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November 29, 2004 Edition > Section:  Sports

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Jets Won't Go Far With Dull Offense
Coach on the Couch

BY SEAN LAHMAN
November 29, 2004

For the second week in a row, the Jets played solid defense against a bad team and scored just enough points to win.

Down to their third-string quarterback for most of the first half, the Jets struggled to mount an offensive attack. Brooks Bollinger, forced into action for the first time in his career, didn't commit any turnovers, but the young signal caller couldn't get the offense moving, and took a sack that knocked the Jets out of field-goal range.

Quincy Carter returned midway through the second quarter and later completed a 69-yard pass to Santana Moss that accounted for the game's only touchdown. Although Carter has compiled pretty good numbers since taking over for the injured Chad Pennington three weeks ago, the Jets have scored just four touchdowns in the three games he has started.

The Jets' defense continues to be their greatest strength. They get good pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They're solid against the run. The secondary is strong in coverage and helps force turnovers. There isn't one area in which the Jets defense is the best in the league, but they do everything well, make few mistakes, and make it hard for the opposing teams to execute their game plan.

The move to add youth and speed during the off-season has paid huge dividends, most notably with rookies Jonathon Vilma and Erik Coleman. Vilma had an interception and recovered a fumble against the Cardinals yesterday and continues to make his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Coleman, a big hitter at free safety, has also helped transform a defense that languished in recent years. The Jets have held their opponents to 14 points or fewer in seven of the last nine games, and that's why they have been able to win two road games in which they scored 10 and 13 points, respectively.

As the schedule gets tougher, though, the Jets are going to need a much bigger contribution from the offense if they want to reach the playoffs. If the season ended today, the Jets' 8-3 record would put them in as a wild-card team. A head-to-head victory gives them a tiebreaker advantage over the 8-3 Chargers, but they would lose tiebreakers with the Broncos or Ravens. The Jets hold their fate in their own hands, and a couple of losses could keep them out of the playoffs.

Over the next five weeks, each of the teams they face will be battling for a playoff berth or home-field advantage. The Rams and Seahawks are locked in a fierce battle for the division title in the NFC West, while the Steelers and Patriots are fighting for the best record in the AFC. Even the Texans could jump back into the playoff race if they can beat the Jets next week. All of these teams are good, and the Jets can't hope to beat any of them by scoring one touchdown a game.

Winning the last two road games has indeed helped put the Jets in a good position heading into the final month of the season. But close wins against lousy teams are also somewhat ominous. If the offense can't put more points on the board, the Jets will fall out of contention in the next few weeks.

***

There were two moments during the first half of the Giants' game against the Eagles yesterday that made you think Eli Manning had arrived as an NFL quarterback. Early in the first quarter, he hit rookie receiver Jamaar Taylor on a fly pattern for a 50-yard gain; midway through the second quarter, Manning connected with Taylor again for a 52-yard pass. Both throws showcased his deft passing touch and his ability to find an open receiver for a big play.

But on his other 45 plays under center, Manning played horribly, making an endless stream of mistakes that make you think that his learning curve may be steeper than everybody imagined.

On the first series, Manning was sacked and fumbled the ball. The Giants recovered, but the play knocked them out of field-goal range and squandered what had been a 56-yard drive. In the second quarter, Manning's pass to Jeremy Shockey was intercepted in the end zone, wasting another scoring opportunity. A solid running game helped the Giants move into the red zone three times in the first half, but Manning's inability to make a play left them with just two field goals to show for the effort and the team trailed 7-6 at halftime.

Of course, the Giants' woes should not be pinned solely on Manning. Big Blue didn't do a good job of picking up the blitz, which often left Manning with no time to throw. Receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard didn't manage to get open against what was mostly man-to-man coverage. After a solid first half, the defense gave up 20 unanswered points to let a close game get out of hand. There's no disputing the fact that Manning played poorly, but he didn't get much help from his teammates.

Lost in all of this was another strong performance by Tiki Barber, who notched his eighth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Hundred-yard games are usually the sign of a strong offense, but that clearly hasn't been the case for the Giants this season. They have now lost four in a row, dropping their record to 5-6 after starting the season 4-1.

The weakness of the NFC means they're still in playoff contention, but having played so poorly in November, it's unlikely that they'll be able to make the kind of dramatic turnaround that would be required to win eight or nine games.

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