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If Jets beat Titans, top seed would be in sightErik Boland

November 19, 2008

1 2 next One month ago today, Jets players trudged off the field with the noise from the home crowd at McAfee Stadium ringing in their ears and a mixture of shock and disgust settling in their stomachs.

Their poor play led to an inexplicable 16-13 overtime loss to the Raiders and dropped the team to 3-3.

Publishable words surrounding the team included doubt, crisis, disarray.

Speculation abounded on the wisdom of the Brett Favre move - Chad would be at least 3-3, right?!? - and the job security of coach Eric Mangini.

Erik Boland Bio | E-mail | Recent columns

For sure, no one then was speculating on what presents itself Sunday: a game against the undefeated Titans that has playoff implications.

And not for the wild card.

The expectations for this team changed dramatically with Thursday night's overtime victory in Foxborough, the Jets' fourth straight win since the loss to the Raiders. Jets fans who a month ago would have signed on the dotted line for a wild-card playoff spot now would be disappointed with that result.

A victory over the undefeated Titans puts the Jets in the discussion for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. And with the team's 7-3 record tying it for second best in the conference going into this game, a first-round bye is still very much in play, even with a loss.

How important was the Patriots game?

Very, and not just because of the psychological hurdle jumped by beating a team that had won 13 of the previous 15 in the series.

"We understood before the game the magnitude of the game," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said Friday. "[Thursday] night, we understood what it meant, period. We wanted to be ready for everything [so we could] come out with a victory, to make that next step."

A step toward contention, a step that players believed the influx of talent set the Jets up for.

"The Buffalo game was a big game for us and that made the St. Louis game [a 47-3 win] important," Cotchery said. "And the St. Louis game made the New England game important, so to be able to pull out that victory was another big step for us and now we have to move on to focus on the Tennessee game."

Mangini was asked Monday if facing 10-0 Tennessee would help his team avoid the dreaded "letdown" coming off the emotional victory over a hated rival.

"This time of the season, you're looking to play at a consistent level because each game becomes that much more important when you get down to the last six games," Mangini said. "A lot of things are decided over the last six weeks, so you're looking to play at [as much of] a consistent level as you can. You work as hard as you possibly can to avoid a letdown in any situation."

Translation: If Sunday's game was at 0-10 Detroit instead of 10-0 Tennessee, it would still be significant because of the time of year. The only difference, of course, would be perception.

Had the Jets lost to the Patriots and dropped to 6-4, the game against the Titans would all but be a must-win. The Jets would be staring at 6-5 and on the periphery of the wild-card race. But the New England victory gave the Jets some breathing room so that a loss, though disappointing, would leave them with a 7-4 record and a remaining schedule that abates a bit.

But those things are subject to change, too. Three weeks ago, the Broncos game Nov. 30 looked much simpler than it does now, and the 49ers have played better since Mike Singletary took over. Based on the way everyone on the remaining schedule is playing, the Dec. 14 game against the Bills seems to be the easiest, but the any-given-Sunday thing has never been truer than this season.

Look no further than the Jets on that given Sunday four weeks ago.

Expectations have changed a bit since then, no?

1 2 Jets last six games in the regular season

Sunday, at Tennessee Victory in Foxborough gives the Jets, though they won't look at it this way, room for error in Nashville.

Nov. 30, vs. Denver

Broncos filled with holes, but the way Jay Cutler can throw it combined with the Jets' struggles against the pass make this far from a gimme.

Dec. 7, at San Francisco No telling what interim 49ers coach Mike Singletary will be doing for motivation by then. Jets 0-2 out west so far this season.

Dec. 14, vs. Buffalo

Bills schedule gets easier after their loss to the Browns on Monday, so they could be on the fringes of the AFC East race by then.

Dec. 21, at Seattle

Game looks tougher than it did two weeks ago with Matt Hasselbeck back at QB.

Dec. 28, vs. Miami

A game that, gulp, could clinch the No.2 seed? Oh, and the return of Chad, too.

STORYLINES

A quick look at the top stories this week

That tough Titans 'D'

The Titans defense, led by the indescribably good defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, is allowing a league-low 13.1 points per game, the stiffest test yet for a Jets offense that has found its groove the last three weeks.

Brett Favre, fierce protector of the football

The Jets quarterback, who had a stretch during which he threw seven interceptions in three games, has thrown one in his last three, including none the last two weeks. That has to continue Sunday for the Jets to have a chance.

Kerry on

The Titans offense features running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White, but veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, at left, sacked only five times this season, probably looked at Matt Cassel's performance last Thursday and got pretty excited.

Sunday

Jets at Tennessee

1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2

Radio: WEPN (1050), WABC (770), WRCN (103.9)

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Brian Schottenheimer has Jets offense flying again

BY RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Tuesday, November 18th 2008, 9:15 PM

Weissman for News

Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has got the Jets offense rolling.

Weissman for News

Titans' Mike Heimerdinger says he's put awkward departure from Jets in past.

Pretend you're a construction worker. You spend five months building a house, the biggest, most expensive one in the neighborhood. It's going well, but one month before completion, the buyer says he wants an indoor pool.

Brian Schottenheimer was in a comparable situation when the Jets traded for Brett Favre - a lavish addition, but one that required a significant overhaul to the existing structure.

It has been a long, sometimes difficult process, with missteps along the way, but Schottenheimer, the Jets' offensive coordinator, finally has everything together. Ever since the bizarro game plan against the Chiefs, when they kept passing against the worst run defense on Earth, the Jets have found balance and consistency.

MYERS' TOP 10 POWER RANKINGS

You can't argue with the facts: Averaging 28.9 points per game, tied for second in the NFL, the Jets are on a 462-point pace, which would shatter the franchise record. It also would be nearly 200 points better than last season.

"I see us getting really pretty special in chemistry and camaraderie," Schottenheimer said recently.

Some players believe it's Favre's offense, which is another way of saying Schottenheimer has acquiesced to the quarterback. No doubt, there has been a lot of give-and-take behind the scenes, probably more than we'll ever know. Clearly, Schottenheimer has had to adjust his scheme, based on Favre's likes and dislikes, but that's what good coaches do.

OUR EXPERTS CALL THE SHOTS

The bells and whistles from Schottenheimer's offense - the constant shifting and motioning - are less prevalent. The no-huddle, a staple when Chad Pennington was the quarterback, is only an occasional changeup. The Jets still use the shotgun, but not as much as last season.

Other key adjustments over the last three games:

More screens to Leon Washington. He gashed the Bills for 40 yards and he scored on a seven-yard screen pass against the Patriots. Get the ball in his hands in the open field, and enjoy the show.

How far can the revamped offense take the Jets? Hard to say, but there's a pretty good chance it will take Schottenheimer to another team in 2009.

Anywhere from four to eight teams will be looking for new head coaches. Schottenheimer, who interviewed for the Dolphins' and Ravens' jobs the past two offseasons, will be hotter than ever.

If his offense can stay that way.

Heimerdinger humdinger revisited

On Sunday, the Jets will face their former offensive coordinator, Mike Heimerdinger, who holds the same position with the Titans. Remember Dinger? His only season (2005) was marked by quarterback upheaval under Herm Edwards and an ugly divorce that provided tabloid fodder.

Even though newly hired Eric Mangini had no plans to retain Heimerdinger, he refused to fire him immediately because there were two years left on his contract (a total of $2.2 million) and the club suspected he already had a job lined up with the Broncos.

It made for a strange and awkward situation. Heimerdinger was outspoken in his desire to leave, but he reported to work every day, knowing his new boss didn't want him. The charade lasted about a week, both sides finally agreeing to part ways. Heimerdinger didn't get his money, but he got his freedom, landing quickly in Denver.

Reached Tuesday by phone, Heimerdinger insisted he doesn't have payback on his mind.

"Oh, no, I didn't have any bitterness when I left," said Heimerdinger, engaging in high-road revisionist history. "It was a great spot for me. I loved the area. I enjoyed my time there."

Reminded of his comments at the time, Heimerdinger said, "That was three years ago. I can't remember what I did Tuesday, let alone three years ago. ...Eric has done a great job. The team is on a roll. It's a really good organization. It all worked out for me."

Pick spots

The draft pick for Brett Favre is up to a third rounder - and rising.

It started out as a conditional fourth-round pick, but he reached the first trigger about two weeks ago - 50% playing time. With 10games, he's already acquired enough time to top 50%. It goes to a second rounder if he hits 70% and the Jets make the playoffs, which is starting to appear likely. If he hits 80% and the Super Bowl, it escalates to a first-rounder.

The Packers would love to recoup a first-round pick for Favre, but it would mean eating a lot of crow.

Keeping up with Jones

Thomas Jones is on a 1,366-yard rushing pace, which would be a career high. He already has scored a career-best 10 touchdowns.... Favre is third in the fan portion of the Pro Bowl balloting. He trails Saints QB Drew Brees and Redskins RB Clinton Portis, but he's one spot ahead of Eli Manning. ... If Favre wins at Tennessee's LP Field, he'd pass Dan Marino for most stadiums (32) with a win as a starting QB. ... Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch is expected to return after missing two games with a groin injury. Bad news for the Jets. ... Leon Washington leads the NFL in combined yards (1,475). ... LB David Harris (groin surgery) is expected to miss at least one more game.

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November 19, 2008

5 Ways For the Jets to Beat the Titans

Discuss

By Joe Caporoso

1. Throw the ball to Win - Running the ball on Tennessee isn't going to be anywhere near easy. I think the Jets can do a few things on the ground, but they won't be able to ride their smash mouth style to a victory. The Jets need to look at the Green Bay/Titans tape, where Aaron Rodgers threw for 314 yards, and Donald Driver gashed the Tennessee secondary for 139 yards. Dustin Keller and Leon Washington are the hardest Jets to match-up with, they need to be given the ball in space early and often.

2. Pack the Box - I know Kerry Collins has thrown the ball well recently but the Titans mostly win on their ground game. If I am Bob Sutton, I am locking Darrelle Revis on Justin Gage, Dwight Lowery on Brandon Jones, and Ty Law on Bo Scaife and loading up everybody else to stop the run.

3. Win Special Teams - The Jets need to win the field position battle, which means they need big performances from Leon Washington, Reggie Hodges, and Jay Feely. A Washington kick return could be the difference in a game like this. Feely can't afford to miss any gimmes this week, the Jets need all the points they can get.

4. No Turnovers - The Titans defense is so good because of their ability to create turnovers and points. Brett Favre must protect the football. He hasn't thrown an INT in 9 quarters. He needs to get that streak to 13 quarters.

5. A Trick or Two - Let's see more of the Wildcat formation with Brad Smith at quarterback. He ripped off a 19 yard run on it last week, and has also found success on reverses this season. What about a toss pass or a few new formations that get Leon Washington and Thomas Jones on the field at the same time?

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J.P. Pelzman: For The Record Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When the Jets upended perennial nemesis New England on the road last week to take over first place in the AFC East, it was a watershed victory. The kind that suggests a team in the midst of a magical season.

And certainly the Jets' stadium co-tenants, the Giants, proved last season that improbable runs are very much possible in today's ever-changing landscape of pro football, in which dynasties have about the same life expectancy as fruit flies.

But if the Jets really want to maximize what could be their only Brett Favre-fueled season, Eric Mangini needs to start living in the moment more often.

The Jets' coach gave his players off until today after their big win, and that was a good start. But it's hoped that Mangini also used the time wisely to think about his excessive conservatism in crucial situations, and how to correct it.

Though it's true the Jets got the win against New England, they were quite fortunate that the Patriots didn't win the overtime coin toss. The Jets' defense was on its heels throughout most of the fourth quarter, and it seemed to be one of those games where the team that got the ball first in overtime would win.

But there might not have been an overtime if Mangini had let a future first-ballot Hall of Famer

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Playoffs? Titans could clinch this week, but focus on improvement

By: By Terry McCormick, tmccormick@nashvillecitypaper.com

November 18, 2008 2:16 pm

Chris Johnson and the Titans could clinch a playoff berth this weekend. File

Playoffs? Playoffs?

With apologies to Jim Mora, yes, playoffs.

The Tennessee Titans are already in line to potentially clinch a spot in the postseason this weekend if the right set of scenarios unfold in the AFC.

The Titans would need to defeat the AFC East-leading New York Jets Sunday at LP Field, while also having the Pittsburgh Steelers lose a Thursday game at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, plus having losses or ties by Miami and Baltimore. The Dolphins are at home against New England, while the Ravens play host to Philadelphia (In case, you

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Checking Down: New York Jets

by Dave Hutchinson/The Star-Ledger

Tuesday November 18, 2008, 7:52 PM

LOOKING BACK

One victory does not a season make, but it doesn't get much better than last Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. It's hard to imagine the Jets -- and coach Eric Mangini -- recovering from two losses to a Tom Brady-less Patriots team.

As it was, Patriots QB Matt Cassel had a career night (400 yards passing and 3 TDs, 62 yards rushing) but the Jets finally exorcised the demons, having lost 11 of the previous 12 meetings. The Jets have won four straight and six of seven. As a reward, the players were off until Wednesday. Nice move by the kinder, gentler Mangini.

LOOKING AHEAD

It looks like QB Brett Favre has found that happy medium between gunslinger and game manager, which bodes well down the stretch. With the game on the line, Favre is still one of the best. He has engineered clutch fourth-quarter drives against the Raiders, Chiefs, Bills and Patriots. He's 3-1 in those games.

The offensive line appears to have hit its stride. RB Thomas Jones leads the AFC with 854 yards and nine TDs (three short of Curtis Martin's club record). The Jets need to fix that leaky defense (511 yards vs. Patriots), though, starting with a way to cover the tight end. The Titans have allowed a league-low six sacks.

LOOK AT THEM

DT Albert Haynesworth vs. LG Alan Faneca

Faneca takes on one of the best in the league. Haynesworth (6-6, 330 pounds) is a force vs. the run (39 tackles) and the pass (career-high seven sacks). The Titans lead the league in points allowed (13.1), are tied for second in interceptions (15), rank sixth in sacks (28) and are sixth in total defense (281.8 yards per game).

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New York Jets see Titans as tall task

by Dave Hutchinson/The Star-Ledger

Monday November 17, 2008, 9:18 PM

Phil Coale/Associated Press

Jevon Kearse lets the numbers do the talking: his Titans are 10-0, a big challenge for the New York Jets next Sunday.As the Jets celebrated their breakthrough victory against the rival Patriots Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, defensive end Shaun Ellis' thoughts were someplace else.

Ellis, while enjoying the moment, was mindful of the task ahead, an upcoming game against the undefeated Titans, a team that defeated the Jets, 10-6, last season in Tennessee.

There's nothing game-plan specific -- to borrow the Jets' catchphrase -- about the Titans, Ellis pointed out. They hit everybody.

"It's going to be a tough game," he said. "They beat us down there last year. We know what type of game to expect: smash-mouth. They're going to run the ball. Their defense played great. So it'll be a real good matchup."

On Sunday, the Jets (7-3), winners of four straight and six of their past seven, meet the surprising Titans (10-0) at LP Field. The Titans are just the 11th team since the AFL/NFL merger (1970) to start a season at 10-0. Seven of those 10 teams reached the Super Bowl, five won.

Veteran Titans quarterback and former Giant Kerry Collins has reinvented himself since taking over for an injured Vince Young in Week 1. The Titans' bone-jarring defense, led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, has been overpowering.

"It's sort of a surprise for us to be 10-0," Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan told reporters after Sunday's come-from-behind 24-14 victory over the Jags. "We're all humbled by it. We're just a hardworking team that's just going to take a challenge each and every week. One of the things our coach (Jeff Fisher) emphasizes is, 'Be confident, but not complacent.'"

Well, how is this for confidence?

"We feel like we can't lose," said Titans wide receiver Brandon Jones. "We have a refuse-to-lose mentality."

The Jets are off until Wednesday, but coach Eric Mangini and his staff have used some of the down time as a second bye week, self-scouting themselves. The Jets had their bye in Week 5.

"I really like the chance to get the guys away from the building a little bit, to give them a chance to get off their feet, relax, do all those things that typically you do during a bye week," said Mangini, who watched part of the Titans-Jags game at home on Sunday. "It's nice to have this time."

It's also encouraging for the Jets to know that they won't have a letdown coming off the Patriots game -- not with the Titans up next, a team they could see again in the playoffs.

Collins, 35, is enjoying a second life in the Music City. He has completed 160 of 271 passes (59 percent) for 1,755 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions since he replaced Young, who is back with the team as the No. 2 quarterback.

Collins has been aided by a rushing attack that ranks seventh in the NFL (132.7 yards per game). Speedy rookie Chris Johnson drives the running game with 787 yards and five touchdowns on 177 carries (4.4-yard average).

Against the Jags, Collins threw three second-half touchdown passes to rally the Titans from a 14-3 halftime deficit. A game manager much of the season, he has been throwing more downfield lately. He threw touchdown passes of 56 and 38 yards to wide receiver Justin Gage -- plus another 47-yard completion -- in the victory over the Jags.

"I don't think that ability (to throw long) has changed one bit," said Mangini. "You saw (Sunday) there were a couple deeper balls there in the second half. He's always had that capability and can hurt you with that at any point."

Haynesworth hurts opponents in different ways. The 6-6, 330-pounder has 39 tackles, a career-high seven sacks and two forced fumbles. He teams with linebacker Keith Bulluck (team-high 62 tackles) to lead a defensive unit that ranks first in the NFL in points allowed (13.1 points per game) and sixth in total defense (281.8 yards per game). Tennessee's 15 interceptions are tied with Baltimore for second in the NFL behind Green Bay (16).

Although the Titans feel good about themselves, they're not ordering Super Bowl rings just yet.

"We're not foolish enough to believe that we're the best team in the league," said veteran center and former Jet Kevin Mawae. "We know our record shows it, but other than that, we've got a lot of work to do."

The Jets rank third in sacks with 34 behind the Steelers and Eagles (36), but the Titans have allowed just six sacks. ... Mangini refused to update the status of LB David Harris (groin), S Eric Smith (concussion) and TE Bubba Franks (hip).

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