looks. The Jets should also be able to exploit the Packers' kick coverage teams, which have had problems staying in their outside lanes."


Compared to the Giants, the Jets are Tranquility Base. Things are running smoothly under Eric Mangini and it's to their advantage they're flying under the radar, with the playoffs in sight. The Jets are capable of beating each of their remaining opponents but are they capable of beating all of them, as may be required? Certainly, they need to and should win here.


JETS 27-17. Packers defense, Favre INTs make it comfy at Lambeau.

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Sunday: Jets Should Squeak By Packers

Talked to a writer friend yesterday evening from Green Bay and he said there’s an inch of snow on the ground, but the forecast looks pretty good for Sunday - temperature in the upper 20s, slight chance of flurries. Eric Mangini, who leaves no stone unturned, wasn’t able to simulate snow this week in the balmy New York area - although he made a crack about possibly acquiring one of those snow-making machines from a ski resort. I’m not sure if he was joking or not.

This will be the Jets’ first trip to Lambeau since the 2000 opener, when your favorite coach - Al Groh - won his debut. I remember playing golf the day before the game at the Oneida Country Club in Green Bay, where Brett Favre is a member and where Vince Lombardi was a member. Not planning to bring the sticks on this trip.

I envision a close, low-scoring game. Both teams are going to have trouble running the ball, although I think the Jets will be patient and keep pounding away with Cedric Houston and Leon Washington. The Seahawks ran all over the Packers last Monday night, but don’t expect the Jets to have the same success. For one thing, Packers MLB Nick Barnett (broken hand), who missed the Seattle game, will be back in the starting lineup.

One of the big keys to this game will be Chad Pennington and the Jets’ no-huddle offense. All season, the Packers have suffered major communication breakdowns in their secondary, leaving receivers wide open, and I suspect Chad will try to exploit that with the no-huddle, maybe even going to the hurry-up at times. The Jets’ receivers have a lot of respect for the Packers’ corners, Charles Woodson and Al Harris. They will be playing a lot of man-to-man, especially on third down. Thing is, the Packers’ safeties are awful, so you could see the Jets with a lot of three- and four-receiver formations, trying to create mismatches.

The great Brett Favre will make some plays against the Jets, but he has three rookie linemen and I think the Jets will be able to succeed with some stunting and blitzing up front, confusing Favre’s kid bodyguards. Whoever starts at right cornerback, whether it’s Hank Poteat or Drew Coleman or David Barrett or Justin Miller or James Hasty (hey, it seems like every Jets corner in recent memory has played this season), they will get picked on by Favre.

For all the talk about the Favre mystique and the aura of Lambeau Field, the Packers are a lousy home team - 1-4. Like Curt Schilling said before a World Series against the Yankees, Mystique and Aura are exotic dancers at the local strip club - or something like that.

Anyway, I see the Jets prevailing, 20-17, with Favre throwing a pick in the final two minutes to seal it.

I’ll check back from the Frozen Tundra.

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