Veterans, then Herm, Ram playoff message

BY RICH CIMINI
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER


Herm Edwards delivers stirring address looking to get his Jets off the ground.

Facing the crucible of a season-defining finale, the Jets turned up the heat yesterday at Weeb Ewbank Hall. Their meeting room became an emotional inferno. Times two.
Herman Edwards, trying to rally his team from a demoralizing loss to the Patriots, delivered one of his vintage pep talks. Ordinarily, he's the only motivational speaker needed on the premises. But, on this day, the coach was preceded by a rare players-only meeting in which at least three veterans addressed the team, according to several players.

Before Edwards arrived, Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin and Terrell Buckley spoke. In essence, they tried to convey a sense of urgency and hope, imploring their teammates to forget the New England meltdown and seize the moment. There was some tough talk, too. "There was a lot of fire, and not necessarily all of it came from Herm, either," said LaMont Jordan, summarizing the oratory events of the day. "The players in the locker room have a lot of fire built up in us that we want to let out once we get to St. Louis."

The Jets (10-5) finish the regular season Sunday in St. Louis, where they meet the Rams (7-8) in a game loaded with playoff implications. The Jets clinch an AFC wild-card berth with a victory; the Rams need a win and some help to claim a spot in the NFC playoffs.

It didn't have to be this stressful for the Jets, but they blew it on Sunday with a no-show against the Patriots. Martin isn't a speech-giving kind of guy, but he was so galled by the performance that he decided to speak up. "It was much-needed," he said of the players-only meeting. "We had a disgusting game last week. It was so glaringly disgusting that you couldn't just sweep it under the carpet.

"As a leader, I feel responsible. As leaders, we take ownership of this team. I'm watching film of that game and I'm thinking, 'That's my team out there, playing like that.' I had to say something. I guess Chad felt the same way."

Pennington said he wanted to remind the team it still has a wonderful opportunity. "It's important, through all the negativity, to understand we still control our own destiny," he said. "Through all the chaos that has surrounded our team, like losing to the elite teams, we still put ourselves in position to make the playoffs and we can still play for the championship."

Players-only meetings happen maybe once or twice a year. Some players are cynical, saying they have no effect. Jordan said "the difference between this meeting and the other meetings is you could kind of feel the aura in the room - a positive aura."

But he added, "All this talk, all this hoopla, all this yelling, that doesn't win football games. We have to go out, make plays and get the job done."

The meeting made quite an impression on rookie Erik Coleman.

"Just to see how those vets were, to see the passion in their eyes, you can tell this is something they really want," he said. "We're all in this to get to Jacksonville (for the Super Bowl)."

The meeting, followed by Edwards' fiery speech, seemed to cure the post-New England hangover. Later, at his news conference, Edwards took a half-full approach, insisting the Jets are in a good situation. He belabored the point, using the words "good" and "great" a combined 36 times - probably more than Tom Coughlin's 16-week total.

"This is a good thing, because you find out what type of team you are," said Edwards, his voice rising.

Originally published on December 30, 2004