- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

In a year when the cross-town New York Giants are under the microscope because of two new high-profile quarterbacks, a new controversial coach and their erratic play, the New York Jets have put together an 8-3 record despite playing the past three weeks without star quarterback Chad Pennington.

The relative lack of attention is a fact of life for the Jets, the Big Apple’s second football banana except when Joe Namath was their quarterback (1965-1976) or Bill Parcells their coach (1997-1999).

Jets runner Curtis Martin has joined Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders as the only backs to gain 1,000 yards in 10 straight seasons and soon could rank behind only Smith, Sanders and Walter Payton on the all-time list. Those three greats went to 27 Pro Bowls among them. Martin has been so honored just four times. Typical Jet.

What isn’t typical for the Jets is how they have reacted to losing their quarterback. When Vinny Testaverde went down for the season in the 1999 opener, the Jets dropped from 12-4 to 8-8. When Pennington missed the first seven games last year, New York, 9-7 in 2002, went 2-5. But when Pennington injured his rotator cuff in Buffalo on Nov.7, only an overtime loss to Baltimore prevented a 3-0 spurt.

While the Quincy Carter-led offense scored just 23 points the past two weeks at Cleveland and Arizona, the defense allowed just 10. The Jets have scored as many as 18 points just twice the past nine games, but they’ve given up more than 14 just twice.

New York, 8-3 in games decided by eight or fewer points while making the playoffs in coach Herman Edwards’ 2001 debut, are 6-3 in such games this year after going 8-11 while failing to reach postseason in 2002 and 2003.

“When you’re in tight games, you know there’s no room for error so you gain some confidence [by winning them], but you don’t want to play in those things all the time,” Edwards said. “As many as you win, you can lose a couple, too. We’re not trying to do this on purpose. It’s kind of the way the games have been unfolding.

“Our guys have grown accustomed to saying, ‘This is how we’re playing, keep our composure, don’t blink. We’ll make a play either on offense, defense or special teams and we’ll be able to win.’ At the end of the day, they don’t draw the picture of how you won, they just put a win in there or a loss.

End John Abraham is having a Pro Bowl year with 9 sacks, and rookie middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has proved worthy of his first-round selection. By contrast, Pennington who has a 50-50 chance of returning to the lineup Sunday against Houston, had just nine touchdown passes before being hurt, and no Jet has as many as 35 catches.

The Jets aren’t pretty, but they’re winning. However, they’ve also played just three games against winning teams — San Diego, New England and Baltimore — and lost two of them. Their grueling stretch drive at Pittsburgh, Seattle and New England at home and at St. Louis will decide whether New York will remain under the radar.

Making history — Cleveland’s Terry Robiskie is just the fourth coach to take over two teams during a season, following Harland Svare (1962 Rams, 1971 Chargers), Rick Venturi (1991 Colts, 1996 Saints) and Wade Phillips (1985 Saints, 2003 Falcons). None of the others kept the job into the next year.

Only 29 of the 81 in-season hires before Miami’s Jim Bates and Robiskie, who finished out 2000 for Washington, were retained. However, among the keepers were Hall of Famers Steve Owen (1930 Giants) and Marv Levy (1986 Bills), AFC champions Raymond Berry (1984 Patriots) and Jeff Fisher (1994 Oilers) and nine other future playoff qualifiers including current Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer (1984 Browns).

Making history II — The 63-yard interception return by Seattle rookie safety Michael Boulware on Nov.21 against Miami was the first such game-winning score in the last minute since Indianapolis’ Alan Grant, a future Redskin, beat Washington on Dec.22, 1990.

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