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 EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Romeo Crennel got into a car and one of his daughters put a blindfold over his eyes. The Cleveland Browns coach was celebrating his 60th birthday and there was a surprise waiting for him.
``I said, 'Why do I need a blindfold?' and she said, 'It's because of your gift,''' Crennel recalled. ``I asked her, 'What is it? A car, and you can't get it in the house?' By that time, we were there and I got out of the car and heard voices. I said, 'There's a lot more voices here than family.' Then, I took the blindfold off and saw everybody.''
Crennel scanned the crowd and New York Jets coach Eric Mangini was among those celebrating the big day back in June.
``I don't know if he was disappointed or happy when he realized that it was just us,'' Mangini said with a chuckle.
Mangini and Crennel are good friends from their days as assistants under Bill Parcells with the Jets. This weekend marks the second time the two are squaring off as NFL head coaches.
``You know, he wasn't available when I tried to call,'' Mangini said. ``I don't know why. This is one week that he's out.''
Mangini was a defensive assistant while Crennel was the Jets' defensive line coach from 1997-99. Mangini followed Bill Belichick to New England in 2000, and Crennel joined the Patriots' staff a year later after a stint as Cleveland's defensive coordinator.
``He put in some late nights, I put in some late nights, and we would talk football and help each other through different projects,'' Crennel said. ``The friendship just kind of grew.''
Crennel and his wife, Rosemary, stayed with Mangini and his wife, Julie, for about six months when the Crennels were having a home built after Romeo took the job as New England's defensive coordinator.
``He's a good guy behind the scenes,'' Crennel said. ``He's fun-loving, he enjoys a good laugh and a good meal. He's like I am, and that's why we get along so well.''
While Crennel's Browns are in the midst of a playoff run and coming off a disappointing 27-21 loss at Arizona, the Jets (3-9) are hoping to finish with some respectability. New York might also have a little extra motivation. Last season, the Browns edged the Jets 20-13 when Chris Baker's one-handed catch in the end zone on fourth down was ruled out of bounds with just over a minute left. Replays showed he might have come down in bounds if he wasn't pushed out.
Coincidentally, the Browns lost on a similar play last weekend, when Kellen Winslow made a spectacular catch, but was ruled out of bounds in the final seconds.
``We want to finish out the season on a positive note,'' rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis said. ``If we win this game on Sunday, it's two in a row. We want to keep it positive and get wins.''
They've been difficult to come by this season, but the Jets have been playing better of late. They've won two of their last three, including 40-13 last week over winless Miami. New York's defense has played particularly well the last few weeks, with 13 sacks and forcing eight turnovers the last three games.
``We basically scaled it down,'' safety Kerry Rhodes said of the Jets' tweaks in the system during the bye week last month. ``The things that worked, we're doing. We've limited the playbook and tried to make people just play and not think about a lot of things.''
New York will have quite a bit to consider this weekend against Cleveland, though. The Browns are ranked sixth in overall offense, led by the emergence of quarterback Derek Anderson.
Anderson, a childhood rival of Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens in Oregon, opened the season as the Browns' backup, but became the starter in Week 2. He has been one of the league's best quarterbacks, putting up 3,062 yards and 24 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
``I try to keep plugging away and keep working every week, not really worry about what we've done or have ahead of us,'' Anderson said. ``I stay in the present and try not to get too worried about it. We have done some good things.''
Anderson has been helped by having one of the best wide receiver-tight end tandems in the league in Braylon Edwards (62 catches, 1,043 yards, 12 TDs) and Winslow (65, 909, 5). Jamal Lewis has also re-emerged as one of the NFL's most reliable running backs, rushing for 803 yards and eight touchdowns.
``His skill players are playing great,'' Rhodes said. ``He has a lot of weapons to choose from.''
The Jets' offense, which thrived against the Dolphins, might again have the opportunity to put up points against the Browns' last-ranked defense.
``The thing that concerns me is that we're not good,'' Crennel said. ``We're not good enough. Within the remaining games. we're going to work and try to get better.''
And just because they're buddies, Crennel doesn't think that makes it any easier to game-plan against Mangini.
``I think that I know some of the things that he likes to do, will try to do and will investigate going into the game, but we all grow and we learn every day and every year,'' Crennel said. ``It might not all be the same because we haven't been together for a while.''
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