AFC East: Mike Westhoff

The New York Jets' three coordinators fulfilled media requirements Tuesday by speaking to reporters via conference call. A few takeaways:

Smith
1. It's Geno's job -- for now: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, speaking to reporters for the first time since the Michael Vick signing (yes, really), made it quite clear they really want Geno Smith to emerge as their starting quarterback. He didn't use those words, but the tea leaves are obvious. Mornhinweg talked about how he doesn't want the competition to impede Smith's progress and that Vick is here to "push" Smith. Predictably, he said Smith would get more first-team reps than Vick in organized team activities, which became the headline. All things considered, Mornhinweg's comments weren't a revelation. I mean, when was the last time you heard an organization say it wants a 33-year-old to replace a young incumbent with upside -- a quarterback who happens to be the hand-picked choice of the general manager?

2. Chris squared: Mornhinweg said Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory will form "a pretty good, little 1-2 punch." He spoke of Johnson as if this were 2009, mentioning his "electric" speed. Look, I get it, he's excited to have Johnson in the backfield. Even if he's not CJ2K, Johnson should have enough left to help the Jets.

3. Cornerback problem, what problem?: Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman insisted he's "comfortable" with the current state of the cornerback position. I'm not sure I'm buying that. It wouldn't surprise me if they use their first-round pick on a cornerback, creating more flexibility. Right now, Dimitri Patterson is projected to start opposite Dee Milliner, but he could slide inside to the slot (his best position) if another corner is added in the first round. Asked if the current secondary will be better than last season, Thurman said, "No one really knows," adding he won't know until the games start.

Milliner
4. Big Dee: Thurman spoke optimistically about Milliner, saying he's hopeful the former top pick can build off his strong finish last season. "If he does, the sky's the limit," Thurman said. "I believe he will be a very good corner." He has to be. Otherwise, the defense is in big trouble.

5. New special teams coach: Thomas McGaughey spoke to reporters for the first time since being hired in February (yes, really). He said his top priority is to shore up the punt coverage (the Jets finished 27th). "I've had a history of being able to coach that part of it pretty well," McGaughey said. "Hopefully, these guys can back up my words." He likes Jacoby Ford's potential as a kickoff returner, but he'd like to add competition. He talked about the differences between coaching special teams on the pro and college level (he spent the three previous years at LSU), mentioning that he always had to be prepared for trickery at LSU. The Tigers were usually up by a lot, prompting opponents "to do anything they can to get back in the game."

6. LSU intel: Yes, McGaughey shared his thoughts with the scouting department on the various LSU prospects in the draft. The most high-profile player is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who could be the Jets' pick in the first round. McGaughey said his opinions will remain in-house.

7. Westie the consultant: McGaughey said he speaks to former special teams coach Mike Westhoff about once a month. "Obviously, he's one of the best to have ever done it," he said. " We've had a relationship for about five, six years now. He's a great man, and he's really helped me along the process. He really has. [He’s] a good dude."
The New York Jets filled the last opening on their coaching staff on Wednesday night, hiring former LSU special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey for the same position. He replaces Ben Kotwica, who left after the season to become the Washington Redskins' special teams coach.

The Jets identified McGaughey as their man more than a week ago, but they agreed to keep it under wraps until national signing day was complete on Wednesday, so it wouldn't hurt LSU's recruiting effort.

McGaughey, 40, becomes the Jets' third coordinator in three years. He has no NFL experience as a special teams coordinator, but he's not a newbie to the pro game. He served as an assistant for the New York Giants (2007-2010), Denver Broncos (2005-2006) and Kansas City Chiefs (2002). In 2007, he won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Giants' coaching staff.

At LSU, McGaughey's special teams were dynamic, but he was blessed with tremendous talent. His returners included Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Odell Beckam, Jr. LSU scored six special-teams touchdowns in three seasons under McGaughey. In 2013, the Tigers allowed a 100-yard kickoff return.

This hiring is a bit unusual because Rex Ryan went outside his coaching tree, but he took that same leap last year by hiring Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator. The Jets' special-teams job was kept in the family, so to speak, from 2001 to 2012, with Mike Westhoff (2001 to 2012) and Kotwica, an assistant under Westhoff. Ryan's decision to hire McGaughey, as opposed to a recycled NFL coordinator, shows he was seeking someone with fresh ideas.
Ben Kotwica, who spent six seasons with the New York Jets as a special-teams assistant and last season as the coordinator, has left the team to become the special teams coach of the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins confirmed the move Wednesday afternoon.

Kotwica was one of at least six assistants on Rex Ryan's staff with an expiring contract. Kotwica received a contract offer from the Jets, according to a league source, so his departure is a bit puzzling. It's possible he felt there was more security with the Redskins, who will have a new staff under recently hired head coach Jay Gruden.

Kotwica, a West Point graduate, interviewed for Army’s head-coaching job in late December. That job went to Jeff Monken, formerly the Georgia Southern head coach.

Ryan's uncertain contract status could be a concern for members of his staff. He has only one year remaining on his deal and, although there has been speculation about a one-year extension, nothing has been finalized. Ryan has told friends that he'd like to keep his staff together, and it's believed that most, perhaps all of the soon-to-be-free-agent assistants have received contract offers.

Kotwica, originally hired by Eric Mangini in 2007, took over the special teams after the venerable Mike Westhoff retired after last season. The one bright spot was place-kicker Nick Folk, who enjoyed a career year. Otherwise, the special teams were fair to middling, based on league rankings. The lowpoint came in Week 15, when the Jets suffered a blocked punt that changed the momentum in a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Kotwica used a strategic wrinkle -- three gunners instead of two -- to contain punt returner Ted Ginn Jr., but it left them vulnerable in the line, resulting in the block.

Westhoff, 66, held the job from 2001 to 2012. Now the Jets will have their second special teams coach in as many years.

What about a Westhoff comeback? He's said to be happy in retirement, working as a football analyst for local media outlets (including ESPN New York 98.7). He has received feelers from other teams, but it sounds like he'll continue his post-coaching career. Then again, he's always been a never-say-never guy, so you never know.
Rex Ryan probably didn't want to come off as a tattletale, but the New York Jets coach left little doubt Monday that he knew about the New England Patriots' previous use of the illegal pushing technique on field goal blocks, and he didn't deny blowing the whistle on them.

In fact, the Jets sideline alerted the officiating crew during the game to watch out for it, a person familiar with the situation said late Monday.

Ryan
While he wouldn't answer directly on whether he was aware the Patriots had used it once the previous week against the New Orleans Saints, Ryan said, "The coaches watch every single play of every single game, so we’re aware of the opponents' tendencies and everything else."

In other words, he knew.

Ryan declined to say if that information was shared with his players ("I'll leave that in-house"), and he also avoided the question of whether he tipped off officials before Sunday's game.

"Again, you know what? My comments with the officials, I’ll just leave that way," he said.

The Jets were well-schooled on the new "push" penalty, players said Monday. In addition to the mandatory tutorital in training camp from officials, who travel the country to educate teams on new rules, the players were "reminded" as recently as early last week, said Damon Harrison, a member of the field-goal unit.

They were reminded because the Patriots got away with it last week. Chris Jones pushed teammate Will Svitek on Garrett Hartley's 39-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Jones and Svitek ran the same technique against the Jets, but the umpire saw it and threw a flag -- 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. It nullified a field-goal miss by Nick Folk, who followed up by nailing one from 42 yards in overtime, lifting the Jets to a 30-27 win.

The "push" penalty, on the books this season for the first time, is designed to improve player safety. This was the first time it was enforced.

Former Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff, an ESPN Radio analyst, studied a tape of the play and said it was "very, very evident" that it was orchestrated. He said Jones "cheated back in his stance," allowing him to get in position to push Svitek from behind.

"I watched the tape. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes," Westhoff told ESPNNewYork.com. "I can't prove this -- I don't know what they teach -- but those guys are pretty sharp up there [in New England]. I can't imagine them running a technique and not being aware of it. In my opinion, it was coached, taught and implemented that very way. I think they did it on purpose and got caught."

Westhoff said he "blocked a lot of kicks with that same technique," but it was legal up until this season. He said it's an unsafe practice because of "the force it generates," a big body pushing another big body into a blocker.

Demario Davis, another special-teams contributor, said he was "very aware of the rule." Patriots coach Bill Belichick admittedly wasn't, acknowledging Monday his postgame interpretation was wrong. Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 from the rule book is pretty straight-forward: "Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."

Willie Colon, another interior blocker on the field-goal unit, said "all coaches should have knowledge of the rules." But he admitted he didn't know what was going on until after the game.

How could a head coach make such an oversight? Ryan didn't want to go there.

"I'm not worried about that," he said, bristling after several questions about the controversy. "The focus is going to be wherever you guys want it to be, but I think we outplayed New England, and I think that’s why we won the game."

Turkey Day fiasco shaped Jets franchise

September, 10, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They happened in a span of 52 seconds, three calamitous plays that changed the season and probably changed the franchise.

Boom! Boom!! Boom!!!

You've heard of the Minute Waltz? This was the Minute Faults, three mistakes that bordered on mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
AP Photo/Julio CortezShane Vereen's 83-yard score gave the Pats a 14-0 lead with 9:43 left in the second quarter.
It was 7-0 last Thanksgiving night, the New York Jets trailing the New England Patriots, when the madness started. Suddenly, it was 28-0, because for only the third time in modern football history, a team scored three touchdowns in a 52-second span.

"Un-[bleeping]-believable," Jets coach Rex Ryan muttered on the sideline after the third touchdown, his reaction easy to decipher for a nation of television viewers.

The Jets and Patriots meet Thursday night for the first time since the Thanksgiving debacle and, even though the Jets refused to look back -- "It's very hazy," tackle Austin Howard said with a straight face -- it's impossible not to reflect on that ill-fated night. The Jets are who they are now, in part, because of what happened in those 52 seconds.

They actually went into the game with a 4-6 record, coming off a road victory, thinking they had a chance to get back into playoff contention. The 49-19 loss, which included the infamous Butt Fumble, made them a laughingstock. Owner Woody Johnson was disgusted by the performance, according to sources, some of whom believe he made up his mind that night to fire general manager Mike Tannenbaum and start a rebuilding process with a new front office.

"It was the beginning of difficult times," retired special-teams coach Mike Westhoff said Tuesday. "In reality, was it the beginning of the end? I'm not sure if I believe that. But in the big picture, yeah, it probably was."

It's probably an eerie coincidence, but three players directly involved in the three touchdowns are out of football. Linebacker Bart Scott and guard Brandon Moore are retired, and running back Joe McKnight is looking for a job after being released in training camp. A fourth, quarterback Mark Sanchez, is injured and could be finished with the Jets.

[+] EnlargeSteve Gregory
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsForty-three seconds later, Steve Gregory scooped up the "Butt Fumble" and raced 32 yards for a score.
Could it be some kind of karmic justice?

Scott was supposed to cover running back Shane Vereen on a wheel route, but he didn't get to his spot on time and Vereen took a short pass and went for an 83-yard touchdown. There was 9:43 left on the second-quarter clock.

It would be Scott's final game versus the Patriots, against whom he enjoyed perhaps the highlight of his career. After the Jets' stunning win over them in the 2010 playoffs, Scott delivered his famous "Can't Wait!" rant.

Forty-three seconds after Tom Brady-to-Vereen, Sanchez aborted a running play after turning the wrong way on the handoff. He tried to run, the right move, but he ran into Moore's backside, hitting it with such force that Sanchez lost the football. It took a fortuitous bounce for the Pats' Steve Gregory, who made the scoop and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

The Butt Fumble was born, becoming part of the sports lexicon.

"It wears thin," Westhoff said of the seemingly endless references to the Butt Fumble. "I don't want to hear about it anymore."

On the ensuing kickoff, McKnight, a home-run threat, was blasted by Devin McCourty. The ball came flying out and hung in the air, as if being held up by an invisible string. Julian Edelman grabbed it on the run and sprinted 22 yards for another touchdown.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesOnly nine seconds elapsed before the Pats' next touchdown, as Julian Edelman plucked a fumble out of the air and raced to pay dirt.
There was 8:51 on the clock. Patriots 28, Jets 0. It was so embarrassing that the Jets' most famous fan, Fireman Ed, couldn't take it anymore and left the building. For good.

Sanchez later referred to his fumble disaster as a "car crash," meaning the randomness of it. There were three car crashes in 52 seconds or, as Westhoff called them, "crazy negative plays." The probability of three fluke plays occurring in rapid-fire succession is incalculable. That each unit -- offense, defense, special teams -- was responsible for giving up a touchdown was fitting, because it was a true team meltdown.

This week, the Jets have made it a point to avoid any references to last Thanksgiving. But there's some relevancy because it's another short week. Obviously, they need to be better prepared, mentally and physical, than the last time.

"We don't even think about that one," wide receiver Stephen Hill said. "We haven't even talked about it. It hasn't been brought up at all. We're just ready for 2013 and ready to get it kicked off with the Patriots."

There are 57,600 seconds in a 16-game season. For the Jets, 52 seconds of epic failure will remain timeless.

Does Tim Tebow have an NFL future?

January, 12, 2013
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Will Tim Tebow be out of the NFL entirely next season? That notion isn't as far-fetched as you might think.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, a team reportedly linked to Tebow, said this week that they have no interest in acquiring the hometown favorite. That does not bode well for Tebow's NFL future.

If the Jets can't wait to cut ties with Tebow and the hometown Jaguars aren't interested, where will Tebow land next season?

It's clear Tebow is not a franchise quarterback, and many teams do not want to take on the distraction that comes with "Tebowmania." The Jets learned that lesson the hard way this season.

However, Tebow has tremendous character and work ethic. He also has a unique set of skills, but cannot flourish unless he has creative coaching. That is why Tebow thrived with the Denver Broncos, but was a non-factor with the Jets.

Former Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff described Tebow best during an interview with WQAM in south Florida.

"If you throw him right in the middle of a drop-back passing offense, he will look very very average at best,” Westhoff said candidly. “But if you incorporate him in different facets of your offense, I think he can be a factor. That's what I felt we were going to do, but we never did it.”

Our guess is someone will pick up Tebow next season and give him a look. He's a former first-round pick who can be signed on the cheap. But Tebow most likely must give up his dream to be a full-time starting quarterback. A position change might be Tebow's best chance to stick on an NFL roster next season.

Former New York Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff has never been one to mince words. But now that Westhoff is retired, the gloves are completely off on all that went wrong in New York (6-10) last season.

Westhoff made an appearance on WQAM in South Florida and shed plenty of light from the inside on the Tim Tebow debacle.

"It was an absolute mess," Westhoff explained. "You can say it however else you want it: It was really a mess. I was very disappointed."

Westhoff, like many media and Jets fans, didn't get all the hoopla over the now-infamous Tebow Wildcat package. New York kept the package a secret during training camp and the preseason. And the few times it was used during the regular season, it was ill-timed and looked disorganized.

"I know we didn't practice it," Westhoff said. "We didn't practice it in training camp. We were going to unveil it. Well, I'm still waiting for the unveiling. And it didn't happen."

Acquiring Tebow in an offseason trade was a huge mistake and one of the worst decisions the Jets made in 2012. It's part of the reason general manager Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano lost their jobs. But New York and Tebow will part ways this offseason -- and that's clearly the smartest move for both parties.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday morning in the AFC East:
  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he's sorry for his comment on how bad Buffalo hotels are.
Morning take: That doesn't mean Brady doesn't believe it. He said he wished he didn't rip an NFL city, because he knows he has to return. He will go to Buffalo again next season.
Morning take: This is better suited to Dareus' strengths. He was good at nose tackle in a 3-4. But in my opinion Dareus has the potential to be a Pro Bowler in a 4-3.
Morning take: Flynn knows the system and his ceiling is higher. Next question.
Morning take: The Jets can’t get a pass right now. Everyone has something to say about them, and nearly all of it is bad.

AFC East links: Sanchez to make a leap?

September, 9, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

At age 28, Ryan Fitzpatrick is finally getting his shot as a season-opening starting quarterback. “It’s taken me seven years to get this opportunity, and I can’t look back now,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m excited about it. This is what I’ve worked for, this shot right here.”

Donald Jones doesn't have the flashiest résumé, but he won the competition to fill the starting receiver spot vacated by Lee Evans and he's out to prove he belongs there.

The Starpress.com's Doug Zaleski has the story on Robert Eddins, an undrafted rookie linebacker who made the final roster. Coach Chan Gailey on Eddins: "Completely surprising. I had no idea really who he was. The scouting staff said, 'Hey we need to look at this guy, he's got something to him.' And they were right. The guy has really done a great job."

Miami Dolphins

The team decided to bring Larry Johnson back after rookie running back Daniel Thomas suffered a hamstring injury.

Quarterback Chad Henne is eager to unveil the Dolphins' new offense under coordinator Brian Daboll. Henne: "Overall we are excited to see what we can do with our playmakers out there and show this offense off." The AP looks at the pressure Henne is under heading into the season.

New England Patriots

Shaun Ellis, a college roommate of Albert Haynesworth's, said the "the Albert [he] saw back in college" has re-emerged with the Patriots.

ESPNBoston.com's Jeremy Lundblad examines whether a Randy Moss-Tom Brady reunion would work for the team.

New York Jets

Special-teams coach Mike Westhoff slammed former punter Steve Weatherford, who signed with Giants this offseason, saying he "was disappointed in some of the poor performances that [Weatherford] had at the end of the year."

Linebacker Bart Scott is asking fans attending Jets games to step it up and show their support. "We have to challenge the people that's in the stadium now to get off their iPads and tweets and represent the stadium and get loud and make it a home-field advantage for us."

The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin expects to see a much-improved Mark Sanchez this season.

AFC East leftovers from the combine

March, 3, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Before we get too far removed from the NFL scouting combine and mired in the labor morass, it's time to empty out the notebook from Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are some AFC East-oriented tidbits from the defensive players who met with reporters there.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers on the NFL's greatest offensive tackle:
"If I had to pick, I’d have to say Jake Long. One of the best I have ever seen."

Bowers on being compared to Bruce Smith and Reggie White:
"It's amazing. Just to be in the same sentence as those guys is amazing. Anytime anybody can put you in a sentence with Reggie White and Bruce Smith, you must be doing something right."

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward on being compared to Vernon Gholston:
"We're two totally different players. Vern, they had him dropping at linebacker. You've seen my dropping abilities. They're pretty good [joking]. Me, I can play all over the line. I can play 3-technique and 6-technique. We are two different players. We had the privilege of going to The Ohio State, but we're not the same player. I'm never going to compare myself to him, and I don't think he'll ever do the same."

Fresno State outside linebacker Chris Carter about working with former Patriots outside linebacker Willie McGinest:
"We've been working primarily on drops. I know how to rush the passer. That's my big thing, work on drops and perfecting that, getting the hips loose. Making sure we go over the defenses 100 percent and I know everyone's assignment. When you play DE, you pretty much only have to know the front-seven assignments. But as a backer, one thing they emphasized is making sure we know everyone's assignment."

Hampton defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis on a fellow alum with the Miami Dolphins:
"Every time when I used to be at Hampton, I'd watch Kendall Langford. He just gave us hope. Small-school guys, we're not on TV every week. Just with him doing it, it gave us hope that we could do it. Kendall was a good player. So I try to emulate what Kendall did, being strong in the weight room, working hard and trying to be just like him."

Clemson safety Marcus Gilchrist on what he learned from C.J. Spiller:
"Humbleness. A lot times you hear about these big-time, high-profile guys and a tendency to judge them with character issues because they have such a big head. But C.J. is one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet."

Florida punter Chas Henry on speaking with Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff:
"I’d sure love to hear from him. It’s a great organization. They’re going to have a lot of success in the future, and I’d love to be a part of it. ... I’m definitely following their situation."

Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson on comparisons to Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby:
"I've heard that a lot. I could definitely see myself as a similarity to Karlos. We're both tall and got long arms. Actually our play styles are very similar. That's a great comparison. He's a great linebacker. Just to have that type of comparison, someone who was in the NFL, is just a great accomplishment."

Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins on being coached by the Buffalo Bills at the Senior Bowl:
"It was real good, being coached by the Bills. They opened my eyes a lot. I had to improve my pass-rush a lot, and they taught me a lot about not looking in the backfield, beating my man first, and actually had a good Senior Bowl, got better each day."

Cancer survivor and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich on his relationship with Tedy Bruschi:
"Tedy reached out to me first. I remember the date, Sept. 29th, because that's the date I was told I didn't have cancer any more. One thing he told me that night back at my dorm at Boston College was 'Mark, you're a survivor now. Be proud of being a survivor.' Those are words that have stayed with me through my whole process. To me, that meant get your story out there, raise as much money as you can, be helpful to other people."

Sal Alosi's departure inevitable, necessary

January, 31, 2011
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The long, strange trip that was Sal Alosi is over.

The New York Jets' estranged strength and conditioning coach has resigned. The Jets announced Alosi's decision in a statement Monday night.

Alosi made headlines for jutting his knee to trip Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll on a punt Dec. 12 at New Meadowlands Stadium.

The incident triggered a sequence of events that led to his indefinite suspension and a $25,000 fine. Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff accused the New England Patriots of doing the same thing, a public declaration that played a part in the NFL fining the Jets $100,000 for the whole fiasco.

Alosi's decision, regardless of whether it came of his own volition, puts to rest an untidy affair. The split was necessary for an organization that has established itself as a winner on the field but clearly needs to improve its unhinged off-field reputation.

Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum must refine the Jets into a more respectable business operation.

I think everybody knew Alosi couldn't be on the sideline ever again.

"After speaking with Sal, he decided that it is best for him to tender his resignation at this time," Tannenbaum said. "We appreciate all of Sal's contributions during his tenure with the team. He played an invaluable role in our success and established what we feel is one of the better strength and conditioning programs in the NFL."

Alosi also released a statement through the Jets. The departure must have been a heartbreaking one for him. Alosi is a native Long Islander who played football at Hofstra, where the Jets used to train. His first NFL job was as a Jets intern in 2002.

"I'm thankful to have been a part of the New York Jets," Alosi said. "I am especially grateful to Mr. Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan for allowing me the opportunity to be a head strength and conditioning coach in this league. I have many fond memories, including earning my first NFL job in 2002.

"After the events that have transpired, I feel it's best for my family and me to look for a fresh start. I wish nothing but the best for the entire organization."

Your 2010 All-AFC East team revealed

January, 26, 2011
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Vince Wilfork and Kyle WilliamsGetty Images, US PresswireThere was enough room on the All-AFC East team for nose tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Williams.
Reader input didn't make compiling the 2010 All-AFC East team a simple process.

Despite your tremendous response to help me assemble the quintessential roster, I had to make an executive decision, break a deadlock, defend one of my no-brainer selections and throw out some ballots because of shenanigans.

In the end, we have an All-AFC East squad everybody should be satisfied with.

We began the process a week ago, when I chose 10 players I believed were automatic. The other 17 positions were for you to vote upon. You didn't disappoint.

There were some great races, most notably at left tackle and nose tackle.

As with any voting process on the AFC East blog, I always can be convinced to move from a stance. My instructions were to vote for one nose tackle for a 3-4 scheme with emphasis that New England Patriots keystone Vince Wilfork and Buffalo Bills standout Kyle Williams must be considered nose tackles because that's how each team identifies him.

But enough readers made the case that Wilfork and Williams played elsewhere along the line so frequently that they should be eligible for some quasi position. I do appreciate the point.

The Patriots' official game-by-game player participation record says Wilfork started eight games at defensive end. Williams started every game at nose tackle (12) or defensive tackle (four).

I decided to add Wilfork and Williams as "defensive tackles" on a defensive front with New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis, who received an avalanche of votes. But I didn't want to slight the No. 2 defensive end, Kendall Langford of the Miami Dolphins. Langford received a healthy number of votes. Too many to dismiss.

That left me with a dilemma: How can I honor four defensive linemen and still maintain a 3-4 alignment? I took the easy way out. I added a 12th defender. I'm not thrilled with my final decision, but it's an appropriate way to give proper credit where it's due.

On the other side of scrimmage, Dolphins left tackle Jake Long and Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson finished in a tie, forcing me to make the call. Each was selected to be a Pro Bowl starter. Long was voted All-Pro.

I chose Long. He played hurt for much of the season. He slipped on plays here or there, but he mostly remained dominant.

A few readers took me to task for my coronation of Dolphins punter Brandon Fields without allowing a vote because Jets punter Steve Weatherford had a great season. Weatherford tied an NFL record with 42 punts inside the 20-yard line. He was impressive.

But I found Fields more remarkable this year. He ranked fourth with a 46.2-yard average (3.6 yards longer than Weatherford). Fields' net average of 37.8 yards was only 0.3 yards shorter than Weatherford's, but the Dolphins were atrocious on special-teams protection and coverage. They fired their special-teams coordinator after Week 4. Fields had two punts blocked and one returned for a touchdown.

The Jets have venerable special-teams coach Mike Westhoff and sensational coverage men, as illustrated by four Jets receiving at least two votes for the special-teams position on the All-AFC East team.

And it's not often a punter is MVP of a game, but Fields certainly was against the Jets in Week 14.

There were some surprises in the balloting.

Bills receiver Steve Johnson ran away with one of the two available spots, but I didn't expect Santonio Holmes to take the other one so handily over teammate Braylon Edwards or Patriots star Wes Welker.

I assumed Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would win, but in a close race, especially with the possibility of splitting votes with teammate Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski crushed everyone else. He had four times as many votes as his closest competition, Dustin Keller of the Jets.

Bills linebacker Arthur Moats finished a distant second to Calvin Pace. But I found it amusing that almost every time a vote came in for him, the reader stipulated it was because Moats injured Brett Favre.

Patriots rookie Devin McCourty had six times as many votes as Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis for the position opposite Jets star Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie wasn't remotely in the race.

The most balanced voting happened at the safety positions. Patriots strong safety Brandon Meriweather edged out Jim Leonhard of the Jets, with Donte Whitner of the Bills closely behind in third.

Bills free safety Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2009, accumulated just 14 more votes than Patrick Chung of the Patriots.

The special-teams race was fun to track. Thirteen players received at least one vote, with Jets hitter Eric Smith barely beating teammate James Ihedigbo and Bills fullback Corey McIntyre.

Final Word: AFC Championship

January, 21, 2011
1/21/11
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Conference Championship Final Word: Jets-Steelers | Bears-Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Jets-Steelers AFC Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson
Michael Hickey/US PresswireJets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is on the verge of his first Super Bowl appearance in his 10-year career.
For LaDainian Tomlinson to reach the Super Bowl, he'll need to do more than most. Despite a surefire Hall of Fame career, Tomlinson never has reached the Super Bowl. The onus will be on the Jets' run game. As always, the Jets' ground attack with Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will be crucial to moving the offense and making the game as manageable as possible for quarterback Mark Sanchez in a difficult environment. The Steelers led the NFL in run defense during the regular season, allowing a paltry 63 yards a game. But in a Week 15 victory at Heinz Field, the Jets rushed for 106 yards. In the postseason, however, Tomlinson averages 3.7 yards a carry and has six touchdowns in nine career games, but only four in his seven with the San Diego Chargers.

The Jets can win the game on special teams. The Steelers' special teams are mediocre. Brad Smith set a tone for the Jets by returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in Week 15. In last week's divisional playoff game at Heinz Field, Baltimore Ravens punt returner Lardarius Webb had a 55-yard touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty. Webb also had a 38-yard kickoff return, and the Steelers' special teams were flagged three times. The Jets' venerable special-teams coordinator, Mike Westhoff, is as opportunistic as they come.

After two games of holding back, expect the Jets' pass rush to get aggressive. The Jets focused more on keeping defenders in coverage than sending extra pass-rushers after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Steelers, however, are vulnerable on the offensive line. Even when healthy, the Steelers' pass protection makes the game an adventure for Ben Roethlisberger, and tackles Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott are hurt. The Steelers surrendered 43 sacks in the regular season. Only seven teams allowed more. The Ravens sacked Roethlisberger six times last week. Jets outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor and defensive end Shaun Ellis must be excited about the possibilities.

In addition to the return of Troy Polamalu, don't underestimate the presence of Heath Miller. Much attention has been dedicated to how the Steelers' defense will be different with Polamalu at safety. He didn't face the Jets in Week 15. Neither did Miller, a dangerous weapon in the Steelers' passing game. He caught 42 passes for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can handle the Steelers' receivers, but Miller can pose a matchup problem. Here's a noteworthy stat: The Steelers are 8-1 in the postseason with Miller on the field.

The Jets have the best receiving corps left in the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback. The Steelers have the most bling. But the Jets boast the best crew of receivers of the final four. That will be important if the Jets need to mount a late comeback and especially if the Steelers play prevent defense. The Steelers have a stellar duo with Mike Wallace and Hines Ward running routes. But Santonio Holmes is a former Super Bowl MVP and (mostly) has been a clutch receiver all season. Braylon Edwards has distanced himself from that butterfingers reputation. When Jerricho Cotchery is your third receiver, you know you're in good shape. Then there's tight end Dustin Keller, and Tomlinson makes catches out of the backfield. The Jets would prefer to have success on the ground, but with receiving options like those, they still have a shot to win through the air.

Video: Jets are ultimate must-see TV

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
1:04
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Miami Herald columnist Israel Gutierrez whipped out his TV Guide during the "Parting Shots" segment of "The Sports Reporters" and counted all the episodes that make the New York Jets the embodiment of must-see TV.

Sal Alosi wall draws $100,000 fine for Jets

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
6:15
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The New York Jets avoided disciplinary action when the Brett Favre-Jenn Sterger sexting investigation came to a close Wednesday, but another day brought another opportunity.

The NFL has fined the Jets $100,000 for events surrounding Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi's infamous trip of Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll in Week 14.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell declared Alosi violated rules by ordering inactive players to form a sideline phalanx that would hinder gunners on punt coverage.

The NFL released a statement that said Alosi "placed players in a prohibited area on the sideline to impede an opposing team's special teams players and gain a competitive advantage. This is both a competitive violation as well as a dangerous tactic."

The $100,000 fine also extends to a broadcast claim Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff made that the New England Patriots have used a similar ploy.

"Both the NFL Constitution and Bylaws and other league policies require clubs to report actual or suspected violations of competitive rules by other teams only to the league office and not to engage in public criticism of other clubs," the league statement read.

The Jets have been ensnared by a series of embarrassing scandals this year, including Braylon Edwards' DUI arrest, their mistreatment of female sports reporter Ines Sainz that led Jets owner Woody Johnson to fund a league-wide training program to educate players, and last week's report head coach Rex Ryan and his wife had posted foot-fetish videos on the internet.

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