Ravens-like Jets have tough edge to go all way

January 05, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It's too early to crown the New York Jets Super Bowl champions, but a lot of the signs are there. They have confidence, a strong running game, a physical offensive line, a hot quarterback, good defensive pursuit and a defense that doesn't allow many big plays.

They also have toughness and an edge.

That's one of their biggest intangibles as the weather turns cold and the intensity gets turned up a couple of decibels for the postseason.

The Ravens had tough guys in 2000 with Ray Lewis, Michael McCrary, Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa. The Patriots had a couple of them last year, including quarterback Tom Brady.

The Jets have a bunch, and the Indianapolis Colts don't have enough, which is a major reason New York pummeled the former Baltimore franchise, 41-0, yesterday in an AFC wild-card game at Giants Stadium.

John Unitas, Lenny Moore, John Mackey and Jim Parker would be ashamed of this Colts crew. No toughness. Quarterback Peyton Manning is overrated and really isn't cool under pressure. Running back Edgerrin James has taken more routes to the sideline than Franco Harris. As for the Colts' defensive line, Siragusa had more weight in one of his legs than most of the Indianapolis starters.

They weren't ready for the Jets yesterday.

New York had too much Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin, Kevin Mawae, Dave Szott, Mo Lewis and Sam Cowart.

Where were the Houston Texans (Colts played them twice) and Cincinnati Bengals (once) when the Colts needed them most?

Oh, right where the Colts are today: sitting at home and looking for a few good men. More tough guys.

For the most part, the Jets were kind to the Colts in the locker room after the game. Nary a bad word was uttered. But they didn't have to say anything. For nearly 60 minutes, they pushed the Colts around Giants Stadium and laid Indianapolis' postseason ambitions to rest near Jimmy Hoffa.

New York had 180 rushing yards compared with 52 for Indianapolis. The Jets had nearly a 21-minute advantage in time of possession. New York converted on six of 11 third downs while the Colts were 5-for-13. There were no statistics on this, but the Jets' offensive linemen pancaked the Colts' defensive linemen enough to open a Waffle House.

That's a key to winning in December and January. You've got to run the ball, and the Jets did against the Colts, who have three starting defensive linemen at 280 pounds or less. Didn't the Jets look like the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s when they would pitch wide to Martin running behind pulling guards Szott and Randy Thomas? Didn't Szott embarrass Colts linebacker Sam Sword when he ran over him on LaMont Jordan's 1-yard touchdown run around left end with 9:41 left in the half?

"Everybody on this team is tough," said Jets defensive tackle Larry Webster, a member of the Ravens' Super Bowl team and a former University of Maryland standout. "We've got our leaders. I believe in that offensive line. We've got Randy Thomas over there, and then you got the old man, Szott. You've got the worldly Pro Bowl vet in center Kevin Mawae. That's a great unit. They are starting to jell."

No one might be happier than Jordan and Martin. Jordan had 102 yards rushing on 20 carries, and Martin added 67 yards on 15 attempts. Martin played less than three quarters before turning over the job full time to Jordan. The Jets wanted to keep Martin fresh for next week.

But that shouldn't be a concern. Martin shows up every week, every play. James? He was always a little gun-shy and still seems a step slow from major knee surgery during the offseason.

As for Manning vs. Pennington, it was no contest.

Please, no more "Peyton Manning is great" stories. All those Elvis gyrations at the line of scrimmage are getting old. He couldn't win the big one in college, and he can't win the big one now. It's easy to rattle Manning. You can see it in his eyes when he has that Troy Aikman concussion look on his face.

You can see it in his feet when he starts moon-walking in the pocket because of pressure. Manning was 14-for-31 for 137 yards and threw two interceptions yesterday.

Pennington was 19-for-25 for 222 yards and three touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 142, which is practically off the charts. Pennington, in his third year, looked like the seasoned veteran. He looked off receivers and found the hot ones. He was multi-dimensional, throwing from the pocket and on rollouts.

He threw some nice touch passes over the Indianapolis linebackers, and then threw tight spirals on the quick-out and slant-in routes. With 1:39 left in the first half, he took the Jets 42 yards on six plays for a touchdown, completing a 4-yard pass to receiver Santana Moss in the back of the end zone with 37 seconds remaining.

He couldn't have been more impressive.

The Jets have been just as dominating on defense. They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since the Denver game on Dec. 8. The Jets just keep swarming and pursuing. They aren't great, they just play well together. New York plays a two-deep zone, and safeties Sam Garnes and Damien Robinson don't allow anything behind them.

"In the last three or four weeks, we've been bringing it," said Jets defensive tackle Josh Evans. "We can take it all the way, if we just take it one game at a time."

Webster knows the feeling. He felt it with the Ravens two years ago. The Jets have the tough guys and a mean-enough edge to put them over the top.

"There are a lot of similarities. We're playing with a lot of emotion," Webster said.

Is he feeling it?

"Oh yeah, definitely," Webster said. "I'm feeling it. I'm really, really feeling it."

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