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November 8, 2004 Edition > Section:  Sports

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Jets, Giants Give Away Games
Coach on the Couch

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 8, 2004

The autumn wind is a pirate, or so says one of the most memorable lines of NFL Films poetry. It's a metaphor for how the good fortunes of September can change in November, but it's also a literal comment on the challenges of playing football in bad weather.

With 25 mile-per-hour gusts in Ralph Wilson Stadium yesterday, the Jets elected to kick off after winning the coin toss. Coach Herm Edwards obviously trusted his defense and worried that the wind would wreak havoc on the Jets' passing game. But it turned out that the weather was the least of his worries.

It didn't take long for the Jets to squander whatever advantage they might have had with the wind at their backs. They were flagged for offensive penalties on each of their first four possessions. Doug Brien shanked a 36-yard field goal attempt on the team's first possession, Chad Pennington fumbled on the next series, and when the quarter ended, the Jets trailed 7-0.

The Jets finally got it together midway through the second quarter, when Pennington led a penalty-free, 80-yard drive that culminated in Gang Green's only touchdown of the day. But on their next five possessions, the Jets punted three times, committed a turnover, and surrendered a safety. They managed just 92 yards total offense in the second half, 51 of which came on a pass play when the defender fell down. The Bills' defense was able to dominate the line of scrimmage, holding Curtis Martin to 21 yards in the second half and putting consistent pressure on the quarterback.

On the other side of the ball, the defense couldn't contain the Bills' running game. Willis McGahee ran forcefully between the tackles, and Buffalo took advantage of the Jets' aggressive outside defenders with draw plays and quick pitches. The ball-control style helped the Bills protect their lead with a huge difference in time of possession (22:30-8:30) in the second half.

Pennington was pulled in the fourth quarter with what was reported as a shoulder strain, an injury that might explain his ineffectiveness. After the game he said the injury occurred in the first quarter when he scrambled and fumbled the ball after taking a hard hit from Bills linebacker London Fletcher. He didn't complete a pass in the second half and threw an ill-advised ball into double coverage that was intercepted.

To be considered a serious Super Bowl contender, the Jets need to generate offense when opposing teams contain the running game. Pennington hasn't been able to do that this year. When Martin has rushed for 115 yards or more this season, the Jets have averaged more than 35 points a game. When he doesn't reach that mark, they're averaging 15.8 points.

***

If turnovers and penalties hurt the Jets yesterday, they devastated the Giants. New York took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter against the Bears, capitalizing on good field position with drives of 38 and 21 yards. For the rest of the day, they alternated between ineffective and self-destructive football. They converted only one of 14 third down attempts, turned the ball over five times, and committed 14 penalties.

Injuries to defensive ends Michael Strahan and Keith Washington created some problems on the line of scrimmage in the second half, but the Giants defense played a solid game. They sacked rookie QB Craig Krenzel five times and allowed him to complete just eight passes on the afternoon. On 14 of 18 possessions, the Giants defense held Chicago to less than 10 yards, forcing a punt or a turnover. The Bears had just one prolonged drive, a six-play 76-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Their other 20 points came as a result of good field position thanks to turnovers by the Giants' offense.

The loss made it very clear that the root cause of the offense's problems is quarterback Kurt Warner. When he was throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns every week with the Rams, you could overlook the plethora of fumbles, interceptions, and sacks. But in the Giants' conservative offense, his main duty is to avoid those things, and he's not getting the job done.

Warner's tally yesterday was two fumbles lost, two interceptions, and seven sacks. A late onside kick gave the Giants a chance to come back, but Warner was sacked twice and threw two woefully incomplete passes that snuffed out whatever hope remained for victory.

As well as the Giants have played in the first half of the season, it's hard to look past two straight home losses to inferior opponents by double-digit margins. In both cases, the blame falls squarely on the offense, which at its best has been adequate and at its worst has been a black hole swallowing the team's playoff .Tiki Barber is having an MVP-caliber season, but too often his gains are negated by Warner's losses. It's time for the Giants to put Eli Manning in the starting lineup.

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