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Friday, January 05, 2007

Jets Playoff coverage#2

NY TIMES Jets Beat Reporter Karen Crouse's take on this weeks Wildcard game-My Slant at the end...


Punishment Laps Help Jets Kick Penalty Habit

By KAREN CROUSE
Published: January 5, 2007
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y., Jan. 4 — The realization came during training camp. The Jets’ owner, Woody Johnson, was watching a practice from the sideline when his franchise quarterback, Chad Pennington, jogged past while running a punishment lap for making a rare mental error. It was then that Johnson knew that his new coach, Eric Mangini, would be a stickler for correctness.

Under Mangini’s predecessor, Herman Edwards, the Jets did a good job when it came to self-discipline. They led the N.F.L. in fewest penalties during Edwards’s rookie season, in 2001. And last season, despite a 4-12 record, the Jets inflicted relatively little harm on themselves, finishing with the fifth fewest penalties in the league.

But this season has been even better, with the Jets ranking No. 3 in the league in fewest penalties (70) and No. 2 in penalty yardage (560). Of the 12 teams in the postseason, no one has better penalty numbers than the Jets, a testament to their self-control and a clear factor in their surprising success.

In a season in which the Jets were breaking in a rookie head coach, using coordinators who had never called plays in the N.F.L. and relying on a backfield bereft of Curtis Martin, there was virtually no margin for error, no way for the Jets to succeed if they tripped themselves with repeated penalties. They didn’t.

Mangini’s message of playing smart was reinforced through the running of extra laps for practice infractions that fell under the category of self-destruction, like turnovers, penalties and mental errors. All those laps later, the Jets are getting ready for a first-round playoff game on Sunday against New England.

“Those laps have a lot to do with it,” safety Rashad Washington said Thursday with a wry laugh. “Those things get tiring, especially after you’ve been practicing twice a day and you end up having to run a lap in the middle of practice, then come back and jump right back in. You try your best in practice not to make dumb penalties so you don’t have to run, and it carries over to the game.”

The discipline displayed by the Jets received mostly lip service from the playoff-bound Giants. Despite having a coach, Tom Coughlin, with a reputation for being a disciplinarian, the Giants were among the most penalized teams in the league this season. They ranked No. 22 in fewest penalties, with 101, and were 23rd in fewest penalty yards (881). Last season they were even worse.

In fact, each New York team has been a reflection of its coach, with the Jets playing with the dispassionate poise of the poker-faced Mangini and the Giants (8-8) playing with the questionable composure sometimes displayed by Coughlin.

The Giants were called for 18 personal fouls in 16 games this season, the worst number of any team. The Jets had five, which was tied for the second-fewest in the league with five other teams.

The Jets were also one of five teams that did not incur an unsportsmanlike penalty during the regular season. Jets tight end Doug Jolley was called for one in a preseason game against the Giants, when he head-butted defensive back Sam Madison.

After that game, a 13-7 loss, Mangini talked about Jolley’s foul being “really unacceptable” and “selfish.” Within days, Jolley was gone, traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a seventh-round draft pick.

If the laps did not drive the message home about penalties, Jolley’s banishment probably did. “The coaches emphasize not making stupid penalties,” Washington said, “and being focused and committed to what we’re trying to get done.”

There are at least two people with officiating experience at every practice, and at Mangini’s behest, they call practice as tightly as any game crew. “It is a significant emphasis,” Mangini said.

Erik Coleman, the Jets’ third-year safety, gave an assist to the practice officials for the feat the Jets pulled off of going nearly eight games this season without drawing a defensive pass-interference penalty.

The streak was snapped when safety Kerry Rhodes was called for interfering with Oakland tight end Courtney Anderson in the fourth quarter of the Jets’ 23-3 victory last Sunday. “I didn’t think it was pass interference,” Rhodes said, smiling.

Corwin Brown, the Jets’ defensive backs coach, said during a chance encounter in a hallway Wednesday that he was not aware of the streak. His players are positive that his fingerprints are all over their success.

“Corwin’s been working with us on being patient and calm when the ball is in the air and just looking at the receiver,” the rookie cornerback Drew Coleman said. “We call it not losing your moxie.”

What does the moxie mantra cover? “Playing with a little poise instead of getting rattled when stuff goes bad and getting all out of whack,” Washington said. “Just calming yourself.”

Moxie by proxy: it is the Jets’ way. The question to be answered Sunday is if the Mangini-mirroring Jets are disciplined enough to defeat a team that is heavily favored to beat them.

EXTRA POINTS

Eric Mangini tried to make light Thursday of the cold-fish handshakes that he and his mentor, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, exchanged after each of their regular-season meetings. “We do a lot of self-scouting after the game: what we did well, what we did poorly,” Mangini said. Breaking into a smile, he added that he thought his handshake was strong and firm. “I’ve experimented with a couple other different kinds that haven’t worked for me,” Mangini said with a laugh. ... Center Nick Mangold did not receive any votes for offensive rookie of the year despite making 16 starts and few mistakes. But, Mangini said, “He got center of the year for us.”

So Karen Is Right: The Jets are one of the Least Penalized teams in pro football. When we attended Training camp in July, They ran 2 laps in the 90+ degree sweltering heat(that made my wife pass out after a panic attack) for every Penalty incurred.

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