For the Jets, It's New Plane

Times Staff Writer

Losses were piling up, heads were hanging and the New York Jet defensive players, major culprits in the team's 1-4 start, could barely face each other.

"We were embarrassed to look each other in the eye," safety Sam Garnes said. "That's when it's embarrassing, when we don't want to look each other in the eye, much less go outside. I didn't do any grocery shopping for a month. It's surprising I didn't lose any weight."

Less than three months later, the Jets are putting on the poundings. They notched their first postseason shutout in franchise history Saturday, rolling over the Indianapolis Colts with a 41-0 victory. It was the first time quarterback Peyton Manning had suffered a shutout in his five-year NFL career.

Manning, who is 0-3 in playoff games, looked confused. He changed almost every play at the line of scrimmage, sometimes two or three times, and occasionally had to burn timeouts to get teammates on the same page. The Jets had a similar effect on New England's Tom Brady and Green Bay's Brett Favre in the previous two weeks.

And, if Pittsburgh beats visiting Cleveland today, the Gang Green defense will try to outfox NFL most valuable player Rich Gannon in a showdown at Oakland. If Cleveland wins, New York plays at Tennessee.

"A lot of people said we wouldn't make it this far," defensive end John Abraham said. "A lot of people said we were going to be home right now. Now we're home and a lot of people are biting their tongues."

Chew on this flip-flop: The same Jets who in their first three losses were outscored, 102-13, have outscored their last three opponents, 113-34.

It wasn't as if they made dramatic changes to their defensive style or benched anyone. They went back to the fundamentals, tackled better, forced more turnovers.

"We did extra film study," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said. "And I kept telling the guys, 'Communicate on the sideline when you're not in. Talk to each other.' Because some of these guys were new to the scheme. 'If you see a play out there, talk about how we should stop it. Make a call, and start helping each other.' "

New York's dynamic offense has played a big part too. The points came in landslide fashion against the Colts, who faced a 24-0 deficit at halftime and never regrouped. Jet quarterback Chad Pennington threw three touchdown passes, bringing his total to 10 in the last three games -- with no interceptions.

"He's the MVP of this team," receiver Wayne Chrebet said. "I was talking to him before the game and told him we had nothing to lose, we're not supposed to be here. We're on an awesome roll, just point us in the right direction. And that's what he did."

The Jets have been spectacularly effective inside the opponent's 20-yard line during the last two-plus months. Since Oct. 20, they have scored on 44 of 46 trips into the red zone, coming up empty only when a field-goal attempt was blocked at Oakland, and they let the clock run out on another drive.

Pennington completed 19 of 25 passes for 222 yards Saturday, and his quarterback rating was a gaudy 142.0. In his 12 games as the starter, his rating has never dipped below a respectable 80.3.

Manning can't say the same. Two of his passes were intercepted, and his passer rating sagged to 31.2. His Colts were outgained, 396 yards to 176, and they had only 10 first downs to New York's 26. Moreover, his streak of playoff futility continued.

"It doesn't really matter what I say right now," he said. "I'm a pretty wide-open target, and I'm sure the articles are already written and the shots are going to be fired. All I can do is sit here and take it. I certainly would have like to have played better and helped my team out more."

There was plenty of blame to go around. Edgerrin James gained 14 yards in nine carries -- a feeble 1.6 yards a pop -- and several receivers dropped passes. Marvin Harrison, who set an NFL record with 143 catches, disappeared for long stretches and finished with four receptions for 47 yards.

"Everything we did today, they had a plan for or did better," Harrison said. "They just came out and outplayed us."

Jet running back LaMont Jordan led all rushers with 102 yards in 20 carries, and Curtis Martin added 67 in 15 carries. Pennington spread the ball around, completing passes to nine players, including five to Santana Moss. The Jets controlled the ball for 40:18, more than two-thirds of the game, and the Colt defense showed the wear and tear.

"Everyone was watching," Indianapolis linebacker Mike Peterson said. "My mama was watching. I got embarrassed in front of my mama. You don't like to get embarrassed in front of your own people."

Of all people, the Jets can understand.

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