HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) – Eric Mangini has banned his New York Jets from discussing their postseason chances since training camp.

One more win against the lowly Oakland Raiders, and the playoffs will be all they’re talking about. A shocking turn of events, considering where this team was a year ago.

“This is definitely an exciting time of year for us, but our approach will be consistent just like it was with Miami,” Mangini said Tuesday, hours after a 13-10 win over the Dolphins.

“We need to take care of what’s in front of us, and what’s in front of us is the Oakland Raiders and that’s all our focus has to be on. Anything else after that point we’ll address when, and if, it happens.”

That cautious approach is nothing new for Mangini, who has preached discipline and concentration on the task at hand since taking the job.

“The key thing for us is to take the same consistent approach that we had in Week 6, Week 1, Week 12 and it carries over,” Mangini said. “And that’s how we’ve been able to make progress. That’s how we’ve been able to be successful, and that’s not going to change.”

The Jets (9-6) overcame rain, offensive struggles and a potential letdown against the Dolphins on Monday night. It was a display hardly indicative of a playoff-bound team, but New York – as it has done often during this surprising season – did just enough to pull out a victory.

“We knew they would give us everything they had,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma said after the game.

“We knew it would be a tough one, and what to expect, and fortunately we pulled it out in the end.”

All it took was one big play. Rookie running back Leon Washington caught a screen pass from Chad Pennington and zigzagged his way 64 yards downfield to set up Mike Nugent’s winning 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.

“We haven’t really completed a really good screen play all year, but they did a great job blocking down the field,” Washington said, “and I just did the rest from there.”

Washington’s scamper helped the Jets win for the fourth time in five games, move three games over .500 for the first time this season and improve New York to 6-2 on the road, its best mark away from the Meadowlands since going 7-1 in 2001.

Only Chicago and New England, both division winners, have better road marks.

Next, the Jets take on the Raiders, who have the lowest-ranked offense in the NFL, but also have the No. 1 pass defense in the league. New York insists it will not take Oakland and its AFC-worst 2-13 record lightly.

“I’m definitely proud of things that we have done and progress that we’ve made, but to me, this is an ongoing process and we have another opportunity here this week to make progress, to go out and execute, and consistency is the goal,” Mangini said. “And finishing is a core Jets value and this is part of finishing. This is part of finishing the regular season, and that’s going to be a big focus of ours this week.”

Even if the Jets suffer a letdown against the Raiders, they can still make the playoffs, but need some help. They would get in if Cincinnati and Jacksonville both lose or tie; if Cincinnati loses or ties and Tennessee wins; or if Denver and Jacksonville both lose.

Obviously, the Jets would prefer to take care of business themselves.

“We’ve talked for months and months about controlling things,” Mangini said. “And we’re firm believers that we control the things that happen to us based on the way that we have prepared, based on the way that we work and based on us carrying that over into Sunday.”

If the Jets get into the playoffs, it will cap an incredibly successful first season for Mangini, who has turned a 4-12 team into one of the league’s biggest surprises.

New Orleans’ Sean Payton has experienced similar success as a rookie head coach, taking a team that finished 3-13 last season and leading it to the NFC South title and a 10-5 record.

In 2002, John Fox took over as Carolina’s coach a year after it went 1-15 under George Seifert and led the Panthers to a 7-9 record. A year later, the Panthers made it to the Super Bowl. That’s the sort of impact the Jets are hoping Mangini can have, but first things first.

“I’m going to talk about the playoffs,” said Vilma, apparently lifting the team’s ban on speaking about the postseason.

“This was an important game to get into the playoffs,” he said. “Obviously we have to win next week to get to the playoffs, and that’s going to be on our mind this week coming up; that’ll be our focus. It’s a short week, though. We have to get back and get ready.”

AP-ES-12-26-06 1844EST


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