January 03, 2007
AFC East Border War Turns New Chapter
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Unless you're Bill Belichick, you hate the Jets, but not like you hate the Yankees.
In the case of the HC of the NEP, it's worse. Much worse. It starts with former Jet executive Steve Gutman calling him insane and it goes from there.
You the average Patriot fan may still feel the sting of the dirty tactics the Jets used to draw Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin, among others, their way. That sting is not really felt these days because the Patriots negated both of those deals by prying Belichick from the Jets, and the Super Bowl scoreboard since Parcells and Martin left Foxborough is Patriots 3, Jets 0.
If anything, it's the Jets that should despise the Patriots. Since 2001, the Patriots are 9-3 against the Jets, with the Jets winning the last meeting in Foxborough back in November. It was after that 17-14 loss to the Jets that Bob Kraft decided to re-carpet Gillette Stadium. That win gives the Jets some confidence going into Sunday's Wild Card matchup between the NFL's Hatfields and McCoys.
But Belichick will harbor the most hatred of them all in this matchup. His relationship right now between himself and Eric Mangini, his former defensive coordinator who is in line for Coach of the Year thanks to his great job as Jet head coach in 2006, is somewhat akin to the amount of affection Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb have for each other. The two have been defined this season by their icy cold postgame handshakes this season, and only Belichick really knows why Mangini makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up straight.
Mangini did defect to the Jets. Normally, Belichick should be happy to lose an assistant to another team (cross-reference: Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel). But the Jets are the Jets, the sworn enemy in the mind of Belichick. It began literally right away, when Mangini was ordered to take another flight out of Denver following the playoff loss last year, and was not allowed into the Patriot complex when they returned to Foxborough. Belichick knew that Mangini would head for Exit 16-W, and some insiders say that Belichick tried to talk Mangini out of it. But Mangini took the job anyway.
There are other sources which state that it is not because of Mangini taking the Jet job that Belichick got so upset. It was during the contentious negotiating process for Deion Branch, when the Jets made an offer for the former Super Bowl MVP. Seattle eventually made the winning bid, but the Jet offer helped lay the groundwork for Branch leaving for Seattle. It came off much like the Red Sox making a token offer to Andy Pettitte before the Yankee pitcher signed his free agent deal with Houston prior to the 2004 season.
The Jets and Patriots have met once in the postseason. On December 28, 1985, the Patriots began their three road game march to Super Bowl XX with a 24-16 win at Giants Stadium. The Jets committed four turnovers, and Tony Eason had a 132 passer rating, both elements being harbingers of things to come on their way to New Orleans. The game marked the first playoff win for the Patriots as an NFL (versus an AFL) team, after having dropped their first three playoff games since the merger (Oakland in 1976, Houston in 1978, Miami in 1982).
The game will be on Sunday afternoon, a bit of a surprise. The game will be on CBS instead of NBC, which is actually a good break for the Patriots if which network the game is on means anything to you. NBC chose Dallas at Seattle as its Saturday night game, despite the Patriots-Jets game being a better matchup. The Patriots thus play their first daytime first round playoff game since 1998, a 25-10 Wild Card loss at Jacksonville which knocked them quickly out of that year's playoff tournament.
If you can get past the coaching brouhaha for this weekend, you will be left with a Patriot team which is favored by nine points to defeat the Jets and move on to either Baltimore or San Diego for the second round. The Jets are a team the Patriots certainly know how to beat, but Mangini's knowledge of Belichick and the system are a great equalizer for the visitors, and that is why you might want to take the Patriots but lay fewer than nine points.
Rodney Harrison, a victim of that chop block by Bobby Wade on Sunday, will be the one key Patriots who will be out. That will hurt the Patriots to some degree, but Vince Wilfork might be back to help restore order down low. Leon Washington and Kevan Barlow form a nice running back tandem for the Jets, but it is nothing the Patriots cannot deal with. The Patriots, meanwhile, should get a lot of mileage out of their run tandem in Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney.
Where the game will likely be decided is how the Patriots handle Chad Pennington. Part of the reason the Patriots have enjoyed recent success against the Jets is that much of the time, Pennington is out with an injury. Belichick has had his moments against Pennington, where he has befuddled the Jet quarterback into multiple-interception games. But Pennington has had his moments also, and if he is allowed to be successful on third down or if his receivers are covered poorly, he will have a great day and it will be tough on the Patriots to win.
The Jets tend to play the Patriots better at Foxborough versus New Jersey, and this year bears that out. The Patriots led, 24-0 in Week 2 at Giants Stadium before holding on to win, 24-17. But the Jets dominated the Patriots in the November rematch, and induced the home team to get rid of their grass and put in the new surface.
For this game, you have the Patriots playing a team for the third time in a season. The Patriots won't be sloppy like November. Mangini will know what to do, but Belichick will know what to do better. The game could still go either way, but the Patriots have more momentum going into this game, and bear a bigger grudge against the Jets than vice versa because of who they are and because they won the last meeting between the two teams.
This won't be like the 2003 or 2004 ALCS. Tim Wakefield, Aaron Boone, Dave Roberts, David Ortiz, it's just not the same. But it is a huge grudge match between two teams which truly don't like each other. Keith Jackson might want to call this game instead of Jim Nantz.
By the way, the guy who let Belichick bolt for the Patriots, that's the one who's insane. Think Parcells still offers just a first rounder for The Man Formerly Known As Little Bill?
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