Sun, Dec 26, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Jets' Wayne Chrebet still a threat

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK

Chad Pennington quarterback of the Jets celebrates a touchdown against the Seahawks at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Dec. 19. Pennington often looks for aging second-string receiver Wayne Chrebet on crucial passing situations.

PHOTO: AFP

Here is the Jets' Wayne Chrebet: 31 years old, once the most accomplished third-down receiver in the NFL and still thinking like a first-stringer, even though he knows that when he suits up Sunday against the New England Patriots, he will not start.

But Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a former Jets assistant, knows virtually everything about Chrebet. That's why the last time these teams met, Chrebet was double-teamed when the Jets were in a desperate fourth-and-8 on the Patriots' 30-yard line. The Jets trailed 13-7 with a little more than 2 minutes remaining, and their big-play receiver, Santana Moss, was in single coverage.

But Chad Pennington went to Chrebet anyway. The pass was batted away, and the Patriots ended up with the victory.

"It was kind of weird," Chrebet said Friday. "Even being the third receiver now, and not getting the quantity of catches, most teams still bracket me."

That is hardly a surprise, and the Jets expect it to continue on Sunday, when a victory would make Herman Edwards the first coach in team history to lead the Jets to three playoff appearances.

"You know, most players catch about 50 percent of the balls meant for them," said Jim Hostler, the Jets' receivers coach. "With Wayne, it's almost 70 percent. We expect the Patriots to be the same way on Sunday as they were the last game. Their No. 1 priority on third down is to stop Wayne."

Edwards added, "Bill Belichick will not let him beat them on a crucial third down."

Belichick was coaching the Jets' defense when Chrebet was the most noted third-down receiver in the league. The term "third down" seemed to be part of the persona of the 5-foot-10 Chrebet, who weighed 188 pounds and was pounded every time he snared a ball in traffic. Now Moss and Justin McCareins, younger and faster, are the Jets' first two receivers, and Chrebet comes next, with 25 catches and one touchdown this season. Last year, he had post-concussion syndrome and had 27 receptions in seven games, including five starts.

Chrebet, the senior member of the Jets, is in his 10th season and could be playing his last Jets home game. But he does not think so.

"I've still got a few years left in the tank," he said.

Considering the battering his body has taken, considering the concussions, it is noteworthy that he will not consider the possibility of retirement.

He appreciates the significance of his decade with the Jets. There are only two receivers - Troy Brown of New England and Isaac Bruce of St. Louis - who have been with their clubs longer than Chrebet. And he sounds like a longtime Jets fan in recounting the topsy-turvy nature of the team.

For Chrebet, it began in 1995, when he was 11th on the receiving depth chart as an undrafted rookie out of nearby Hofstra University. In his first season, the Jets went 3-13 under Rich Kotite, followed by the 1-15 disaster that led to the hiring of Bill Parcells.

Now it is year four of the Edwards regime, and while Edwards was insistent on making the team younger this season, Chrebet remains a Jet. For good reason.

"I think in the one year I've been coaching him, he's dropped one pass in practice," Hostler said. "And when he did, he hit himself on the helmet."

That practice helmet, by the way, is a testament to Chrebet's longevity. It is adorned with the outdated Jets airplane logo, which was swept away in 1998, during the Parcells era. In a game, Chrebet wears the new logo.

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