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Nyp: Jets Must Get In Fast Lane Early


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September 3, 2003 -- Don't be late.

This is the Jets' mantra as they ready themselves for tomorrow night's marquee match-up, nationally televised NFL season opener against the Redskins at FedEx Field.

Particularly with their franchise quarterback wearing a cast on his left wrist and out of action for some three months, the Jets cannot afford to be late for the 2003 season the way they've been late for the bus the last two seasons.

The beginning of Herman Edwards' first season was marred by an embarrassing turnover-festival 45-24 loss to the Colts. That was the beginning of a 1-2 start to the 2001 season.

Last year's early free-fall has been well-documented. The Jets lost four in a row after their mirage victory over the Bills in Buffalo in the season opener and ended up benching Vinny Testaverde and beginning the Chad Pennington era. It, of course, took a miraculous turnaround coupled with a lot of luck for the Jets to win the AFC East with a 9-7 record.

Another poor start this season and the Jets likely will play themselves out of the playoff race, particularly based on how much improved the rest of the division opponents are from a year ago.

That has prompted the almost cult-like preaching by Edwards and his staff since the offseason program emphasizing to the players the importance of a strong start this season, beginning with tomorrow night's showdown against their offseason nemesis, the Redskins, who signed away four of the Jets' key players.

"We want to establish ourselves and get off to a fast start, which is something we haven't done the last couple years," Jets' veteran cornerback Ray Mickens said. "That's our main goal right now, to play well early. We finished strong the last two years and now we want to start strong for a change.

"There's no question that Herm got my attention with the emphasis he's put on starting fast," Mickens went on. "That's what our mindset is, to get off to as good start and hopefully that can catapult us into having a good year."

Curtis Martin said he has a feeling the players have taken heed to Edwards' teachings.

"This team follows Herm and listens to Herm and we usually respond to Herm, so hopefully we do in this case," Martin said.

Asked if he believes the Jets can "withstand" another poor start, Martin said, "Of course we can withstand it, because we've shown that we can withstand it. Do we want to go through it again? No. We want to get off to a fast start."

Edwards' message has permeated the minds of the players throughout the offseason program, during training camp, preseason games and right up through yesterday's practice inside the bubble, where he gathered the team together and spoke.

"The team understands the situation at this point," Edwards said. "We know this is opening day and we'd like to get off to a fast start this year. That's something we talked about as a team this offseason and something we're going to try to get started this Thursday."

Jets' offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who's warned that it might take some time for the Testaverde-led offense with four new starters to gel, said he believes the team is ready for a much better start than it's had the last two years.

"I sense that we're kind of in tune with each other and that, hey, we should start fast," Hackett said. "There's the X factor of the quarterback thing, but everyone knows Vinny. He's been here, been to every meeting, every practice and he hasn't missed a beat."

Indeed, a fast, productive, positive start from Testaverde will temper the worries of many Jets fans who've believed the season is over since Pennington went down.

"I think this is a perfect opportunity for Vinny," Martin said. "It kind of reminds me of the opportunity that came about in '98 when Glen Foley got hurt and Vinny had to step in. He usually responds well in situations like that. I really believe he can have a great year this year."

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