Tougher test awaits Jets

New York visits Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional round Saturday.


Published: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2005 at 1:15 a.m.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - Jets coach Herman Edwards trudged to his news conference Sunday afternoon, looking exhausted but somehow feeling rejuvenated.
Hours earlier, he watched his team win a game with more drama than Broadway. They survived a late roughing-the-passer penalty, a missed San Diego field goal and a sideline spat between Edwards and an assistant in a bizarre game that ended in a 20-17 overtime victory.
It was all Edwards wanted: a win after ending the regular-season on a slide, quieting doubters who said they backed into the playoffs. But can the momentum continue? Another tough test awaits Saturday, at Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional round.
"Everyone's tired right now but the playoffs give you a shot of energy," Edwards said. "I think our guys understood that when we pulled up in San Diego. I said, 'Guys, this is a different atmosphere. Things have changed.' We walked into the stadium. It was electric in there."
To recap: The Jets blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, and nearly imploded on the sideline but ended up winning their first road playoff game in 22 years.
Eric Barton had the bonehead move of the game when he was flagged for roughing-the-passer on a play that would have given the Jets a victory in regulation. Edwards and running backs coach Bishop Harris nearly came to blows late in the third quarter, and fullback Jerald Sowell had to restrain the two.
Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal in overtime to help Barton redeem himself, and Doug Brien nailed the game-winner with 5 seconds left in the extra period to win it.
Edwards said everything was fine with Harris but declined to discuss why the argument started, saying, "The other side came out of me, the side that I have in me at times. It shocked a lot of people to see."
It also might have shocked some people to see the Jets win. Now perhaps beating the AFC West champions can give the Jets another shot in the arm against the Steelers.
"Just winning this game is going to give us another level of confidence going into next week," NFL rushing champion Curtis Martin said after the game. "It makes our goal more of a reality. We took the next step closer. The guys in the locker room were fired up about it. I think it will translate into the way we practice this week, and the way we play next week."
They are going to need Martin and Chad Pennington at their best. Pennington had one of his worst games of the season in the first meeting with Pittsburgh on Dec. 12, throwing three interceptions to finish with a quarterback rating of 33.6 in a 17-6 loss.
"Obviously I didn't play well the last time we played Pittsburgh, so those questions will be asked again," Pennington said. "We'll handle those things and go up there ready to play."
Granted, he was in his second game back after missing three with a strained right rotator cuff.
Pennington had his best performance since the injury against the Chargers, going 23-of-33 for 279 yards with two touchdowns, including a beautiful 47-yarder to Santana Moss.
Even Edwards noticed a different Pennington.
"I saw it during the course of the week, his confidence, his air about what he wanted to do and not trying to be so perfect," Edwards said. "Just throw it and don't worry about it, and just go have fun. I had a feeling he was going to play well."
Edwards also was pleased with the game offensive coordinator Paul Hackett called. Hackett, the subject of criticism all year, opened up the passing game and sprinkled in more plays for LaMont Jordan. It was Jordan who had one of the biggest gains of the day, getting 19 yards around left end to put the Jets in field-goal range for the winner.
The Jets played without defensive end John Abraham and receiver Wayne Chrebet, but both are probable for the Steelers game. Edwards said he probably will make a game-time decision on Abraham, who has missed five games with a sprained right knee, but anticipates Chrebet will play.
They are going to need all their players to have a shot against the Steelers. Edwards knows the terrible towels will be waving and the fans will be loud. But he knows what to expect. So does his team. And so do the Steelers and Bill Cowher, who figured they would see the Jets again at some point.
"After the game I visited with Bill. He said we'll probably see each other down the road," Edwards said. "So I guess we are going to see each other down the road."

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