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The Crash of the Green Comet

In the second-to-last episode ever of the Sopranos ("The Blue Comet," originally aired on June 3, 2007), Tony, who’s world appeared to be falling apart, and Carmela are dining at Nuovo Vesuvio when Tony’s friend Artie Bucco (the restaurant’s owner for those who didn’t watch the show) drops by the table and slyly whispers that at a nearby table is “Mangenius,” a.k.a Eric Mangini, the rookie wunder-kid head coach of the New York Jets, fresh off a playoff appearance in his first season as a head coach. An impressed Tony, probably happy for a distraction, saunters over to the table to share some kind words, and maybe some dieting tips with the gridiron guru.
No one realized it at the time, but Tony and Eric swapped fortunes. While Tony would survive (as far as the on-screen action would show us a week later), the coaching career of Mangini was at its peak in the summer of 2007. A 4-12 run in later that year and a devastating final month of 2008 could cause Mangini’s Jets tenure to cut to black.
Two spectacular road wins over their archrival New England Patriots and the previously unbeaten Tennessee Titans put the Jets at 8-3, in first place in the AFC East, and had Jets fans planning their Super Bowl trips to Tampa. One extremely lucky win and three frustrating losses later have the Jets at 9-6, third in the AFC East, and needing the same Buffalo Bills that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Meadowlands to keep the Jets season afloat to knock off the Patriots, while the Jets need to dispatch of Chad Pennington’s high-flying Miami Dolphins to get into the playoffs.
But the win over the Bills, and losses to the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have exposed the Mangenius as an average boy, the same one the picked up tees for Bill Belichick in Cleveland, looking lost on the sidelines.
Teams figured out how to beat the Jets, and the Jets never made an adjustment. They just made the same mistakes over and over again. On offense, the play calling of Brett Schottenheimer never seemed to match the situation. Against the Seahawks, why call for a down-field pass into double-coverage on a fourth-and-four play? Leon Washington, one of the NFL’s most dynamic players, rarely touched the ball, accumulating only 17 touches (seven runs, 10 catches) over the last four games. Isn't this a player you want to get the ball to once a series, instead of just four times in a game? We know Brett Favre is a few years Mangini’s senior, but can’t the coach pull his QB aside after one of those ridiculous, off-his-back-foot, across-his-body, the-receiver-has-no-idea the-ball-is-coming-to-him-interceptions, and tell him to use his head, and he should know better?
It gets worse on the other side of the ball. Below-average backups Shaun Hill, J.P. Losman and Seneca Wallace look elite when they don’t face a pass-rush. It never looks like the Jets try anything new with their 3-4, which is designed to decieve quarterbacks and offensive lines so they don’t know where the extra rushers are coming from, but doesn’t work if you only send three each time. The lack of a pass rush gives receiver plenty of time to scramble, break routes, and put plenty of space between themselves and the Jets defensive backs, hauling in reception after reception, and keeping the tired Jets D on the field.
You can blame the players for not playing up to their potential and wearing down, but when the entire team fails to learn from and correct their mistakes, that is the fault of the coach. When the entire team can’t handle a cross-country flight, something is wrong with the leadership. Mangini never adjusts a game plan at halftime, never gets in a player’s face after a bad play, and never shows any fire on the sidelines or in front of a microphone. He just stands there, stoically looking on like the captain of a sinking ship, wondering where that iceberg came from and why his feet are soaking wet.
There is not any evidence of the Jets play over the past month to suggest they can beat the Dolphins on Sunday. At least with the Baltimore Ravens hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars in the late afternoon means the Jets will still be alive at kickoff. The crowd will be calling for Mangini’s head at the first sign of trouble. Every Jets fan knows how ugly the fan base can get when things turn sour, and the dashed expectation of 2008 are as bitter a pill Jets fans have had to swallow in a long time. If the Jets can’t become the team that overcame their mistakes against the Patriots and knocked around the unbeaten Titans, Mangini could be riding the Blue Comet alongside Bobby Bacala. If there is any genius hiding in the man, he better show it Sunday. If not, it’ll be the end for Little-Boy-Eric.
Jason Levy


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