With baseball races heating up, it's an appropriate time to quote that Bard of the Diamond, Yogi Berra.
Of the October shadows in left field at Yankee Stadium, he once said, "It gets late early out there."
Just as it often does in the NFL. Start off 0-3 and playoff hopes can become dim before the leaves even turn. And that's the situation the Jets and Dolphins will find themselves in when they renew their longstanding rivalry at the Meadowlands this Sunday.
After losses to New England and Baltimore, the Jets are 0-2. Miami has the same record after defeats to Washington and Dallas.
So logic would say that this game means more than the usual Week 3 matchup, because both teams are trying to avoid falling into the 0-3 abyss. Only once in their history have the Jets rebounded from an 0-3 start to make the postseason. That was in 1981, when they allowed 100 points in their first three games but only lost twice after that.
But the Jets are using the same even-keel approach that has been a hallmark of the Eric Mangini regime.
"We still have a lot of football to play," wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. "Everybody knows that we have work to do. All you can do is work hard and try to execute the game plan as best as you can in the upcoming week and hope for the best."
Coles scoffed at the idea that the Jets are facing a must-win game at this point in the season.
"One game isn't going to make it or break it for us," Coles said. "I've heard of a must-win game when it's the end of the season and you're trying to get into the playoffs. I've never heard of it in September."
The Jets obviously hope to get Chad Pennington back for this one after the quarterback sat out the Baltimore game because of an injured right ankle.
"Every game, I want to be out there," Pennington said. "I've experienced being on the sideline before with injuries and that's a horrible feeling because you can't help. You can't help your teammates physically or mentally on the field and that's where it counts the most."
Pennington said he was "ready to go" for the Baltimore game, although Mangini decided to exercise caution and start Kellen Clemens instead. Pennington looked much better in the Jets' first practice this week and figures to start against Miami.
Coles said the fact that both teams are 0-2 doesn't raise the stakes of this intense rivalry.
"Anytime that we play the Dolphins," said Coles, who suffered an apparent concussion when the teams played last December, "I don't care if we're 0-10 and they're 0-10, it's going to be a good game because that's the way the Jets and Dolphins play each other. We always have good games because we've known each other for a long time. It's always going to be a good game when we play the Dolphins. You know that you have to be ready to play."
-- Chad Pennington looked much better in practice Wednesday. Pennington walked without a limp and it seems as if he's on track to start against Miami on Sunday, barring a setback. He was the No. 2 quarterback at Baltimore and didn't play.
Before practice, Pennington said he was "making progress and I feel really good about the situation. ... My goal is to be available (to play Sunday). I'm going to prepare just like I always prepare and work just as hard as I always have worked. ... I'll leave the decision up to Coach" Eric Mangini.
Mangini said Wednesday that he would make the "final decision" on whether Pennington starts. "We're ahead of where we were last week, obviously," Mangini added, referring to Pennington's physical condition.
-- Mangini said that he spoke to Baltimore coach Brian Billick on the phone Tuesday. Billick had accused the Jets' defenders of calling out fake snap counts Sunday to lure the Ravens into false-start penalties.
"We had a good conversation," Mangini said. "It was important for me to talk to him and make sure that we didn't have a misunderstanding. We don't coach things that cause penalties. ... I feel very comfortable with where we are in the situation and the people that I know throughout the league."
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma also denied the allegations. "We've got too much to worry about to try to make a dummy call to draw them offsides," said Vilma, who usually is responsible for calling the defensive signals. "I know we don't do it."
-- WR Laveranues Coles said there were "no hard feelings" between him and Zach Thomas over a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Coles out of the Christmas night game last season.
"He came up to me after the game and apologized," said Coles.
-- The Jets placed 2006 Pro Bowl kickoff returner Justin Miller (knee) on injured reserve. Miller suffered the injury when he was tackled by Baltimore's Gary Stills on a kickoff return. Leon Washington and Brad Smith likely will get the bulk of the returns. "Everybody has to pick up the slack and come in and help," Smith said.
"I like some of the things that Brad did in the preseason as a kickoff returner," Mangini said, and added that Washington "has really made strides from last season both as a punt and a kickoff returner."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Jets still haven't straightened out their left guard situation after trading away disgruntled veteran Pete Kendall late in training camp. Third-year pro Adrien Clarke has started the first two games while sixth-round draft pick Jacob Bender has been inactive. Bender played left tackle in college for run-oriented Nicholls State. Clarke allowed one sack against Baltimore and the Jets have signed second-year pro Will Montgomery, a guard-center who was released by Carolina. Don't be surprised if he competes for the starting spot at left guard.
Rookie Darrelle Revis is entrenched already as one of the starting cornerbacks. Andre Dyson (foot) returned to action in the second game of the season, but only played in extra-DB situations. But he could reclaim a starting spot from David Barrett, who has started the first two games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
-- Jets WR Laveranues Coles vs. Dolphins CB Will Allen: No matter who's been in the Dolphins secondary, or what uniform he's worn, Coles has done well against Miami. He had five receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns when the Jets faced the Dolphins at home in 2006, and had one touchdown catch in his prior three games against Miami, including one when he was a Redskin. His two-catch, nine-yard effort on Christmas night last year was due to bad weather and an apparent concussion suffered on a hit by Zach Thomas.
-- Dolphins WR Chris Chambers vs. Jets CB Darrelle Revis: Chambers' 15 receptions through two games puts him in a tie for sixth in the NFL in that category. With the Miami running game still sputtering, the Dolphins likely will go to the air often against a Jets defense still without a sack or an interception. This might be the week that an opponent tests rookie CB Darrelle Revis, whom nobody has tried to pick on yet.
Jets LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Dolphins RDE Jason Taylor: Taylor, the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, had two sacks in two games against the Jets last season, one in each game. Ferguson improved his performance against Baltimore after allowing a sack on opening day that injured Pennington, but this will be a huge test for the second-year pro.
CB-KR Justin Miller (knee) is out for the season, which means that Leon Washington and Brad Smith will become the Jets' primary kickoff returners. Miller's loss won't have as much impact on defense, as the Jets are well stocked at cornerback. Pennington (ankle) is expected to return to action, but if Kellen Clemens had to play, the Jets probably wouldn't scale the game plan back that much after his strong fourth-quarter performance against Baltimore.