Bill Parcells practiced restraint, Keyshawn Johnson stormed out of the locker room rather than have another public tantrum, and most of the other players and coaches cleared out of the locker room quickly. The New York Jets, thought by many--including themselves--to be a serious Super Bowl contender, have no victories and few answers three weeks into the season.
This latest loss couldn't be blamed exclusively on the absence of injured quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Rick Mirer threw one interception and probably could have done more to avoid two sacks he suffered at the hands of the Washington Redskins. But Mirer's performance--17 for 31, 227 yards and a touchdown--was respectable enough. A bigger problem for the Jets was the performance, or nonperformance, of cornerback Ray Mickens, who couldn't cover college teammate Albert Connell.
It was the third straight game in which the Redskins have identified a struggling cornerback and picked on him repeatedly. Two weeks ago, with Cowboys starters Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith injured, the Redskins went to work on their replacements, Charlie Williams and Kevin Mathis. Last week, on this same field against the New York Giants, Brad Johnson had a field day throwing to whichever wide receiver was being covered by Jeremy Lincoln, who was playing in place of the injured Jason Sehorn. This week it was Mickens, a starter who signed a big contract in the offseason.
Mickens, in fact, was clearly targeted during the Redskins' most important offensive sequence.
With the Jets leading 17-13 and eight minutes remaining, the Redskins needed a touchdown. Johnson completed a 13-yard pass to Connell, who beat Mickens, and a 15-yard pass to Connell, who beat Mickens again. On the next play, Mickens grabbed Connell's arm to prevent another reception, but was called for pass interference--a 35-yard penalty. Two plays later, Johnson again went to Mickens, who grabbed Connell around the waist to slow him down. That seven-yard penalty put the Redskins at the 4 and set up a short touchdown run by Stephen Davis for a 20-17 lead.
On the next possession, after a Jets fumble, Johnson threw to Connell again. Mickens not only was beaten on the play, but also committed another interference penalty. That set up another Davis touchdown run, which made it 27-17 and provided a big enough cushion to win.
"He just couldn't hold me," Connell said. Asked if the Redskins could have exploited that mismatch a little earlier in the game, Connell said, "That's what I was wondering, when we would get started because I felt all day I was open. . . . He's my buddy; I talked a little noise about that big contract. I said, 'You have to give it back.' It was all in good fun."
Perhaps not to Mickens, who slipped out of the locker room after the game rather than talk to media members about his misadventures. Aaron Glenn, a fellow cornerback, was left to talk for his teammate.
"Ray's got to keep pushing forward," Glenn said. "He can't let other people think he's out of it. He's got to keep fighting."
Asked if he sought Mickens out to offer encouragement, Glenn said: "He's not a baby. He's not a kid. He knows what he has to do."
The Jets were so consumed with being 0-3 they probably knew that questioning an official's reversal of a touchdown pass to Johnson would sound like sour grapes.
"This is the first time in many years I've had to bite my lip," Coach Bill Parcells said. He didn't say whether restraint was necessary to keep from criticizing his team or the officials. Asked if he saw any progress from last week, when the Jets were trampled by the Bills in Buffalo, Parcells said, "I thought we played a little better. . . . But it comes down to, in the end, making some plays and a couple of guys were just not competitive in the end of the game there."
He didn't mention Mickens by name. But asked about fourth-quarter penalties, Parcells said it was a "lack of concentration and poor judgment. . . . That's what I've always attributed them to and that's what they're caused by."
Parcells, whose team has been without six key players most of these first three games, said of the immediate future: "It doesn't look very good right now to me. This has been a very tough time for me and it continues to be. . . . We've got to figure out how to approach it."