At 9-6, Jets producing greatest of Parcells' patented turnarounds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He is the best fix-it man in the NFL. Just as he did with the New York Giants and New England Patriots previously, coach Bill Parcells has restored the New York Jets to a position of prominence this season.

With a victory in Detroit on Sunday, he will restore them to a position in the playoffs -- for the first time in six years.

Even by his high standards, this would be a remarkable turn of events. Parcells went to the playoffs in his second season with both the Giants (1984) and Patriots (1994).

But no team has climbed from a one-win season into the playoffs the following year, as these Jets are threatening to do after Sunday's 31-0 win over Tampa Bay.

At 9-6, with an eight-game swing, Parcells' Jets already have tied Ted Marchibroda's 1992 Indianapolis Colts as the biggest turnaround team since the league's 1970 merger.

Two other teams -- the AFL's Oakland Raiders of 1964 and the Giants of 1929 -- achieved a nine-game turnaround in different eras.

This is why Jets owner Leon Hess agreed to a $14.4 million, six-year contract to land Parcells after the coach's acrimonious split with the Patriots following last year's Super Bowl appearance.

After four wins in two years under Rich Kotite, Hess got an immediate return on his investment. Parcells brought discipline, credibility and a long-range plan to the Jets.

Perhaps the biggest difference in the team is that it no longer gives games away as it did under Kotite. The Jets have gone from minus-20 in turnover differential to plus-6, with the fewest interceptions (seven) in the league.

There will be no Super Bowl run this year, though, even if the Jets make the playoffs. The line is young and vulnerable, and the quarterback situation, with Neil O'Donnell and Glenn Foley, is shaky.

But there likely will be a Super Bowl run in the near future. In each of his previous tours of duty, Parcells got his team to the Super Bowl in the fourth year. He could beat that with the Jets, too.

Dillon runs free

Two years after the Cincinnati Bengals took running back Ki-Jana Carter with the first pick of the draft, they found his replacement. And Corey Dillon came a lot cheaper.

Since they turned the running game over to Dillon in Week 10, the Bengals are 5-2 and the powerful rookie has emerged as the steal of the 1997 draft. A juvenile arrest record dropped Dillon from a top 20 pick to the 43rd pick and the second round.

In the past seven games, Dillon has rushed for 873 yards, averaging 5.1 yards a carry. In the past three, including the 246-yard effort against Tennessee that broke Jim Brown's rookie record, he is averaging 5.8 a carry.

He already has toppled Ickey Woods' club season record for a rookie with 1,069 yards. If early signs are promising, quarterback Boomer Esiason knows what to look for.

"The question for any young athlete that comes into money and has never really had money is the off-season that first year," Esiason said. "If he comes back after working out and is ready and determined like he is now, he can be a superstar. If he doesn't take care of his body and prepare his mind, then we can be stuck with a one-hit wonder, and you don't ever want that to happen."

First-year flop

Then there is tackle Orlando Pace, the first pick in the 1997 draft, who has been less than overwhelming in his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams.

When the Rams recently voted for various team awards, David Thompson, a kick returner signed last October, was selected the top rookie over Pace.

Ouch.

Back to the classroom

The frustration level was high for the Washington Redskins after their desultory 30-10 loss to the New York Giants put them on the brink of playoff elimination.

"I'm pretty tired of learning how to play football, I'm tired of learning how to win," said offensive lineman Joe Patton. "We've learned every lesson there is to learn. We've done everything there is to do. Now is the time to be consistent."

Unfortunately for Patton, the Redskins are consistent. Their 1-3-1 slide in the past five games coincides with their 2-6 collapse down the stretch last season. In November and December the past two seasons, they're 5-9-1.

Audibles

The Kansas City Chiefs haven't given up a second-half touchdown in the past 10 games, an NFL record. With 11 rushing touchdowns, Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart is one shy of Steve Grogan's single-season record for quarterbacks Tampa Bay's Trent Dilfer, the league's top-ranked third-down passer going in, was 0-for-6 passing on third down against the Jets. Running back Lawrence Phillips, the Miami Dolphins' reclamation project, has lost the past seven games he has played in -- six with the Rams and one with Miami. It took Billy Joe Hobert three games to match the total number of touchdown passes (five) thrown by the New Orleans Saints' other three quarterbacks in the first 12 games. Jets kicker John Hall broke Morten Andersen's NFL record with his 28th touchback on the opening kickoff Sunday The Dallas Cowboys have given up 100 rushing yards or more to their past eight opponents The Chicago Bears had lost 18 consecutive road games in December and January until they beat the Rams in St. Louis Atlanta Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler has thrown a touchdown pass in 11 straight games.

Best and worst

Best stretch run: Right on schedule, the Packers have won four in a row -- the past three on the road -- and nine of the past 10. This is where all playoff discussion must begin.

Worst stretch run: As woeful as the Redskins and Bucs have been down the stretch, the Vikings are the biggest busts. Their offense has gone in the tank, and they've lost five in a row.

Grittiest performance: On crutches with damaged ligaments in his left foot, Lions receiver Herman Moore didn't practice last week. But in a game the Lions had to have, he made six catches for 65 yards, including the 1-yard touchdown with three seconds left that beat the Vikings.

Best pass defense: Jets cornerback Otis Smith intercepted the Bucs' Trent Dilfer twice in the second quarter and returned each for a touchdown.

Worst pass defense: The Dolphins needed radar to find Colts tight end Ken Dilger, who was wide-, wide-open for three second-quarter touchdown receptions.

Best introduction: Seahawks quarterback Jon Kitna came close to getting the hook after throwing two interceptions in the first half of his first NFL start. But the former World League MVP rallied the Seahawks from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat the Raiders.

Best farewell: Memorial Stadium deserved a winning send-off, and the Ravens delivered.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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