|Coaches insist Spygate won't affect Jets-Patriots rematch|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 13 December 2007 15:33|
New England's partisans don't always wait for the game to begin to start taunting their opponents, and Sunday's return of the Spygate snitch, Eric Mangini, should fire them up even more.
``They get you on Route 1 about 4 miles before you even get to the stadium,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``It's kind of like a parade. They know what the visiting buses are. They get you early and they escort you all the way into the stadium.''
They'll come equipped with parkas, gloves and perhaps some videocameras to mock the Jets for turning the Patriots into the NFL for taping New York's sideline in violation of NFL rules in the season opener at the Meadowlands.
That cost Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 and its 2008 first-round draft choice. But in a season in which little has gone wrong - the Patriots are 13-0 with a very good shot at going 16-0 - even that wasn't as harmful as it might have been; they still have San Francisco's first-round pick, which should be a very good one.
Belichick stood firm against questions about the taping just as his defense has been very tough to crack.
He was asked repeatedly about the impact of New York's complaint to the NFL on Sunday's rematch on what may be a windy and snowy day. And, repeatedly, he said it was just another game - even though a win would guarantee home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
``We're focused on the New York Jets,'' he said in one variation on the theme. ``That's all I'm focused on. And I'm happy to talk about that, and that's really about the extent of it.''
Others, though, see it as having personal overtones.
One oddsmaker even invited wagers on whether Belichick and Mangini, his former defensive coordinator, would shake hands after the game.
``The handshakes and the high-fives and all that,'' Belichick said, ``right now my attention is on the New York Jets.''
And Mangini's is on the Patriots. With a 3-10 record, ending the Patriots' run at an undefeated season would be especially satisfying.
But, like his mentor Belichick, he wouldn't put more importance on a single game.
``Winning every week is important to us and it's no different this week in a sense that this is a division opponent that's won the division quite a few years now,'' Mangini said. ``All the external things are things you can't focus on and can't look at because there's so much other work to do that's going to affect the outcome.''
And some factors, like the weather, the coaches can't do much about.
If the wind howls and the snow falls, the Tom Brady-Randy Moss combination could suffer, stalling Moss' run at Jerry Rice's single-season record of 22 touchdown catches. He needs four to break it. And that might force the Patriots to rely more on a mediocre running game.
In their last two games, they've allowed Baltimore's Willis McGahee and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker to rush for more than 100 yards. Last Sunday, New York's Thomas Jones ran for 106 yards in a 24-18 loss to Cleveland.
``If you run the ball for 1,000 yards and we still win, guess what?'' Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. ``They go home losers and we go home winners.''
The Jets will have to keep up with a Patriots offense averaging 38.7 points that needs just 54 in the last three games to set a single-season NFL scoring record.
``We are obviously aware of it,'' New York quarterback Kellen Clemens said. ``But we're not going to have what New England has done in the past or what they are doing on Sunday, offensively, in the back of our mind.''
The Patriots are favored in the 24-point range. Considering they've won five games by at least that much, it's not an outlandish margin.
In fact, in the teams' first meeting this season, New England won 38-14.
And, whether they'll admit it or not, the Patriots have the added incentive of trying to beat the team that caught them cheating and complained about it.
Not that Brady will ever admit it.
``I hate it when people say, `Well, this one is really going to mean something,' `` he said, ``like the other 13 (games) didn't mean anything?''
This one can keep the Patriots unbeaten heading into their next-to-last game against winless Miami. They finish at the New York Giants on Dec. 29, almost certainly their only game away from home from Dec. 9 until the Super Bowl, if they get there.
The weather was a factor last season when the Jets beat the Patriots 17-14 on a muddy field on a rainy Sunday in Foxborough. But on a calmer day there, the Patriots prevailed 37-16 in a wild-card playoff game.
No matter what the weather, the fans should be just as loud. And, if you're the Jets, abusive.
Belichick doesn't think it's much different for his team when it travels. He couldn't say where he got the harshest reception.
``I haven't ranked them,'' he said. ``I don't think any team is very popular on the road - or coach, for that matter.''
Even Belichick has given him the cold shoulder after each of their three meetings last season.
That exchange, certain to draw a cluster of cameras to midfield, might be even chillier this time considering the videotaping flap.
But, Mangini said, it's just another handshake.
``I don't expect to do anything outside the norm that I do every game with every head coach that I play against,'' he said.