logoby Dan Snapp

Jets fans could sympathize. Not that they’d do such a thing, but they do understand.

The 1999 Jets were on the verge of something big. Falling just short of the Super Bowl in ’98, they were in great shape to contend the following season. Vinny Testaverde was coming off his best season as a pro, Curtis Martin was just hitting his prime, and they had talented complementary receivers in Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet. The defense was solid, if unspectacular, with strength in the linebacker corps.

Then it all unraveled on opening day. Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon early in the second quarter, and the squad’s Super Bowl hopes were dashed. Coach Bill Parcells tinkered with the position, going with Rick Mirer initially before switching to Ray Lucas in the middle of the season, and then won seven of the last nine games to finish 8-8.

Parcells wrote about the experience in his book “The Final Season” (co-written by the late Will McDonough) – making a perfect trifecta of the season, the book and his retirement plans all going contrary to expectations.

It’s rare to see a book about a middle-of-the-road team in a mostly forgettable season in a market typically reserved for winners. But the trials of the season tapped reservoirs of coaching inspiration from Parcells, and unearthed insights not visible from the heights of a 12-4 record. And it adds a sudden relevance to the Patriots’ situation at hand.

“When you’re losing, you coach better,” Parcells wrote. “You’re on top of every detail. You scrutinize yourself, your coaches, your players, and the system you’re using.”

If that sentiment’s true, this could be an amazing year to watch Bill Belichick. Albeit in a most callow and ignorant manner, Michael Strahan touched on this when he said, “Now we’ll see how good a coach Belichick really is.” The stupidity of the comment aside (was Bill Walsh ever asked to prove his greatness minus Montana? Lombardi minus Starr? Paul Brown minus Otto Graham?), there admittedly is intrigue in seeing what Belichick will do next.

He is legendary in his meticulousness, leaving no angle unexhausted in his desire to find a winning edge. So what’s his “situational football” answer to losing the league MVP?

Belichick coached on that ’99 Jets team as well, which is comforting when you picture him compartmentalizing what of Parcells’ tactics that year worked and what didn’t. If anybody could pull some value out of it, it’s Belichick.

We’re now victims of the Patriots’ success. Every fanbase eyes the Super Bowl, of course, but we’ve had a legitimate stake on it for most of the decade. Our homer hearts of hearts are still in it, rationalizing the Colts’ and Chargers’ opening day losses into something more grandiose in terms of opportunity. But our heads are already cashing out our chips, at least on the Super Bowl.

Now it’s looking at the rest of the team. How many games can their defense win them? What can the special teams add? Can we lean more on the running game? Our heads tell us to erase the Super Bowl, drop the playoffs, block out the division, and just focus on the game in front of us.

Essentially, we’re finally coming around to Belichick’s MO, the one he’s followed since the day he came to town.

Matt Cassel is unfairly deemed the lynchpin of our hopes, but that’s what you take on when you’re the guy behind center. You’re either too praised for the wins, or too blamed for the losses. There ain’t no in-between.

So in the great pantheon of memorable backup quarterbacks, where will Cassel fall? The gold standards are Tom Brady in 2001, Kurt Warner for the ’99 Rams, and Earl Morrall for the ’72 Dolphins. All three won or contributed to championships (Bob Griese returned for the Super Bowl in ’72).

Steve Young may be the greatest backup QB of all time, except he never had a chance to do much while a backup. Frank Reich was probably the perfect backup: talented enough to lead his team to big wins in playoff games, but not moving on to greener pastures the following season. A Reich-like backup likely wouldn’t stay a backup long in the salary cap era.

Cassel has the benefit of four years in the system, and our trust in Bill’s trust in him. The liability is the impotent preseason, last year’s mess in Miami mop-up, and the previous preseason. None of us would have been shocked this year if Matt Gutierrez beat him out, hardly a vote of confidence.

But then, again, Belichick stuck with him.

For those who are getting off the bandwagon now, please, stay off. Don’t come back. There’s great joy in watching a team win a championship, no doubt. But there’s also joy in watching a team make something out of a season that once looked lost.
“If you don’t play to win,” Parcells told his players in ’99, “Then you shouldn’t play at all.”

For Bretter or Worse

I can’t help myself. Brett Favre always brings out the New York Post headline writer.

Will he be a bridge to the future or a bridge too Favre? The Packers offered him a bribe to stay retired, thinking him Bretter off dead (“I Want My 20 Million Dollars”). The Vikings wanted him, but Green Bay just couldn’t stomach the thought of its Favrete son in purple.

Where in the metropolis will the self-described country boy live, we wonder. Will he be the SoHo Throw Ho? The Teaneck Redneck? The Village Idiot? Peter King assured us Favre would go into Manhattan only when absolutely necessary. He no doubted consulted with the folks back home first (The Kiln folk said, “Brett, move away from there.”).

King, now there’s part of the rub of marrying into the Favre family. You can’t get one without the other, especially with King’s lips surgically attached to Favre’s buttocks. Already in this saga, he’s tried to set the trade price for Favre, he’s castigated Jets fans for not filling the stadium for Favre’s preseason premiere, and he’s championed Favre’s side of every issue (King knows which side of his Brett is buttered) with the coaches, such as lightening up the playbook. For the good of the team, of course. You know ol’ Brett, always thinking of his teammates first.

This was a desperate move by the Jets, but not a stupid one. For the same price for which the Patriots got Randy Moss a year ago, the Jets got Favre. In one stroke, he saves Eric Mangini’s and Mike Tannenbaum’s jobs for a little bit, he drives up Pro Shop sales, and he probably wins a couple more games than his predecessors. If only it weren’t for the rest of his crap.

It got off to a rollicking start when he used his Jets introduction press conference as an opportunity to say he’d be a Packer forever. He then said he looked forward to working with his teammates, whoever they are.

It didn’t get better when he got to know them. After having a private sit-down with Laveranues Coles to smooth any ruffled feathers caused by Coles’ buddy Chad Pennington getting released, Favre decided to tell the media what was said. Because, you know, if the conversation isn’t recorded, it never happened.

This myth of Favre being camera-shy has got to stop. Quick, think of how many times you’ve heard the phrase, “We had an opportunity to talk to Brett Favre.” Or witnessed the “impromptu” visits to the set (“Well, look who’s here!”). Favre denies it (“Oh I don’t care about any of that”), but in truth, he’s Gloria Swanson, ready for his close-up. You know, from Sunsbrett Boulefavre.

King’s been playing up the “He’s just a kid having fun” theme for a while now, starting with the myth about not knowing what a nickel defense was, and culminating with this from Monday:

“A couple of times, I just winged it and said, ‘Hey guys, same play.’ OK, ready, break, whatever.'”

Someday, King’s going to save Favre the cost of a colonoscopy. The doctors will just shine a light up Brett’s ass and shout, “See anything, Pete?”

When Favre became available, I hoped New York would bite (Hating two birds with one stone and all), but admittedly, so far so good for the Jets. Favre looked poised in the game against Miami. He stayed within the confines of the Jets offense, throwing short dumpoffs as required. He tried to wing it into tight spots a couple times, but without repercussion. He’s certainly better than what they had before, with more arm than Pennington, and more touch than Clemens.

But we’ve also seen what happens when Favre goes off script, and know the inevitability that he will do so. After all, what controls does Eric Mangini have on Favre that Mike McCarthy didn’t have?
The latest postulation from King is that were Favre still a free agent now, the Patriots would come calling. I choose not to believe that. I’d like to think King’s just pulling that out of his butt. Or Favre’s, whichever.