After losing focus, Jets in serious danger of missing the postseason

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Did it start with Dan Marino punishing them or Vinny Testaverde's Achilles' tendon or the Bills -- Parcells and Belichick -- leaving too soon?

It's hard to know exactly when it began, but a Jets season-ticket package always seems to include a parking pass and plenty of agita.

"I'm aware of what's happened here in the past for the most part," Brett Favre was saying Wednesday after his Jets dropped two straight. "But to be quite honest, I don't care. I care about what's happening in the next three weeks. I can't control what happened in the past here."

Leave it to the Jets -- whose history is a cross between the Clippers and the Mets -- to follow two of the best weeks of their lives (wins over the Patriots and Titans) with belly flops (losses to the Broncos and 49ers), putting their playoff hopes in harm's way after looking like a lock for a top-three seed in the postseason.

Now, they have to sweat. Buffalo comes to East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday, followed by the Jets' cross-country flight to Seattle in Week 16, and a return home to face the Miami Dolphins on the last weekend of the season.

"I don't sense any loss of confidence," said Jets coach Eric Mangini. "There are very strong lessons to be gained from the last two games. If we take care of the things that we need to take care of -- Jet­-specific things -- and do what we do as well as we have or better, then everything else is secondary. You go through those cycles. Sometimes you can lose track of how important a point that is, but it's a very important point."

A number of players talked about the Jets losing some focus following their emotional victories in Foxborough and Nashville and all of the praise that followed: what would a Giants-Jets Super Bowl be like? What would happen if the Jets and Giants hosted the AFC and NFC Championship game?

Now the Jets are tied with the Patriots and Dolphins, at 8-5, atop the AFC East, and nothing is promised.

"Sometimes you have to turn the television off for awhile, watch movies all week like I do, and don't pay attention to it," Jets linebacker David Bowens said of the Super Bowl talk. "Focus on what we have to do. Coach [Mangini] points out every week some game-specific things, and we have to execute those things, and for the last two weeks we haven't."

Said Jets tight end Dustin Keller, when asked if the team became complacent: "Maybe. I think a little bit for everybody that might have been the case. It's better that it happened now than a couple weeks from now. Hopefully, we can change that around right now."

If complacency was the issue against Denver and San Francisco, sloppiness was the result. Turnovers, dropped passes, missed tackles, the types of mistakes that had been so rampant in past Jets seasons but so rare during their five-game winning streak this year.

Except for the magic of Jan. 12, 1969, when Joe Namath gave the Jets their one and only Super Bowl, so much of the Jets existence has been about playing in the shadow of the Giants. But for the Sack Exchange and, later, the Parcells era, the Jets have been the kid brother with the runny nose, trying to keep up with the big boys but ultimately trudging home to mom.

The Favre signing, at the very least, added gravitas to a team that needed it, but the fate of the Jets may ultimately rest somewhere other than his right arm.

Mangini is the face of this franchise, the coordinator in New England who was fast-tracked to Jets head coach two days before his 35th birthday. After a 10-6 rookie season in 2006 brought him the nickname "Mangenius" and a cameo on the Sopranos, the Jets sagged to 4-12 last year.

The Jets story in 2008 will be whether Mangini was able to stop a slide in a division that looks a lot like a family tree. Will he guide his team to a better record than did Belichick, one of his mentors? Will the Jets be savvy enough in Week 17 to outfox Miami and the handiwork of Parcells, the other mentor who snatched up Chad Pennington when the Jets dropped him in favor of Favre.

The road is filled with potholes and potential disaster.

Seems like the Jets don't know any other way.