Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Jet's backups turn on the afterburners

NFL PRESEASON GAMES Running back Little John Flowers made a case for why he should make the final cut when the NY Jets trim their roster to only 53 players from 70 by Sunday

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PHILADELPHIA

Browns running back Reuben Droughns, top left, leaps into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown as the Bears' Todd Johnson, bottom right, and Chris Harris defend during the second quarter in Chicago, Thursday. Cleveland defeated Chicago 16-6 in an NFL preseason game that coaches use to test formations and their backup players.

PHOTO: AP

Herman Edwards must have felt more like a casting director than a coach during the Jets' preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. The game was more about auditioning players for the remaining open roster spots and starting positions than it was about the final score.

Still, Edwards always plays to win.

Apparently his backups do, too. With their starters playing only the first series, the Jets clobbered the Eagles, 37-14, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Jets running back Little John Flowers, who first signed with the Jets as a free agent in 2002 and played on the practice squad that year and in 2003, said, "After four years of this, that would be unbelievable if I got a phone call telling me that I was going to be here."

Flowers is competing with Cedric Houston to be the third running back and is still a long shot to make the team. Houston, a sixth-round pick this year, has not seen much action this preseason because of a bruised shoulder.

Safety Rashad Washington also stood out, intercepting a pass in the third quarter and returning it 99 yards to give the Jets a 34-7 lead. Washington finished with a game-high nine tackles.

As expected, the Eagles did not play their starters, some of whom watched in street clothes, and that almost immediately turned the game into a battle of second- and third-stringers. But few figured the Jets would score so effortlessly and so frequently. They went into halftime leading by 27-0.

The Jets' starters entered the game with one eye fixed on the season opener, at Kansas City on Sept. 11. Quarterback Chad Pennington, who threw two interceptions in the end zone against the Giants last week, ended the preseason on a high note. On the Jets' first series, he led an eight-play, 65-yard drive capped by Derrick Blaylock's 5-yard scamper into the end zone.

But the first-string offense was playing against the Eagles' backups, so it was hardly a fair fight.

"We have a lot of work to do," said Pennington, who was 3 of 3 for 27 yards. "But as long as we keep making progress, we'll be OK"

While four preseason games might seem too many to some fans, the younger players vying to make the team relished a final opportunity to impress. The Jets have not named their starting punt returner and strong safety, or their fifth receiver.

"We have to make some tough cuts on some guys, and it's never fun doing that," Edwards said. "I told them, 'My hat's off to them,' the way they competed tonight."

Jerricho Cotchery's first punt return went for 14 yards and helped set up Mike Nugent's 48-yard field goal at the end of the first quarter. But Justin Miller also did an admirable job, returning three punts 20 yards.

Nugent, who had only one field-goal attempt in the first three preseason games, also made a 35-yarder and a 33-yarder.

"I think it's good for confidence and also experience," Nugent said.

Oliver Celestin and Kerry Rhodes are competing to be the starting strong safety. Late in the second quarter, Eagles quarterback Mike McMahon, a Rutgers alumnus, lofted an ill-advised pass that Rhodes intercepted and returned 21 yards.

In the third quarter, McMahon scrambled 8 yards for the Eagles' first touchdown.

Chas Gessner, the first-year wide receiver out of Brown who is hoping to be the team's fifth receiver, improved his stock after he caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Bollinger shortly before halftime to give the Jets a 27-0 lead. Gessner finished with two catches for a team-high 41 yards.

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