Late December is said to be the most wonderful time of the year and if you happen to be a Jets fan, this statement couldn't be more accurate. The Jets are coming off of their eighth win of the season and with two games remaining on the schedule, they are in the thick of things for a spot in the AFC playoffs.
After upending the Vikings 26-13 on the road Sunday, head coach Eric Mangini admits that this is a special time on the football calendar.
"We're all excited about playing in these games," Mangini said. "This is a great opportunity after the hard work that we've put in throughout the season and the progress that we've made throughout the season. This is what you want - to be playing meaningful games late in the season. This is that opportunity."
With an 8-6 record, the Green & White are currently tied with Jacksonville and Denver for the second AFC Wild Card slot. The Bengals, who lost Monday night at the Colts, dropped to 8-6 as well to even up the heated race. The division title isn't out of reach either as two Jets wins complimented by a late season hiccup by the Patriots would give the Jets their first AFC East championship since 2002.
But with two weeks remaining in the '06 season, the Jets remain focused on their work ahead. With a Christmas night win in Miami next Monday followed by a regular season finale victory over the Raiders on New Year's Eve, the Jets could earn an invitation to postseason play.
"If we just take care of the games that we can take care of, then everything else will take care of itself," said Mangini Monday afternoon. "That hasn't changed and it won't change. We need to just focus on the Dolphins and take care of that, and let all the other games fall where they may."
It's well-documented that Mangini's resume is decorated with much postseason experience and success, but none of which has ever come from individual efforts. Just like the game itself, when it comes to coaching a successful team - cooperation and teamwork are vital.
"It's the whole staff together," Mangini said. "What we talked about early on in putting the staff together, all adding ideas, challenging each other intellectually, disagreeing but not being disagreeable."
The Jets again displayed a prepared unit in their dismantling of the Vikings. Coaches assembled a sound game plan, and then the players went out and executed.
"I think (the coaches) each week come up with a plan that attacks weakness, minimizes strengths, plays to our strengths and is very creative," Mangini said. "The shifting, the motioning, the formation, the multiple personnel groups, all those different things I think have been very important for our success.
"The coaches are pretty well tapped out in terms of time they spend here; they've been pretty maximized," he added. "I like to think that the players have gotten to a really good level of preparation and that we've been there for a while."
With a positive atmosphere and a determined group of players and staff members, the focus now has already shifted to Miami.
"The most important thing that we all need to understand is all that excitement needs to be focused and pushed towards our preparation and week of practice for Miami," said Mangini. "It's one of those things where it's exciting and everybody recognizes that. Now the key thing is just to generate that enthusiasm or to focus that enthusiasm and excitement towards the task at hand."