Jets' Win Revives Playoff Aspirations

Eric Mangini and Dewayne Robertson

The New York Jets 17-14 victory over division rival New England Patriots has revived the possibility that, for the first time in years, a team other than the Patriots may win the AFC East. Eric Mangini's gang green humbled the Patriots by handing them their first back-to-back losses in nearly four years. The win put the (5-4) Jets one game closer to the (6-3) Patriots for a tight division race.

It's a thought that first was floated after the Jets reached the 4-3 mark, but was quickly forgotten after they lost at Cleveland.

But after Sunday, it's time to revisit it once again -- in what was supposed to be a season of transition and rebuilding, the Jets are a legitimate playoff contender.

That cannot be denied any longer, not after their 17-14 upset victory at New England (6-3) on Sunday. It was the Jets' first victory over the Patriots since Dec. 2002 and broke a seven-game losing streak to their AFC East rivals. More importantly, it was the first triumph over a team with a winning record by the 2006 Jets (5-4).

New England hadn't lost consecutive games since 2002, when the Pats were defeated by the Titans and Jets.

"The most important thing is we're one game behind them in the division," inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma said, "and we split the games with them. As long as we keep winning and hopefully they hiccup somewhere down the road," the Jets eventually could be in a position to win the division.

Don't expect first-year coach Eric Mangini to talk about that, as he dusted off his usual mantra Sunday, saying, "We're just moving on to Chicago."

That's the Jets' next opponent, this Sunday at home.

Certainly Mangini gained plenty of personal satisfaction in his first return to Foxboro, although he never will admit it publicly.

"We all had our own little reasons why we wanted to beat New England," said quarterback Chad Pennington. "Eric's got his reasons, I have mine. We have ours as a team. But the bottom line is you've got to stand up and say, 'Look, we've got to win one of these games.'"

New York Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (89) reaches over New England Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs, left, for a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of their football game in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006. The Jets defeated the Patriots, 17-14. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Jets earned a victory by doing something they couldn't do against the powerful Colts last month, as their defense protected a lead by stopping the Patriots in the fourth quarter. New England took over at its own 11-yard-line with 1:08 left, trailing by three. Three completions by Tom Brady got the Pats as far as the Jets' 46, but Brady was sacked by Shaun Ellis on the game's final play.

Shortly thereafter, New England coach Bill Belichick had to greet former assistant Mangini at midfield, something he approaches with the zeal of someone facing multiple root canals. Belichick has steadfastly refused to give Mangini any credit for the Jets' turnaround from a four-win team in 2005.

"It was nice to be back. I have a lot of great memories of being here," Mangini said with a slight smile. "And I'd like to add this memory to it."

He can thank the defense in particular for a happy homecoming, as the Jets didn't allow the Pats to get into the end zone until Brady's 15-yard pass to Reche Caldwell with 4:14 left. A two-point conversion connection by the same tandem got the Pats within three, but the Jets made three first downs on their next drive, forcing New England to spend all its timeouts, before the Jets punted the ball away. The Jets opened a 17-6 fourth-quarter lead on Pennington's 22-yard scoring pass to Jerricho Cotchery, who out-leaped cornerback Ellis Hobbs.

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