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Marriage of old, new players working for Jets

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The receiving line at most weddings aren't this joyous.

Only minutes after their 34-13 victory over the previously undefeated Titans, New York Jets players were greeted heartily by series of hugs, handshakes and high-fives by owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

At 8-3, the Jets have turned this marriage of new players (six starters from other teams a year ago, including quarterback Brett Favre) and returners into one happy union. New York isn't just in control of the AFC East; it may just be cruising to the division title.

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Favre hugs coach Eric Mangini after the victory.
(AP Photo/John Russell)

And while no one is quite ready to give the Jets the AFC crown and a berth in the Super Bowl (perhaps against the co-tenant Giants), there's no question that New York can dare to dream big and think green.

It's not simply a matter of the Jets winning and Tennessee losing, meaning there will be no second straight year of regular-season perfection in the NFL. What's telling about this game is the way the Jets won and how badly Tennessee looked. The 34 points the Jets scored (their third straight with at least that many) was more than Tennessee had allowed up to this point, topping the 21 it gave up against Indianapolis. In fact, it's more than the Titans had allowed in just about any combination of two games this season. Tennessee had held nine of its previous opponents to 17 or fewer points.

"They came in here and kicked us around and nobody had done that this season," Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said.

That was a beautiful sight for Johnson and Tannenbaum, who invested a $144 million free-agent spending spree on guard Alan Faneca, linebacker Calvin Pace and fullback Tony Richardson among others this past offseason. Then, of course, there was the move to get Favre, a huge high-roller play in a town that loves bold.

Right now, the Jets look as good, if not better, than anyone in the AFC. Their offense is playing as well as any in the league and certainly much better than the rest of the division leaders, Denver, Pittsburgh and the Titans.

In Weeks 6 through 8, that play didn't look so great. Favre combined for seven interceptions over that stretch and there were plenty of critics who thought he was regressing to LaLooshian ways.

Over the past three weeks, however, Favre has been nearly immaculate with his play, completing 65 of 84 for 649 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. In fact, the one interception came Sunday on a beautiful play by Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who wrestled the ball away from wide receiver Laveranues Coles.

"I'm just trying to cram 16 years worth of memories into one season," Favre said with his typical bit of Southern candor that is equal parts serious and leg-pulling.

Was Favre hinting this season could be his last? Who knows? But regardless, the Jets' future is bigger than the quarterback's potential plans.

"How good can we be? I don't know, but we've put in a lot work to get to this point," Faneca said. "I think everybody here understood this was a special situation with a lot of veteran guys coming in and everybody paid a lot more attention, worked harder in the film room, worked harder at communicating, whatever it took."

Adjusting to Favre has been the key. The Jets acquired him in a trade from the Packers on Aug. 7, prior to their first preseason game. Since then, it has been a battle to get him up to speed on the offense and get his teammates on the same page.

The stats show so far, so good. But the process has been interesting.

"We've had to combine a lot of things that we do so that he understands what we're tying to do and what it is they called it when he was in Green Bay," Richardson said. "For me, it's been good because I played in the same system, at least in terminology, as what he played when I was with Minnesota.

"Coming here, all the terminology is completely different. It's not that the plays are different. There's not a play we have that Brett Favre hasn't run at some point in his career. He's seen everything. It's just making sure he and the rest of us know what everybody is trying to do."

To do that, the Jets have improvised. They now run a play called "Packer Pass." It's a play from the Jets playbook that Favre knows well from his days in Green Bay. If that two-word name helps Favre know what he's supposed to do, so be it.

In a way, it's like making a marriage work. You get two people with different ideas trying to find a way to cooperate.

Right now, it's working beautifully. With Denver coming to New York this week, road games at woeful Seattle and San Francisco and home division games with Buffalo and Miami remaining, the Jets seem positioned to make it work.