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After win here, the Jets took off

Chris Baker (left) being called out of bounds on what could have been a tying TD vs. the Browns was a Jets low point. (FILE/HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- One win doesn't make a season. There's no carryover from one week to the next. That's what NFL coaches and players preach ad nauseam. But sometimes one game can make the difference in a season, sometimes one victory reinvents a team.

Eight games into the Eric Mangini Era, the New York Jets were sitting at 4-4, as big an enigma as they were when they began the season with a rookie head coach and an injury-prone quarterback and without running back Curtis Martin.

New York had reached the halfway mark and a crossroads with its most disappointing loss of the season, a 20-13 defeat at the hands of the hapless Browns made all the more galling by a bad call with 59 seconds remaining that robbed them of a game-tying touchdown. ( Chris Baker made a one-handed grab in the end zone before being pushed out of bounds, but instead of ruling a force-out and a TD, the officials called him out of bounds.)

Following a bye week, the Jets had to start the second half of the season on the road against their nemeses, the Patriots, a team they hadn't beaten in seven straight tries. But a funny thing happened on that foggy, soggy Sunday in November -- the Jets emerged from the muck and mire of Gillette Stadium with a stunning 17-14 victory and a new sense of self-confidence.

They had reached their turning point.

"Yeah, because it got us going in the right direction and no one gave us a chance," said Baker. "That's been the story of our season. To come out and win that game was big for us. We hadn't beat them since my rookie year and this is my fifth year, so that's been for a long time. A lot of guys here had never beaten them."

The Jets went 6-2 in the second half, closing with three straight wins, including a gritty 13-10 road victory over the Miami Dolphins, to clinch a playoff spot and another date in Foxborough this Sunday.

"I think [the New England win] was a steppingstone for us," said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "To be able to get that kind of a win on the road, in a division game, being able to pull it out, that was big for us."

The second-half success allowed the Jets to register a six-game improvement from 2005, when they went 4-12 under Herman Edwards. Only the Ravens and Saints, each of which had seven-win improvements over 2005, had better reversals.

The Jets truly were a different team defensively after beating the Patriots. New York had allowed 24.1 points per game in the first eight games, as playmakers like middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma struggled to adjust to Mangini's 3-4-based defensive schemes.

However, starting with the win over the Patriots -- in which the defense turned the momentum in the first half by forcing a Doug Gabriel fumble, set up the eventual winning score with an interception, and sacked Tom Brady four times -- the Jets allowed only 12.8 per game over the final eight games. They finished sixth in the league in scoring defense (18.4 ppg).

Mangini was named coach Jan. 17, 2006, but it wasn't until the victory over his former team that the Jets became his team.

"After the bye week, we had done so much work as a team to evaluate the first half of the season, looking at what the problems were and fixing the problems," said Mangini. "Whoever we played, to see the benefits of that work and to see that we had fixed a lot of things . . . that was important.

"Whenever you can beat a division opponent on the road that you have not had a lot of success with, that's important as well. Since the bye, I see consistent progress -- not that there wasn't some before that, but I think that was a very good week for us collectively."

Not everyone on Gang Green believes the Jets' revival started in Foxborough. Receiver Laveranues Coles chose not to put much stock in the win, even though it was the only one the Jets had this year over a team that finished with a winning record.

"I think it started way before then. It had nothing to do with the win in New England," said Coles. "From [training] camp, I think guys really started coming closer together because after going through something that grueling, we were either going to fold or we were going to bond as a team, and I think we bonded."

Maybe that was just a knee-jerk reaction -- not wanting to give the Jets' rivals credit for anything -- or maybe it was the truth, but either way it's a lot easier to bond when you're winning.

Defensive end Bobby Hamilton, a former Patriot, said nobody should be surprised that the Jets turned things around.

"Eric did a good job of coming in here and getting these guys back focused and getting back to the right direction -- and that's going back to the playoffs," said Hamilton.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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