An Aggressive Game Plan Leads to an Improbable Win (ALLEN BARRA, November 13, 2006, NY Sun)
This victory was all about aggression. Faced with the extinction of their season, Mangini and his staff chose to do the opposite of what most teams do when facing a superior foe (and New England was much the superior team, at least coming into this game): They designed an aggressive game plan on both sides of the ball, blitzing on 40 of the Patriots’ 66 plays. More importantly, perhaps, when they weren’t blitzing they were showing blitz, something that neither Tom Brady nor Mangini’s mentor, Bill Belichick, expected.
On offense, the Jets weren’t, in truth, a great deal more effective than they were in some of their losing efforts this season, but they sure looked as if they were trying harder. On the sloppy turf, Chad Pennington couldn’t control the wet ball any better than his New England counterpart, but 17 of his 33 passes came on first or second down. (Someone in the Jets’ offensive brain trust finally got hip to the fact that you are far more likely to complete a pass, or at least not get sacked or intercepted, on first and second down than on, say, third-and-nine.) With a little less than six minutes to play, Pennington began two out of three series with first down passes, gaining seven and eight yards and setting up two key first downs. A third first down, just as significant, came on a 12-yard slash by Kevan Barlow, whose path up the middle was made clear because the Pats took out two linebackers and substituted two defensive backs in anticipation of a pass.
Actually, the Jets’ win was about aggression and execution. They drew just four flags all afternoon and fumbled the slippery ball not once. (New England fumbled twice.) Pennington was sacked only once, and, that wisely, when he refused to put the ball up for grabs. And, the Jets finally got a big play — the biggest, in fact, of the season — late in the fourth quarter when Jerricho Cotchery made the best catch I’ve seen in the NFL this year. Dropping back from the 22, Pennington could see that Cotchery, in the right corner of the end zone, was well covered by a defensive back in front and a safety from behind. He looped the ball anyway, assuming that Cotchery would catch it. And he did, with a leaping over-the-shoulder grab to the amazement of the Pats’ D-back who was waiting with his arms outstretched. The game-winning play showed aggressiveness not just on Cotchery’s part but on the part of Pennington, who normally, when seeing his man double-covered in that situation, would have thrown the bal out of the end zone and settled for the field goal try.
The Jets’ improbable victory frees them to think of next Sunday’s meeting with the Bears as a one-game season. If the Jets can suck it up again and beat the Bears at the Meadowlands, the rest of their schedule will all be sharply downhill: not a single game against a team with a winning record (though playing the Packers in Green Bay in December will be no day at the beach). They have already won more games this year than in 2005, and the key to the rest of the season will be in not being satisfied with that fact.
Upsets Place Rutgers In Striking Distance (RUSSELL LEVINE, November 13, 2006, NY Sun)
Barely 48 hours later — not even long enough for the tidal wave of Rutgers calls to New York’s sports-talk radio stations to subside — a series of upsets had the potential to turn Rutgers’ nice little moment in the spotlight into something much greater.
Even the most euphoric of Rutgers fans following their school’s stunning, come-from-behind win over Louisville Thursday night knew that even finishing the regular season undefeated probably wouldn’t be enough to get the Scarlet Knights into the national-championship game. But that was before a string of upsets decimated the ranks of the oncebeaten Saturday. By day’s end, Rutgers’s chances had improved from nearly impossible to merely improbable.
With Auburn, Cal, and Texas all picking up a second loss, the number of teams standing between Rutgers and the coveted second spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings has been thinned. And it no longer takes an abacus and vivid imagination to cook up a scenario that could see Rutgers rise that high.