Two teams - two different paths

Let's flash back to about 12 months ago. The calendar year 2006 was just beginning, but for the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets, regimes were ending after disappointing 4-12 seasons for both teams.

In Oakland, Norv Turner was fired after only two years on the job, once again proving that as a head coach, he's a good offensive coordinator. In New York, Herm Edwards wanted his contract renegotiated and extended after five seasons, in which he took the Jets to the playoffs three times. But owner Woody Johnson had become tired of Edwards' constant negotiating through the media, and chose to let him bolt to Kansas City.

But the teams went in opposite directions in filling their vacancies.

Oakland owner Al Davis, trying desperately to resurrect catchphrases such as "pride and poise" and "commitment to excellence," hired former Raider great Art Shell, who already had one tour of duty as Raiders' coach from 1989-94, when they were based in Los Angeles.

Jets' owner Woody Johnson chose the opposite tack, hiring an unproven assistant from a proven system. Eric Mangini, who turned 35 in Jan. 2006, had never been a head coach at any level, and had only one year as a coordinator under New England coach Bill Belichick.

Since those respective decisions, the two teams still are heading in opposite directions as they prepare to meet in their regular-season finale Sunday at Giants Stadium.

Oakland (2-13) doesn't have a road victory, has lost eight consecutive games overall and has only 12 offensive touchdowns. Shell flip-flopped offensive coordinator Tom Walsh and tight ends coach John Shoop two days after a 21-14 loss at San Diego, but the change hasn't helped. The Raiders are still the worst in the NFL in both scoring offense and total offense, and are averaging 11.0 points per game in their four games under Shoop, exactly what they were averaging under Walsh's guidance.

All of these failures have led to rampant rumors about Shell's job security, including a report by the NFL Network that a source within the organization said that Shell would be fired after the end of the season. In recent days, Shell has repeatedly said, "I am the head coach of the Raiders until I am otherwise informed."

Mangini, meanwhile, will garner serious support for NFL Coach of the Year accolades as the Jets (9-6) have responded quite well to his interesting mixture of discipline, motivation and a cerebral, ever-changing approach to game-planning.

Unlike veteran taskmaster Tom Coughlin, who appears to have lost the players in the Giants' locker room, Mangini's firm hand hasn't yet turned off his team, perhaps because he often will throw in a small dash of humanity to make it palatable.

For instance, when the stocky Mangini found out that often-outspoken wide receiver Laveranues Coles had nicknamed him "The Penguin," instead of bristling, he showed he could take a joke by showing some penguin footage at a team meeting.

And despite Mangini working the Jets harder in training camp than previous coach Herm Edwards ever dreamed of, they haven't wilted down the stretch, and have won four of their last five games.

"Everyone was on board," linebacker Jonathan Vilma recalled. "It was just a matter of getting used to a new offense, a new defense and new coordinators. We all have the same objective in mind and that is to win. When you have a bunch of guys that just want to win, you can take anything. You can take the good and the bad, just move on and go forward."

And if the Jets win, they'll move forward again. This time, into the playoffs.

"We're excited to be in the position that we're in, but we know that there's work to be done," said quarterback Chad Pennington. "It's not a game where we can sit back and rest on our laurels and expect things to happen. It's a game where we have to go get it. We have to go get this thing done and get it accomplished."

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