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IT'S time for the JETS to make a statement


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It's time for New York Jets to send a message

by Steve Politi/The Star-Ledger

Associated PressThursday night's game may be the best chance for Jets coach Eric Mangini, left, to get a step up on his mentor turned nemesis Bill Belichick.

Eric Mangini does not believe in statement games. His players do. His fans certainly do. The media? We love them so much, we have about a dozen different names for them.

A showdown. A defining moment. A must win. Or, if you prefer simplicity, a big game. Even Mangini has to acknowledge this trip to New England at least counts as a big game, right.

"I don't think one game ever defines a season," the Jets resident party pooper said Tuesday. "It's the consistency, regardless of (it being a) a division game, a non-division game, or what the opponent's record is. That consistency to me defines a team."

Mangini is more than just being dull this time. He's wrong. All 16 games might count the same in the standings, but they are not created equal. Some are far more important to a team's identity and mentality than others. Some have the potential to catapult a team to bigger things.

The Jets will play one of those games Thursday night in Foxborough. Win it, and they will move one step closer to breaking the chokehold the Patriots have on their division, announcing themselves as a threat to win the AFC. They will show that all those offseason moves were worth it, that bringing Brett Favre here from Green Bay will do more than just sell PSLs.

Lose it, and they are tossed back with six or seven other teams, hunting a wild-card berth. They will have lost 12 of their last 13 games to their tormentors, including one without injured Patriot stars Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas and several others. Bill Belichick might have to play safety in the nickel defense, that's how bad it is in New England.

Seriously, if the Jets are not going to beat this team now, then when? This would not be just another loss. This would be a killer loss, a same-old-Jets loss, and it would cast a pall on the remainder of the season. They might recover, but they will have wasted an opportunity bigger than Kris Jenkins' waist line.

"Until we beat these guys, or until anyone beats these guys and knocks them off from the top, then they're always going to be the team to beat," Favre said Tuesday. "We know that. ... It's a big opportunity, obviously. I think every one of our guys are aware of that."

That the head coach will not admit this is either admirable or infuriating, depending on your perspective. He would make a great White House press secretary -- he never wavers from the message. But he has to know it's true. He has to see what his quarterback sees.

Two years ago Wednesday, Mangini was a first-year coach who was still mostly an unknown to Jets fans. He took their team to New England and left with a season-defining victory and an icy handshake from his former mentor.

He never gets a table at Artie Bucco's place in "The Sopranos" without that win, never has Bucco christen him "Mangenius." The Week 6 victory against the Dolphins didn't get him there beating the Patriots did. Beating Belichick. The Jets were convinced they had one of the bright young coaches in football -- who knows, maybe time will show they still do.

But he is 15-18 since that win, with no signature victory and four losses to you-know-who. The Patriots have made all the statements since then, starting with the 37-16 beatdown in the playoffs two seasons ago. The Jets were supposed to have closed the gap on their rivals last season, but the Pats drubbed them again in the season opener on their way to 16-0. Sorry, but "Spygate" does not count as a victory, as satisfying as that may have been for Jets fans.

Most recently, the Patriots beat the new-look Jets again in Week 2, this time with a career backup quarterback. Losing to Brady twice in a season is one thing. Losing twice to Matt Cassel -- and doing it with Brett Favre on your side -- is something else entirely, and it isn't good.

Mangini needs this one. His job is secure, but his reputation is on shaky ground. A convincing victory Thursday night would show that his Jets have a chance to accomplish something big in his third season, while forcing his nemesis to start thinking about the wild card.

Some people might even call that a statement, even if the head party pooper won't.

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This is a defining game in Mangini's career. Will we rise to the top and take control of the division, or will we let the Pats continue their dominance over us? Mangini was brought here to take this team back to the top, and it all starts in the division.

Tonight's game is about as close to "make or break" as it can get during the regular season for a head coach.

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