New York Jets coach Herman Edwards is tired of losing close games to the Patriots, and he's going to do something about it. He's going to start throwing the dice by throwing the ball downfield.
"We need to be a little more big-play-oriented," Edwards said recently. "The way the league is set up, the way the rules are set up, it's hard to go on 10- to 12-play drives without an error happening or without the defense making a great play.
"We've got to get some more plays out of our passing game -- 20- to 40-yard pass plays. We did a good job moving the ball; our problem was we kind of stalled at the plus-30 going in. We didn't score enough points when we got inside there. Defensively, we held them out pretty good, but we didn't score enough. We have to make more big plays down the field.
"We'll be a little more wide open, a little more daring. We'll probably be in the shotgun, whether that makes any difference or not. Everybody will say, `Oh, they're in the shotgun,' like if you go in the shotgun you get more points.
"I don't know about all that, but now we'll be in the shotgun and the fans will clap, `Oh, they're in the shotgun.' We haven't been in the shotgun for five years, so it was like it was extinct. So we'll do some things. We'll be in the no-huddle sometimes. We can do some things a little different."
For those things to work, quarterback Chad Pennington will have to prove he can get the ball down the field more effectively. Some have always considered his arm suspect, and last season, with his rotator cuff in need of repair but no one willing to admit it, he was particularly vulnerable against defenses content to take away the shorter routes.
Although Pennington is not yet throwing, Edwards insists he'll be ready by training camp and capable of delivering the long ball.
"Chad will have more leeway in the offense in what we're asking him to do," Edwards said. "I've given you guys all my game plans so now the league will know, but it doesn't matter to me. Everybody knows everything anyway. All these great secrets! People getting all paranoid! Ain't no secrets."
Edwards is the first to admit that all of his efforts have to be oriented toward one thing: solving the mystery of Patriot dominance. "We can't be satisfied with playing close games," Edwards said. "We've got to make plays in big games. We had a chance in the first game against New England. We had the ball at the end. We didn't make the play.
"You only get little small windows of opportunity against good teams. We played well against them, but we didn't make the plays. I admire what they've done. I appreciate how they play. It's a credit to their players and their staff. We'd all like to emulate how they play."
A year ago, Tom Brady completed only 46 more passes than Pennington yet he produced 1,019 more yards despite Pennington connecting on 65.4 percent of his throws to Brady's 60.8.
"I think a little bit of it is we didn't ask him to throw deep a whole lot, to be quite honest," Edwards said. "And a little bit of it is obviously he had surgery on his shoulder, so his shoulder was hurting before people knew about it, or it was talked about.
"But he's good enough to throw the ball down the field. Our offense wasn't an offense that took a lot of vertical shots. It was more percentage-type throwing, move the chains and get an opportunity to maybe take one. It's like anything else: You get good at what you do.
"Now, that doesn't mean we'll be the Oakland Raiders of the past and every other play we'll throw one down the field. We're not going to do that. But we are going to take some shots because the league allows you to do that. The old verbiage of `shutdown corner,' he's becoming extinct because of the rules.
"Our league wants receivers to have free access so they can go down the field, and we throw the ball and make big plays and the fans go to games that have 35, 40 points. Fans like that. And even though they like a 6-3 game every once in a while, they basically want to see scoring."
Edwards said Pennington has been at the Jets' complex regularly this offseason, working with new offensive cooordinator Mike Heimerdinger in the video room. The return of wide receiver Laveranues Coles in the trade that sent Santana Moss to the Redskins was designed to reunite Pennington with his favorite deep receiver of two years ago.
"Chad, at this point, has been coming in and getting treatment and he's been in the room with Dinger as far as going over what we're going to do offensively," Edwards said. "The mental part he's understanding. We changed a lot of things in our offense and he's been a part of that. He's right on target. Knowing him, he's always been a quick healer, I would anticipate sometime in June he'll be ready to throw.
"For the most part I thought the year we won the division, Laveranues was the MVP of our football team. They had good chemistry. Chad felt very, very comfortable throwing him the ball. Chad is a little bit of a feel thrower, especially in zones. So hopefully we'll get that going again."
Shanahan's wheeling is bad dealing
Are the Denver Broncos taking a page from the Oakland Raiders? Raiders managing general partner Al Davis has long been a believer in the rehabilitation of high draft choices gone bad, but the Broncos have not tended to go in that direction -- until this offseason.
The Broncos' struggles in pass defense have cost them dearly the last few years, and coach Mike Shanahan believes much of that has been the result of a failure to pressure the quarterback. So in the last few weeks, he has imported the defensive line of the Browns, which helped them win four games in Cleveland last year. Shanahan traded a fourth-round pick for former No. 1 choice Gerard Warren, signed the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2000, Courtney Brown, and then swapped the AFC's No. 6 rusher, Reuben Droughns, for ex-No. 1 choice Ebenezer Ekuban, with Michael Myers being a throw-in.
That might look like doing something -- until you look at what those four have produced in the NFL, which is not much. New Browns coach Romeo Crennel knows a thing or two about defense, and he couldn't get those guys out of town fast enough, and general manager Phil Savage managed to extort a runner who rushed for 1,240 yards and averaged 4.5 yards a carry last year in his first season as a starter. Go figure.
One man's wallet more full than another's
Sometimes agent moves make you wonder.
Only hours after the free agency period began March 2, Boston-based agent Kristen Kuliga filed a contract with the NFL Players Association that bound fullback Patrick Pass to New England for the next two years. In exchange for not venturing even a toe into the free agent market, Pass received the minimum salary allowed in the league for both 2005 and '06 ($540,000 and $545,000) with no noted incentives, according to the contract on file, plus a $150,000 signing bonus.
This for a man who served as the starting fullback and an occasional running back on the Super Bowl champions. The contract might not have been all that noteworthy except when compared with the deal for a player playing the same position with the same years of service but even less offensive production, Houston's Moran Norris.
Norris was, like Pass, a four-year veteran who became a free agent, but he and agent Rick E. Smith took at least a day to shop around before accepting a three-year deal from the Texans to be their blocking back. That contract contained the minimum salary for 2005, but a raise to $660,000 in '06 and to $700,000 in '07. That left him $115,000 over the minimum in the second year and $30,000 over it in 2007, but the real difference was that Norris's deal also included a $600,000 signing bonus.
Last year Pass rushed 39 times for 141 yards, caught 28 passes for 215 more yards, and returned six kickoffs for 115 yards, in addition to being a solid contributor on special teams. Norris, in contrast, carried one time for zero yards, caught four passes for 13 yards, but blocked like a mule and will be doing the same this season.
Kuliga also represents Doug Flutie and is hoping to land him a job in New England.
The almighty dollar
Less than a day before free agent cornerback Gary Baxter signed with the Browns, he agreed in principle to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens. After a lengthy discussion on a Thursday night, Baxter told Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome he would sign with the Ravens, but the next morning he called to tell Newsome he had "prayed" on his decisions all night and felt he had to at least go visit Cleveland. By evening, he had signed with the Browns for more money. That led Newsome's old friend and associate in Cleveland, Jacksonville Jaguars vice president of player personnel James Harris, to call Newsome the next day, but not to commiserate. Harris told Newsome, "Baxter prayed to the same God Reggie White did when he decided to go to Green Bay. `In God We Trust.' "
The NFL Players Association took its first big step toward preparing for a potential work stoppage when its player representatives authorized not rebating the players' annual individual dues of $10,000, as it has done for years. That roughly $18 million will instead be put aside as part of a growing war chest in case an extension of the collective bargaining agreement cannot be agreed to in time to avoid making 2007 an uncapped year with a strike and legal battle to follow. If that ever happens, chaos will reign, and most of the owners know it. But not all of them.
Just open the vault
If the Patriots can't work out the details of an acceptable bonus structure with quarterback Tom Brady, he'd become a free agent in 2007. How'd you like to be Brady on the open market in an upcapped year? As Dick Enberg would say, "Oh, my!"
The rest of the story
Bill Belichick was correct when he told a Bryant College audience last week that Tedy Bruschi has been at Gillette Stadium almost daily. What he didn't tell them, according to sources familiar with the linebacker's situation and the goings-on in Foxborough, is that Bruschi has been there for physical therapy to rehab from the stroke damage he sustained three days after returning from the Pro Bowl.
Building for future?
Jets coach Herman Edwards will be among the New Yorkers rejoicing if the team ever gets a stadium built on the West Side highway, but if not, he insists his team will take lemons and make lemonade. "Obviously we need a stadium," Edwards said. "We're the only team in the league that doesn't have a stadium. I think that's important, and I think it's important for the league, too. I just think when you think of 32 teams and only one shares a stadium, that's odd. And it's the New York team. We laugh [that] all our games are road games. That's OK. But I felt for the most part we started to play better at home, and we had a pretty good record at home. Our fans are very, very passionate. It's a little different than any other home venue. And our players, they understand that. We don't make excuses. It's kind of the way it's always been for the Jets. It's one of those franchises, you kind of look at, it's a nomad franchise. They kind of played over here for a while, they played over here for a while, now they're playing over here, trying to get a new stadium. But our players take it in stride and that doesn't really determine how we play."
Ty Law continues to struggle trying to find a buyer because he is not yet able to run, which may be the case until late spring. With the Kansas City Chiefs looking at Miami's unhappy corner Patrick Surtain, the market is drying up for Law and former Tennessee starter Andre Dyson. The Chiefs could still be in the market after the draft, however, if Dolphins coach Nick Saban continues to insist on a second-round pick he'll never get to free Surtain.
Drew Bledsoe stands to earn $4 million this fall in Dallas ($2 million signing bonus, $2 million in salary) but he has another $500,000 escalator with incentives. His three-year deal is essentially a one-year contract, though, unless he plays for Bill Parcells the way he did when they were together in New England. His cap number jumps from $2,666,666 this year to $5,666,666 in 2006 and $7,166,668 in 2007 as his salary escalates to $3.5 million and then $4.5 million, according to NFLPA numbers.
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
April 23-24: NFL draft, New York
May 24-25: Spring meetings, Washington.
Aug. 7: Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, Canton, Ohio.
Aug. 8: Pro Football Hall of Fame game, Canton, Ohio.
Sept. 8: First regular-season game.