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Despite Jets' funk, Shaun Ellis remains high on prospects

BY RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Monday, December 15th 2008, 9:15 PM

Antonelli/News

Shaun Ellis' fumble return for a touchdown has joint jumping after gift win against Bills.

One day after his miracle fumble return, Shaun Ellis predicted another dramatic recovery: A turnaround by the Jets. Only problem is, they're not going to have Dick Jauron to help them.

Despite three shabby performances in a row, Ellis expressed confidence Monday that the Jets will regain the mojo that made them November's team in the AFC. (Note to cynics: Insert your snarky marijuana reference here.)

"We've won games in a row before; we were hot," said Ellis, alluding to the recent five-game winning streak. "Y'all were saying we were the best team, saying we could go to the Super Bowl. The formula isn't far away. We just got into a bad stretch here. Hopefully ... not hopefully, we will turn it around."

They have to - or else the season will be remembered as an epic collapse.

The Jets received a reprieve Sunday, thanks to Jauron and J.P. Losman - aka dumb and dumber - but, in all likelihood, they will have to win their final two games to make the playoffs as the AFC East champion. It starts with a road game against the Seahawks (3-11), followed by the red-hot Dolphins at home.

Considering their 0-3 mark on the West Coast, not to mention the team-wide funk, the Jets will be hard-pressed to find the "on" button in time. Clearly, they're hoping that Ellis' game-saving touchdown against the Bills can be the impetus.

"It kept us alive, it kept the heartbeat going, but now it's on to the next challenge - Seattle," tackle Damien Woody said. "If we don't take care of business, it was all for naught."

Instead of improving as they head toward the wire, the Jets are wheezing. Brett Favre is struggling, they've converted only eight of their last 32 third-down attempts, the defense has lost its way and the special teams have come unraveled.

Eric Mangini has tried everything - good cop and bad cop - but the team hasn't responded. If it weren't for the Abram Elam/Ellis tag team, they would've lost to the hapless Bills for their third straight defeat. At the same time, the Dolphins and Patriots - both 9-5 - are getting stronger.

Ellis refused to buy into the criticism of the team.

"We're a team of perseverance, a team that can handle anything that comes our way," he said. "Yeah, we're in a little down time right now, but we'll be back. Look at the Giants. They said the Giants were the best team; now they say the Giants (stink). It doesn't make sense. They won all those games for a reason. It's the same thing with us. We lost some, but we can get back to that formula and get back to playing Jets football."

Mangini refused to criticize the team for its uneven performance against the Bills, preferring to accept it at face value - a victory. Asked if he's happy with his team, he replied, "At this point in the season, the key is to get the win. There are things we need to improve, but it's not like the BCS. We don't get voted down for style points.

"We're in first place in the division, two games to go," he continued. "The win is the win is the win."

A day later, they still were incredulous that Jauron, facing a second-and-5 with 2:06 remaining, opted for a play-action bootleg pass instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch. Elam blitzed, blindsided Losman and Ellis returned the fumble 11 yards to give the Jets a 31-27 victory, a true miracle at the Meadowlands.

One crazy bounce, and everything could've been different - the game, the season, everything. 'Tis the season for bailouts, right?

"We're rejuvenated a little bit because it was a scare," Ellis said. "We did pull it out, so we kind of feel we have something on our side."

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Big Kris Jenkins is getting run down

BY RICH CIMINI

DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

For the first 11 games, Kris Jenkins was one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL. Over the last three games, not so much. The 6-4, 360-pound nose tackle appears to be wearing down. Eric Mangini didn't disagree.

"It's a long season, he's a big man and big men take a lot of wear-and-tear," the Jets' coach said Monday. "It's no different for other guys of comparable size - not that there are many."

Jenkins also is playing with a hip injury, which could be slowing him down.

The improved run defense, spearheaded by Jenkins, has slipped in recent weeks. The low point came in Sunday's win over the Bills, when the Jets allowed a season-high 187 yards. They're still ranked fifth in the league.

BIG MAN AT SCHOOL: Shaun Ellis, he of the miracle fumble return, received the star treatment Monday at his son's school in New Jersey. He went to see his 12-year-old son's basketball practice.

"A lot of kids were like, 'What an awesome play ... great play,' encouraging me that way, saying it was a great touchdown," Ellis said.

His son's reaction?

"He told me I'm slow," Ellis said, laughing.

GROUNDED: That Leon Washington, the Jets' top playmaker, received only two "touches" - one run (a 47-yard TD) and one reception - is inexcusable. "The alternative to Leon is Thomas (Jones), who has 15 touchdowns and leads the AFC in rushing," Mangini said. "It's not like we're overlooking Leon to give the ball to an ice truck." ... P Reggie Hodges could be a goner. A week ago, the Jets auditioned veteran P Scott Player. "It needs to improve," Mangini said of the punting.

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Jets are a lock to run out of miracles and fall short of playoff berth

Monday, December 15th 2008, 8:40 PM

Sabo/News

Abram Elam strips Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman and the fumble leads to a miraculous Jets' win, but Gang Green is out of luck.

The Jets' playoff hopes have come down to the last two weeks of the season. Because of the failings against Denver and San Francisco, they now face their two worst nightmares.

They travel to Seattle for a must-win against the Seahawks on Sunday. The Jets are 0-3 on the West Coast and their losses at Oakland and San Francisco were of the senseless variety. Then they come home for the season finale in a doomsday showdown with ex-Jets quarterback Chad Pennington and Miami.

The Jets won't make it through this two-game stretch. There is nothing in their last three games to indicate they are equipped to handle the pressure and sustain the level of play necessary to win those two games. When I think about the Jets' upcoming two weeks, it invokes that same queasy feeling once associated with not having studied for an algebra test. You knew you were going to fail unless there was a miracle. And it never came.

After being 8-3, guard Damien Woody doesn't want to think about not making the playoffs.

"I can't even fathom thinking like that," Woody said Monday. "We're still in control of our situation. If we just take care of our business then we'll be right where we want to be, which is in the playoffs."

When you're in the bunker you have to think like Woody and his teammates. If not for a crazy bounce against the Bills that led to Shaun Ellis scoring the game-winner late on Sunday, the Jets would have dropped off the pace in the AFC East. They remain in a three-way tie with New England and Miami for the lead. If you're the Patriots or the Dolphins, you have to feel better about your chances of winning the division than the Jets - particularly looking at the way the teams are playing.

The Dolphins have won seven of their last eight and their defense is revved up with the re-emergence of linebacker Joey Porter. The Patriots have won three of four, piling up 121 points in the three victories. After New England beat Oakland on Sunday, Patriots running back Sammy Morris said New England is approaching every game like a playoff game. That's the way to look at things.

The Jets were still giddy Monday over the stunning way they popped the Bills. Before and after the game, Eric Mangini channeled his inner Al Davis and preached his own version of "Just Win, Baby!"

"At this point in the season the key thing is to get the win," Mangini said. "It's not like the BCS. We don't get voted down for style points. It's two games left in the season to make the playoffs."

Ellis, the longest-tenured Jets player, isn't worried the Jets will roll snake eyes in the last two games.

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"We've won games in a row before," Ellis said. "We are a team of perseverance. We are a team that is able to endure things that come our way and always bounce back. We've had a little down time right now. We'll be back. It happens in football. Like the Giants. They said they were the best team. Now they say the Giants (stink). It doesn't make sense. They won all those games for a reason."

Despite their victory over the Bills, the Jets are vulnerable on offense and defense. The defense, which was so good against the run during that five-game win streak, is worn down and looks like a leaky old bucket. Bills running back Marshawn Lynch lit the Jets up for 127 yards on 21 carries.

Quarterback Brett Favre looks mortal, having been reined in by the Jets coaches earlier this season, forced to throw short, underneath passes. Take away Leon Washington and the big play is just a rumor in the Jets' offense. Favre has become a strong-armed version of Pennington. Remind me again why the Jets decided they didn't need Pennington anymore? On yeah, he couldn't sell "Personal Seat Licenses" to the new stadium.

When Pennington rolls into Giants Stadium, playing with house money in that season finale, Jets executives will be wondering why they didn't exercise a little patience and try to trade Pennington out of the division. How painful will it be for New York if Pennington and the Dolphins make the playoffs by beating the Jets in the last game of the season?

Cornerback Darrelle Revis said they're not surprised by the tight division race.

"At the beginning of the season we knew it was going to come down to the wire. We didn't know how it was going to come about. Miami is a totally different team from last year," Revis said. "Everybody knows the New England Patriots are going to contend. Right now it's up for grabs. It's up to us to go out and grab it."

They should have grabbed it when they were 8-3 and had Denver and San Francisco on tap. Now it is out of reach.

tsmith@nydailynews.com

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For New York Jets, a win is a win

by Dave Hutchinson/The Star-Ledger

Monday December 15, 2008, 8:18 PM

Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

Shaun Ellis, shown here recovering the fumble that led to the Jets' game-winning touchdown against the Bills, says the Jets have been rejuvenated by the scare Buffalo gave them.One day later, Eric Mangini best summed up his team's lucky bounce of a win over the Buffalo Bills.

"I think at this point in the season the key thing is to get the win," the Jets coach said Monday. "It's not like the BCS. We don't get voted down for style points. We're in first place in the division. ... The win is the win is the win."

That was the feeling among the Jets as they wiped their collective brows in relief after Sunday's wild, come-from-behind, 31-27 victory, a game in which defensive end Shaun Ellis scored the game-winning touchdown on an 11-yard return of a fumble by Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. The fumble was forced on a strip/sack by safety Abram Elam with 1:54 left to play.

The victory enabled the Jets (9-5) to remain in a three-way tie with the Dolphins and Patriots atop the AFC East. The Jets hold the first tiebreaker with a 4-1 division record and will capture the division title if they win their final two games.

Losers of all three games they've played on the West Coast this season, the Jets travel to Seattle (3-11) to play the Seahawks on Sunday. They finish up against the Dolphins, led by Chad Pennington, at home.

"We have another chance to go out and try to play our best football," said Ellis. "Our spirits are up. We're kind of rejuvenated a little bit because there was a scare. We did pull it out."

Right tackle Damien Woody said the bottom line is that the Jets still control their destiny.

"My thing is you can't depend on someone to help you," he said. "If we take care of business, nothing else matters."

The Dolphins play at the Chiefs (2-12) before coming to the Meadowlands. New England hosts the Cardinals (8-6) and finishes up at Buffalo (6-8).

The problem for the Jets is they're playing their worst football at the worst possible time. Instead of peaking down the stretch, the Jets are struggling, having gone the other way after an impressive five-game winning streak.

They have played horribly in recent losses to the Broncos and 49ers and played as badly against the Bills. At the moment, they figure to make a quick playoff exit -- if they qualify for the postseason.

"Every game is not going to be perfect," said running back Thomas Jones. "We're just going to take it one game at a time. A win is a win. That's all that matters."

Even so, the Jets were thoroughly outplayed by the Bills in every facet of the game. They looked nothing like a playoff team.

Quarterback Brett Favre threw two interceptions that led to 10 Buffalo points and the Jets were 0-for-6 in third-down situations in the second half after converting four of five in the first half. Favre was 5-of-13 for 58 yards in the second half.

Perhaps it was a throwaway line, but after underthrowing wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery on a deep ball, the self-deprecating Favre said, "Maybe I don't have the arm I once had, I don't know." Left guard Alan Faneca, who has struggled in pass protection, was driven into Favre as the quarterback released the ball.

The Jets' vaunted run defense, which entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL, was gashed for a season-high 187 yards. And when the Jets weren't missing tackles or getting run over by Bills running back Marshawn Lynch (21 carries, 127 yards), Fred Jackson was carrying half the defense the final 4 yards on an 11-yard touchdown.

Although they intercepted Losman three times -- two came in the final two minutes with the Bills desperate -- and held him to 148 yards passing, the Jets pass defense remains shaky. The Jets had three sacks, but Losman had all day to throw.

Nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who has anchored the run defense all season, was ineffective. At 6-4 and 360 pounds, he could be wearing down.

"I think (the Bills) did a nice job against him," said Mangini. "There are some things we can do, and there are some thing he can do better as well."

Perhaps most alarming, the Jets special teams also had a meltdown.

The Bills successfully executed a fake punt and a 56-yard punt return by Roscoe Parrish. What's more, they had a 100-yard kickoff return by Leodis McKelvin called back because of a penalty. The Bills also downed two Brian Moorman punts inside the Jets' 5-yard line.

"I think Buffalo is one of the best groups, if not the best group, in the NFL," said Mangini. "They're highly ranked in every category."

NOTES

The weather forecast in Seattle isn't good: low 30s and snow. Mangini wanted to leave for Seattle on Saturday instead of Friday, as he has done for previous West Coast trips, but the team couldn't change its flight arrangements, he said.

Backup Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace is expected start in place of the injured Matt Hasselbeck (back), and Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones (knee) is done for the season. Even so, the Seahawks defeated the Rams, 23-20, on Sunday.

Ellis was lauded by his teammates after his game-winning TD, but his 12-year-old son, Jourdan, jokingly told him he was slow. Ellis saw the highlight of his play on ESPN and said, "I was kind of shocked myself."

Jones will be playing against his younger brother, Julius, for the third time in their careers. Their parents and several family members will attend the game. Julius holds a 2-0 advantage over big brother.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who coached Favre in Green Bay, will be coaching his last home game before stepping down. "They (the Seahawks) are going to be ready to play," said Woody.

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MANGINI: FORGET STYLE POINTS, A WIN IS A WIN

Comments: 2Read Comments Leave a Comment By BRIAN COSTELLO

RUNNING TOUGH: Thomas Jones tries to break a tackle by the Bills' Paul Posluszny during the Jets' 31-27 win Sunday. The Jets played sloppily and easily could have lost, but as coach Eric Mangini pointed out, "It's not like the BCS. We don't get voted down for style points."

Last updated: 2:57 am

December 16, 2008

Posted: 2:03 am

December 16, 2008

The JetsNew York Jets had their worst day defending the run against the Bills on Sunday. Their offense disappeared after 1

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recoveryBY ERIK BOLAND | erik.boland@newsday.com

December 16, 2008

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Less than 24 hours later, the primary topic was still The Fumble, Stumble and Rumble at the Meadowlands.

"I know we didn't expect that to happen and Buffalo didn't expect that to happen," running back Thomas Jones said yesterday in a moment of understatement.

Not that any Jets fan - or Bills fan, for that matter - needs a review, but ...

With the Bills ahead 27-24 and a first down away from running out the clock Sunday, Buffalo coach Dick Jauron called for a pass play on second-and-5 from the Bills' 27 with 2:06 left. Blitzing safety Abram Elam stripped quarterback J.P. Losman from behind and the loose ball eventually bounced into the arms of defensive end Shaun Ellis, who, somewhat inelegantly, made his way 11 yards into the end zone for a shocking go-ahead touchdown.

Ellis' first up-close contact with a large group of Jets fans came yesterday morning when he took his 12-year-old son, Jordan, to school. "A lot of the kids at his school were like, 'What an awesome play' and 'Great play,'" Ellis said.

Like any good son on the verge of becoming a teenager, Jordan offered a slightly different take. "At first he was telling me I was slow," Ellis said with a laugh.

After ramming into the Bills' Langston Walker, Ellis for a split-second was facing the wrong goal line, but he oriented himself and pivoted toward the sideline. After Ellis scored, an ecstatic Kerry Rhodes leaped onto him like Yogi Berra onto Don Larsen in 1956, and the 220-pound Rhodes slammed the 285-pound Ellis to the turf.

Ellis spoke at length about the play after the game but didn't see a replay until that night. "Basically, I was kind of shocked myself for it to all play out that way," Ellis said of his reaction to the replay. "A lot of things had to happen for it to happen."

First and foremost among those things, the Bills had to choose to forgo a run - even though they had averaged 5.8 yards per rush to that point. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert wanted to run the ball but was overruled by Jauron, and the decision was no less confounding yesterday. And no less uplifting for the Jets, who, moments before the sequence, were on the verge of losing control of their playoff destiny.

"It's amazing how one call can just change the whole course of a game," right tackle Damien Woody said. "Things can look so bleak or whatever, and then all of a sudden everything just changes. I'm just glad everything worked out in our favor."

Players continued their postgame mantra of "a win is a win," but they also recognize they're not playing their best football right now, something that must change soon, starting Sunday in Seattle. If the Jets win there and beat Miami at home Dec. 28, they'll win the division title. If they slip up, they'll need help.

"I feel like we're a team of perseverance," Ellis said. "We're a team that's able to endure anything that comes our way and we can always bounce back from it. We've had a little down time right now, but we'll be back."

Will the miracle finish be the impetus? "It could be," Woody said. "We'll see at the end of the season when everything is said and done; we'll see what the effects were of that play. Right now, that play was great. It kept us alive, it kept that heartbeat going, but now it's on to the next challenge, which is Seattle. If we don't take care of business, that play's all for naught."

Notes & quotes: Coach Eric Mangini didn't sound terribly concerned that rookie LB Vernon Gholston needed a pep talk after being deactivated for the first time. "We're going to take the best people to help you win that game, whether your contract is 20 million, 50 million, 100 million; whether you're drafted one, 10, one thousandth," he said. "We've got to play, we've got to win." ... The Jets left two days early for each of their previous three West Coast games this season - all losses - and looked into changing the routine for this weekend, which would mean leaving Saturday instead of Friday. Mangini said they couldn't get a change in their chartered flight, though, so they will leave Friday after practice. "We looked into it," he said, "[but] what I don't want to do is get too caught up in that being some reason why we can't perform."

Sunday

Jets at Seattle

4:05 p.m.

TV: Ch. 2

Radio: WEPN (1050)

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Belichick, Parcells have big edge over ManginiANTHONY RIEBER | anthony.rieber@newsday.com

December 16, 2008

Two weeks to go. The Jets vs. the Patriots vs. the Dolphins.

One of those teams will win the AFC East. The other two might not even make the playoffs.

What do the Jets have going for them? Well, they hold the tiebreaker, so if they win their last two games, they win the division title. Simple as that.

What do the Jets have going against them? No, this isn't about that tired Same Old Jets routine. These are new Jets, and a collapse in 1986 is not relevant today.

What is relevant, though, is the huge advantage the Patriots and Dolphins have over the Jets in one crucial area:

Coaching.

Forget Jets vs. Patriots vs. Dolphins. The championship of the AFC East might just come down to Mangini vs. Belichick vs. Parcells. And who do you like in that dogfight?

(Yes, we know, Tony Sparano - not Bill Parcells - is the Dolphins' coach. As the kids say, 'Whatev.' We all know the Tuna is running the show in Miami, much to the delight of Fish fans everywhere.)

The Jets are led by Mangini, who has had three seasons to prove whether he is a good coach or an overmatched automaton. Which one do you vote for?

If you're a Jets fan, try making anyone believe you weren't ready to dial up WFAN or start typing obscenities about Mangini into a Jets chat room when it looked as if they were going to lose to the woeful Bills on Sunday.

And Mangini had absolutely nothing to do with that "Miracle in the Meadowlands" 31-27 win. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Dick Jauron gave the Jets that win when the Bills' coach overruled his offensive coordinator and called for a pass play when all he had to do was run out the clock. As my colleague Wallace Matthews pointed out in his column yesterday, "The Jets did not find a way to win; the Bills manufactured a way to lose."

Left to his own devices, instead of taking bows today for a win he had little to do with, Mangini would be explaining why the Jets, playing at home and with a division crown in their sights, lost to a reeling team.

Mangini's postgame news conference Sunday was a study in self-delusion. He seemed satisfied. I doubt Belichick or Parcells/Sparano would have been.

The Jets played a lot of bad football Sunday and won thanks to bad coaching on the other side. They were lucky.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

More of the time, it's better to be good.

Belichick is good. Real good. You think the Jets (or Giants, for that matter) could have survived the loss of their franchise quarterback and still gone 9-5?

Belichick may be an everyday candidate to be Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World," but he knows how to demand excellence. Ditto Parcells, who won't win Mr. Congeniality but has turned the Dolphins from a laughingstock 1-15 to a potential 11-win team in one season with spaghetti-armed Chad Pennington at quarterback and the untested Sparano in the coach's office.

Mangini? He's been handed Brett Favre and millions and millions in free-agent talent and one of the softest schedules in the league, and he still needed an excruciatingly dumb call by Jauron to save his carcass.

If Jets players were allowed to speak freely in Mangini's paranoid world, they would tell you the coach hasn't completely earned their trust, either. Again, if you're a Jets fan, you know he hasn't earned yours.

Wait until Favre leaves the Jets, perhaps after this season, and you'll find out how he really feels about the coach. Betcha it won't be flattering, especially if the Jets don't win out in the last two weeks and don't clinch the division title.

Prediction: They won't.

In a dogfight, take the toughest dogs. That's Belichick and Parcells, not Mangini.

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