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Old 10-21-2007, 12:15 PM   #1
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Default Clean-cut Jets meet Cincinnati Bengals in battle of losers

Clean-cut Jets meet Cincinnati Bengals in battle of losers
Sunday, October 21st 2007, 4:00 AM

CINCINNATI - In one sense, it's a matchup of bad versus bad. With two combined wins, the Jets and Bengals are among the biggest busts in the NFL. But take a step back and the picture changes dramatically. The broader view shows it's really good versus bad - in a saints-and-sinners kind of way.

The Jets are known throughout the league for their squeaky-clean image; the Bengals are the bad boys of the league, with more arrests (14) than victories (nine) since December, 2005.

Today at Paul Brown Stadium, it's the team with no offense against the team with multiple offenses; Team Quiet versus Team Chaos. It should make for an interesting chemistry experiment: Which underachieving team will handle adversity better, the one that presents a united front or the group with internal squabbles?

"I call it the Character Bowl," said former quarterback Boomer Esiason, who played for both teams. "They're polar opposites. The Bengals' lack of character is supposedly the reason why they're losing. The Jets supposedly have a lot of character, but they're losing, too. Maybe it's because 'character' can't run a 4.3 40."

At a time like this, with a three-game losing streak and a brewing quarterback controversy, the Jets are leaning on team unity - at least that's how they're selling it. Except for Chris Baker questioning the play calling after last week's loss to the Eagles, and some mild locker-room grumbling, the Jets have avoided full-blown dissension.

"We're all angry and frustrated and disappointed, but we all understand the only way you can turn it around is to stay together, stay positive and keep talking to each other," said Chad Pennington, who could be benched if he doesn't emerge from his slump against the woeful Cincinnati defense. "Once you become divisive, or once you start arguing, nothing good can happen."

From the moment Eric Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum took control, they made it clear that building a team of solid citizens was a top priority. Critics say they place too much emphasis on character, eliminating talented players that don't fit Mangini's "Jet core values," but they believe it's important to have unselfish, team-oriented players. Those types are less likely to jump ship during tough times, they say. Times like now.

To help maintain team harmony, Mangini conducts a weekly meeting with the six team captains. Food is served (shrimp and crab are among the preferred dishes) and they discuss team issues, everything from the lunch menu to the practice schedule.

"It's important to be able to talk openly about what's happening, and have a give and take," Mangini said.

At the moment, there are plenty of hot-button issues (play calling, demanding practices, et al), but the meetings never turn into gripe sessions, according to the players. Mangini said he's willing to listen to complaints, claiming his door is always open.

"It's not like college, where the professor had office hours," he said.

Players say Mangini is extremely critical behind closed doors, calling out players in meetings, but he's not a yeller and he never questions their commitment. In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis delivered a profanity-laced tirade two weeks ago after a 21-point loss to the Patriots, accusing the players of being "selfish."

"If you don't want to be on the team, don't show up (tomorrow)," he sceamed.

For years, team chemistry has been an issue for the Bengals, who turned their hometown into Cin City with all the arrests. (Only two Jets, Justin Miller and Adrian Jones, have been arrested under Mangini.) Wide receiver Chris Henry is serving an eight-game suspension for being arrested four times in a 14-month span.

Instead of a team picture in their media guide, the Bengals should use individual mug shots.

Lewis is trying to clean up the team's image, but it's hard when the most popular player, wide receiver Chad Johnson, is always running his mouth. After a second-quarter interception against the Patriots, Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer jawed at each other on the sideline. It stunned many that Palmer, a laid back California dude, lost his cool. Losing can do that to a person.

"When it isn't right, he jumps on my (butt)," said Johnson, insisting that he and Palmer are cool. "When he isn't right, I jump on his (butt)."

So maybe the Jets have better team chemistry, but it hasn't done them much good. They're in the same sorry place as the bickering Bengals.

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