EAST RUTHERFORD – They call it a trap game. Or a hammock tilt. Or, in some circles, a flat spot. "This was a sandwich game," cornerback Ray Mickens said, going to the sports thesaurus, "and we were the meat in the sandwich."
So how did Edwards make sure the Jets didn't get bitten? By letting his players talk turkey among themselves. "I was just going to change it up," Edwards said. "I told them whatever was going to be said was good."
After Edwards and his assistant coaches left the hotel meeting room Saturday night, the usual Jets opinion leaders — Curtis Martin and Vinny Testaverde for the offense, Mo Lewis for the D, and Chris Hayes for the specialists — addressed the team. And it was good. The Jets took care of their hunger for a complete game and another home win and a triumph for Edwards over Dick Vermeil, his often teary-eyed mentor, by thumping the Chiefs, 27-7.
You'd swear all was right with the Jets' world. They are 6-3, same as last year but this time heading in the right direction. They trail the Dolphins by a half-game in the AFC East and can take over sole possession of first place with a win over their fishy friends in Miami next week.
"It's a one o'clock game," said defensive end Shaun Ellis, "but it could be in prime time." But not everyone in the Jets locker room was ready to declare this the first "complete" victory of the Edwards era. Foremost among the dissenters was the coach himself. "We won, but it was still ugly," Edwards said. "We don't know how to win any other way." "We feel like the Shrek of the league," Curtis Martin added. "We're the big green monster who's winning ugly."
The Jets' inferiority complex comes from observers who have proclaimed many of their five previous victories flawed. But Gang Green on Sunday was no fluke. On offense they mixed old reliable Martin's three rushing touchdowns and 113 yards with Wayne Chrebet's return to third-down king status, at least for one half. That led to 22 first downs, their most under coordinator Paul Hackett, and their third straight game with at least 33 minutes of possession time.
"Wayne's contribution today was dramatic," said Hackett, "and part of that was we got him the chance to get the ball, like we did last week." "Everybody kind of fit into their roles again, the way we used to," said Chrebet, who caught six passes for 67 yards, three for third-down conversions, before landing hard on his left shoulder in the third quarter and watching the rest of the game from the sideline. The shoulder isn't dislocated, but Chrebet said it was "really stiff" and his status again is up in the air. Edwards also hit his stride with the two most successful fourth-down calls of his young coaching tenure.
The first came on a first-quarter fake punt on which Tom Tupa hit long-snapper James Dearth with the first reception of his NFL career for a first down at the Chiefs 28. Martin frittered that opportunity away by putting a Testaverde pitch on the ground for his second lost fumble in two games. But he atoned a quarter later by bursting off the left side of his line, faking safety Greg Wesley out of his athletic gear and nearly into a broken ankle, and scoring unscathed for a 25-yard TD and a 14-0 halftime lead. The offense's 174 rushing yards were foreseeable against the Chiefs' soft run defense.
The real question was how the Jets' maligned but improving defense would fare against redeemed running back Priest Holmes and inconsistent QB Trent Green. The answer: quite well. Holmes, the league's second-leading rusher behind Martin, was checked for 71 yards on 18 carries, and Green, stripped by injury of most of his weapons except for tight end Tony Gonzalez, was harried into three interceptions and a botched handoff, which produced 17 of the Jets' points. "We're not mad," said defensive end John Abraham, who had 1 1/2 more sacks to give him nine in nine games, plus a bull-rush pressure that produced Victor Green's second-quarter interception.
"But it's kind of like some strange things happened and we've got to let go. We know what kind of team we have." On Sunday, that kind of team produced the largest lead — 27-0 after John Hall's second field goal — and the largest victory margin of the season. All in time for Edwards' reunion with the man who first brought him to the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent cornerback in 1977. "Before the game we just talked about how far we'd come, we'd grown as men, and we were really going to enjoy this competition," Edwards said of the reunion that took place at the Giants Stadium 26-yard line — the spot where he picked up "The Fumble" against the Giants in 1978. "And afterward, he said he was proud of me." "I congratulate Herman Edwards and the Jets," said Vermeil, who clearly was not proud of his own effort or that of his players as he inserted some profanity into his postgame comments. "As I just told the squad, starting with the head coach, they kicked everybody's butt."
And Edwards was more than happy to let his Jets and their play supply the narration. "Herm didn't do a whole lot of talking," said corner Marcus Coleman of the Saturday night silent treatment. "He was a player, so he understands you don't have to talk all the time. We control our own destiny, so I think we're in a pretty good spot. Whatever happens throughout the season, it's all on us." Not many outsiders were saying that after the rout by St. Louis. But suddenly, the Jets appear to be selling tickets for the bandwagon.