Jets need to step up

ROB LONGLEY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

It didn't take long for the early-season rantings of Raptors coach Sam Mitchell to become tired and predictable. Different sport, different message but otherwise the same roll-your-eyes reaction for New York Jets coach Herm Edwards.

Rather than chew out players, Edwards has played the woe-is-us card, a tune amplified in the leadup to tonight's AFC wild-card clash with the San Diego Chargers.

"It's official, we get to go," Edwards said smugly this week, holding out up a letter from the NFL for the assembled media to see.

"They only send out 12 letters."

Way to go coach. Now it's time to do something about it, on the road against the team that may best equipped to be this playoff season's Cinderella story.

Edwards' plan, no doubt, has been to deflect attention from his players. It may have done the opposite for a team that rebounded nicely from a 6-10 campaign a year ago.

A few weeks back, quarterback Chad Pennington lashed out at the media for criticisms directed his way. Pennington has been struggling ever since, essentially throwing a bone to those New York reporters who were dogging him.

After losing three of his past four, Pennington has found a new excuse -- the sore shoulder that caused him to miss a handful of games early in the season.

He is only 2-5 since returning from that injury and suddenly the $64-million US contract extension the team gave him looks more like a $64-million question mark.

The quarterback, arguably facing the biggest start of his young career, was at it again this week worrying about things he shouldn't worry about.

"Thank goodness I don't read or watch anything these guys say up here," Pennington told reporters in San Diego, before virtually admitting that he most likely does. "I'd probably be in an insane asylum or in the bathtub with a razor blade or something."

Like quarterback, like coach, it seems.

WHAT A BREES

Life is understandably much more upbeat in San Diego, where the Chargers turned a 4-12 season a year ago into 12-4.

As a result, they are in the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons and have been bet up to seven-point favourite. The only serious criticism lobbed at Chargers players is whether they can reverse a 34-28 loss to the Jets back in Week 3.

"For the 20,000th time, that feels like it was five seasons ago," said Chargers quarterback Drew Brees, who on Thursday was named the Associated Press comeback player of the year.

"We have come so far. We're a totally different team now than we were then."

Since then, the Chargers have become solid in all facets of the game. Former Bills head coach Wade Phillips is seeing the fruits of his 3-4 defensive scheme working, Brees has become a star as has tight end Antonio Gates, and running back LaDainian Tomlinson can carry the offence, if need be.

And not a peep of whining to be heard.

COMEBACK KID

When Brees was named comeback player, there was no one in the Chargers locker room more pleased than Doug Flutie.

The San Diego backup, who captured the same award when he was in Buffalo, was impressed with the way Brees handled himself after it seemed he had been written off.

"I'm so proud of him," Flutie told reporters this week.

"I think the way he handled the situation throughout the off-season is the amazing thing."

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer was one of those ready to give up on Brees in the off-season but 12 wins later is a believer now.

"I think it was about as obvious as the most valuable player in the league is Peyton Manning," Schottenheimer said of the vote. "It's a real tribute to the young man."

EAGLES SNORE

Should the Philadelphia Eagles live up to their top seed and win their divisional playoff next weekend, it will be four weeks between wins for the NFC's top seed.

But after a bye and two games playing almost exclusively backups, Philly coach Andy Reid hardly sounds bothered.

"I'm not that worried about it," Reid told CBSSportsline.com. "I've got a team that's played more games than anyone (in the NFC) over the last three years."

Something else to ponder is Reid's ability to keep his teams motivated. The coach is historically one of the best in the league following a bye.


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