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Belichick still stands in new Jets' way

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As Bill Belichick remains under siege in New England, holding his breath until the NFL issues its verdict on a stash of game-day footballs gone mysteriously soft, there is no need for the league to investigate this one act of perfectly legitimate deflation:

Belichick long ago let the air out of the New York Jets.

The day he walked out on them in 2000 -- 24 hours after agreeing to replace the retiring Bill Parcells as their head coach -- goes down as the worst day for a franchise that has had more than its share of really bad ones. Belichick's Patriots have won the AFC East 12 times in 14 tries and are about to make their sixth trip to the Super Bowl, a place the Jets haven't been since Belichick was a student at Annapolis High.

So as the latest Belichickian drama picked up where Spygate left off, perhaps leaving the Patriots at the mercy of a weakened commissioner who needs to make a stand, the Jets quietly introduced the two men hired to outwit Belichick and Tom Brady at some point over the next few years. Todd Bowles is their coach, and Mike Maccagnan is their general manager. Whenever the NFL is done punishing Belichick, if he's punished at all, he's still the man the new guys have to beat.

Can they do it? Can they find the magic formula that eluded Rex Ryan, who huffed and puffed and then lost six consecutive division titles to the Patriots before getting himself fired?

Nobody has a clue after one news conference that amounted to the polar opposite of Ryan's introduction, remembered for promised trips to the White House that would never come to be. Over the seasons, ol' Rex did an awful lot of talking about Belichick's ring collection, which isn't something Bowles seems inclined to do.

"I'm going to work on getting my own rings," he said Wednesday. "[The Patriots] are the cream of the crop of the division. That's why they're in the Super Bowl. They're somewhere that we're striving to get to, and that's what we're going to work towards."

They've got a million miles to go from 4-12 and four consecutive seasons out of the playoffs to the top of the AFC East. Bowles, the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, and Maccagnan, the Houston Texans director of college scouting, come across as earnest football men who won't waste time guaranteeing things they can't deliver.

Ryan kept faking it with Geno Smith, kept trying to persuade people to ignore the mounting evidence and take his word for it that Smith would someday soon become a big-time pro. Bowles? The best he could do on Smith was a description of him as "a great college quarterback," and until Smith's play demands something more, that's the way it should be.

Let's continue with the apparent positives here. Bowles and Maccagnan are card-carrying Jersey guys, and the last time a Jets owner (Leon Hess) hired one of those, Bill Parcells needed only two seasons to turn Rich Kotite's 1-15 roster into the second-best team the franchise ever fielded, a Super Bowl contender that would've beaten either of Ryan's AFC Championship Game teams by a touchdown or two.

Parcells is a big fan of Bowles, a former aide of his. "He taught me how to see the overall game," Bowles said.

Parcells didn't need to teach him about toughness and perseverance. Bowles told of how he dislocated six bones in his wrist before his senior season at Temple, an injury serious enough for some to predict the safety would never play again. He missed the first three games.

"The Redskins offered me a free-agent contract," said Bowles, who went undrafted, "and, actually, the Philadelphia Inquirer did a story on me every day up until the day I was going to get cut. And I ended up not getting cut."

He played eight seasons in the pros, then paid all kinds of coaching dues before Woody Johnson listened to his consultants, Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf, and put him behind Ryan's desk.

Maccagnan? Nobody handed him anything, either, across a winding scout's journey from the Canadian Football League to Washington to Houston and, finally, to the big chair in the big market.

Like his hopeless predecessor, John Idzik, Maccagnan isn't a personality that will light up too many rooms. Unlike his predecessor, Maccagnan has a history of evaluating talent, not budget lines. He should have a decent idea of what to do with the $40 million in salary-cap space at his disposal, and with the sixth overall pick in the draft.

Now the negatives. The Jets still don't have a viable quarterback, or a viable set of cornerbacks to defend against viable quarterbacks. "I have to get in and look at the film and see what the problems were," Bowles said, "whether they were schematically or whether they were physically."

Memo to Todd: They were both.

Bowles has never been a head coach and Maccagnan has never been a GM, and they're working for an owner with an approach best described as "all over the place." Johnson isn't an established tone-setter, and that can be a problem with newbies. As much as Bowles suggested that working with Maccagnan would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the coach and executive have known each other for 15 minutes. Who knows if this working relationship will really work?

And just like Idzik, Maccagnan went on about all the wonderful people he's met inside the Jets' facility.

"I think for me, from afar, the Jets always seemed to have a lot of things in the media," he said. "But for me, when I got inside the building and actually started interacting with the people, this is a first-class organization through and through. I think at the end of the day, you really win with people, and everybody I've met here, they're all very nice and helpful and friendly, and they're all very passionate about winning."

Of course, everyone in the NFL wants to win. Of course, everyone meeting the new boss for the first time -- a boss who ultimately decides who stays and who goes -- will go out of their way to be nice and helpful and friendly.

But nice guys don't finish on top in the AFC East, something Bill Belichick proves every year. The NFL might whack him over this latest controversy, might suspend him and/or take a high draft pick or two. Then again, the NFL might decide it doesn't have enough to penalize Belichick at all.

Either way, whenever and however the Patriots coach emerges from the mess created in the AFC Championship Game romp of Indianapolis, the Jets are in the same old place with him.

As they try to topple Bill Belichick, good luck to Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan. They will most definitely need it.