Tom Brady's season is done in New England but that doesn't mean the New York Jets are celebrating and ordering AFC East Champions T-shirts.
"Bill [Belichick] is extremely good at keeping everybody focused and identifying the things that you need to do that week to be successful," Jets head coach Eric Mangini, who served as a defensive assistant under Belichick from 2001-05, said at his news conference today.
Moments before the Patriots announced Brady would go on season-ending injured reserve this afternoon, Mangini praised the NFL's 2007 MVP.
"He is unique in the way, over time and the amount of success he's had, he's never changed," Mangini said. "He's always been incredibly gracious to me and my family as we moved here to the Jets.
"Obviously he's a tremendous player. I don't know what the status is in regard to his injury, but you never want to see anybody have any sort of injury. I have nothing but great things to say about him."
Following Mangini's news conference, four Jets — Eric Barton, Brandon Moore, Chris Baker and Darrelle Revis — also expressed genuine concern for a man who has given the Jets fits since taking the Patriots' offensive controls in '01.
"It's sad that it happened to such a great player and I wish him well," Barton said.
"You don't like to see anyone get hurt," said Moore. "There's a lot of work that goes into it and to see it all end on one play. I hate seeing injuries to players. It's not fun."
The Jets play host to the Patriots on Sunday and New England will go with a quarterback in Matt Cassel who hasn't started a game since his senior year at Chatsworth (Calif.) High School.
"I've seen him a little bit in the preseason and a little bit yesterday," Barton said of Cassel. "It looks like he is a strong-armed kid who's smart with the football. He doesn't make very many mistakes, but most Patriots players don't."
Cassel, who backed up both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern Cal, was a seventh-round pick of the Patriots in 2005. The 6'4", 230-pounder played effectively in Sunday's win over the Chiefs, hitting 13 of 18 for 152 yards and a 10-yard scoring pass to Randy Moss.
"I know the quarterback position is different, but one of the things Bill and the staff have always been able to do is to create a plan to win the game that week and to overcome those things," said Mangini, who also referred to the Pats offense as "loaded."
The Jets have the utmost respect for Brady's talent, but they know there is more to their division rivals than their star.
"I don't think one piece missing will be a huge difference. I think Bill Belichick does a good job preparing them," Moore said. "And if they can be more prepared, they'll be more prepared this game."
Barton took time to remind reporters that the Patriots rebounded nicely the last time they lost a big name quarterback to injury. Seven years ago, Jets LB Mo Lewis knocked Drew Bledsoe out of commission and Brady went on to start 128 consecutive games.
"He's a great player, but the Patriots are the Patriots and they're going to adjust," Barton said.
It's safe to assume Moss will remain a major part of the game plan. After amassing 23 touchdowns and 1,493 receiving yards a year ago, he caught six balls against KC for 116 yards.
"They still are the team. The backup quarterback, Cassel, stepped up and did a great job yesterday," Revis said. "They still have deep threats. They still have Randy Moss, they still have Wesley Welker. We still have to prepare for them whether if Tom is playing or not."
The Patriots are coming to town and they're still the Patriots minus Brady. They've taken nine of the past 10 in the series and seven straight at the Meadowlands against the Jets, and that's because they've assembled a pretty good team up north.
"Obviously it's a tough break for them and really for the league, too, because he's such a commodity to the entire league," Baker said. "But at the same time, we just have to go out and try to do our best and keep focus on what we have to do."
And the Jets were going to be focused on this one regardless. While pundits say the door is now open in the AFC East and the conference, the Jets never thought they couldn't challenge the Brady-led Pats and compete for a division championship and beyond.
"What I'm saying is I don't think we went into the year thinking that that wasn't a possibility," Mangini said.