It's safe to assume the best is yet to come for the New York Jets. In the Eric Mangini era, the Jets have been a better football team following their bye weeks.
"In past years, we've been great after the bye," said safety Kerry Rhodes of his team's recent history after brief respites. "If everything rolls like it has in the past, it can be good for us."
Last season the Green & White went a modest 3-4 in seven post-bye outings. But they started 2007 with just one win in their first nine contests. And their finest performance last season — a 19-16 overtime home win over the Steelers on Nov. 18, which featured a 117-yard rushing day from Thomas Jones and seven sacks of Ben Roethlisberger — came after a Week 10 rest.
In Mangini's rookie head coaching campaign, the '06 Jets gained entry to the postseason because they posted a 6-2 post-bye mark. The most memorable victory in Mangini's tenure came immediately following the off-week as they went to New England and downed the Pats, 17-14, in a beautiful Foxboro quagmire.
So what is Mangini's magic formula?
"The thing that I stress to the players is the importance of going back and looking at things individually," said the third-year head coach. "So first starting with yourself, being brutally honest and saying, 'What can I improve, and have I worked on those things that I need to improve? Am I where I should be at this point, and if not, how can I get there?' "
This self-examination could prove to be coming at a critical juncture even though there is plenty of football to be played. At the quarter mark, the Jets are 2-2 and are not void of blemishes. Last week a frank Brett Favre — the NFL's top-ranked passer — appeared on a newyorkjets.com radio broadcast and said the record is "not acceptable."
The Jets don't think of themselves as a .500 club and they'll get their chance to go north of midland for a second time this season when the winless Cincinnati Bengals pay the Meadowlands a visit. But before the coaching staff reviewed any Bengals film, they went through a self-scout with the players.
"Unless you're objective and you're honest, then you don't make much progress," Mangini said.
Even though the Jets forced seven Cardinal takeaways in Week 4, Kurt Warner passed for 472 yards and Arizona scored 35 second-half points as they played catchup football and moved rather easily up and down the field.
"The last game we played, we had some trouble in the secondary," Rhodes said. "We didn't finish off some plays, so I'm sure they're looking at film and saying they have a good chance to be productive. But off the bye, hopefully we rectified what we had to get done and we'll go from there."
The Bengals are averaging only 14.8 points per game, but they still have some talented people at the skill positions, including QB Carson Palmer and wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"Our defense has their hands full. They come off playing Anquan Boldin and [Larry] Fitzgerald and they have to turn around and have to play Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh," said wide receiver Laveranues Coles. "I'll tell you what — you have your work cut out for you. I don't think I would ever want to be a defensive coordinator and have to face those two tandems back-to-back."
The Jets have a pretty good tandem themselves with Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Of Favre's career-high six scoring passes against the Cardinals, three went to LC and two went to J-Co. More games like that and Coles won't get his wish of remaining out of the spotlight.
"I don't want any props for anything we do," he said today. "Give all the praise to Jerricho and the other guys. But me personally, I like flying under the radar."
The Bengals are now on the Jets' radar. If they look past Cincinnati, they'll lose because the NFL has entered an era where the margin for error is slimmer than ever. After just five weeks, no AFC East team has a losing record. The Bills used a fast start to get to 4-1, the Matt Cassel-led Pats are 3-1 and the Dolphins are 2-2 after convincing wins over the Patriots and Chargers.
"It doesn't matter records, it doesn't matter what happened last week, last season or whatever," Rhodes said. "You can turn things around in a hurry in this league."
So expect a better Jets product in the weeks ahead. They hope another post-bye surge will have them playing deep into January.
"The coaches look at what we've done and they try to come up with stuff we need to get better at and improve on," Coles said. "From there as a player, you try to take it and try to apply it."