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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

Finally, an On-Time Takeoff for Jets

September 24, 2004|Sam Farmer

Spend enough time around NFL players and they'll hit you with that old saw about the season being a marathon, not a sprint.

But that's not what the New York Jets are saying.

Back in April, when the 2004 schedule came out, Jet Coach Herman Edwards gathered the team's veteran leaders and told them to think of it as a two-game season. Beat Cincinnati, beat San Diego, get a week off, and escape September unscathed.

September has been a cruel month for the Jets. They came into this season 2-8 in Septembers under Edwards and riding a seven-game losing streak in the season's opening month. Edwards even joked that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had so much pity for the organization, he tried to help stop the bleeding by scheduling only two Jet games this month.

Well, the Jets are 2-0; Curtis Martin leads the league with 315 yards rushing; Chad Pennington's passer rating is 124.3, best in the AFC; and Edwards' short-season philosophy looks awfully long on foresight.

"Now we have to deal with October," Edwards said after last Sunday's 34-28 victory over the Chargers. "There may be a vampire or something waiting for us in October. But September is up."

Seven teams are 2-0, and four of those -- Atlanta, Detroit, Jacksonville and the Jets -- failed to make the playoffs last season. Of the four, the Jets are in the best position to keep winning.

Just look at the Jets' next three opponents: Miami, Buffalo and San Francisco. Those teams are a combined 0-6 and each has big problems at quarterback. That's very good news for a New York defense that has lost linebacker Sam Cowart, out for four to six weeks because of a sprained knee; backup defensive tackle Josh Evans, out for the season recovering from back surgery; and nickel back Ray Mickens, out for the season with a knee injury. If the Jets play their best against three lower-echelon opponents, they could head into the Oct. 24 game at New England at 5-0.

Getting this Sunday off should also help Martin, 31, who could use the rest after carrying the ball 61 times in the first two games. That's the most carries he's had in back-to-back games since 1999, and the most he's ever had the first two games of a season.

"I've used up all my ammunition," Edwards said this week.

The risky part of Edwards' approach is that his players could ease up a bit, almost as if they have crossed some kind of finish line after accomplishing their goal of shaking their September blues.

After all, this is a marathon....

*

Jon Gruden is expecting a chilly reception Sunday night when he returns to Oakland as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I'm sure I'll get booed," the former Raider coach told reporters in Tampa this week.

Gruden went on to say he doesn't sweat the ill will.

"I don't worry about it," he said. "I've had lots of friends who will be sitting in the stands, the Terminator and the Ax Grinder, whatever those guys' names were. Those guys I had a relationship with. Hopefully, they don't forget that."

That's where Gruden has it wrong. Ax Grinder won't be in the stands. He sits in the owner's suite.

*

Through two weeks, 30 teams have finished minus-1 or worse in turnover ratio. Their record in those games is 4-26.

*

As if Kellen Winslow Jr.'s broken right leg weren't painful enough, the Cleveland rookie now stands to lose $5.37 million in incentives. All he had to do to get that money was trigger one of 10 performance incentives in his contract, the easiest way being if he played in 35% of the offensive plays. Now, after having a metal plate surgically implanted in his leg, he could be sidelined for eight to 10 weeks.

*

Derek Smith, a 49er linebacker, will have to find a creative way to honor Pat Tillman, because the league won't allow him to keep the No. 40 decal on his helmet. Only Arizona Cardinal players can do that.

Smith played at Arizona State with Tillman, who walked away from a lucrative contract with the Cardinals to become an Army Ranger and in April was killed in action in Afghanistan. The league honored Tillman last Sunday, when all players wore a decal bearing his number on their helmets. Smith had hoped to keep his decal on, but that would bring a $5,000 fine from the league.

"It's not like it would take away from anything," he told reporters. "It's not taking away from any of Reebok's money. It's not taking away from the NFL uniform at all. It's just paying tribute."

Instead, to honor his friend, he plans to grow his hair long the way Tillman did, and to write 40 on a piece of tape and affix it to his facemask.

*

Never before has there been an NFL game in which both quarterbacks have started at least 100 consecutive games. But Sunday's matchup between Green Bay and Indianapolis will come oh-so-close to making history. Packer Brett Favre will start his 192nd consecutive regular-season game, a league record for quarterbacks; Indianapolis' Peyton Manning will make his 99th consecutive start.

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