Chris Baker scolded for questioning play-calling
BY RICH CIMINI
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Tuesday, October 16th 2007, 4:00 AM
After Sunday's crushing loss to the Eagles, Chris Baker dared to go where no player under Eric Mangini has gone. The veteran tight end openly questioned the play-calling at the end of the game - and he caught hell for it.
Saying his postgame comments "already got me in trouble," Baker was reluctant yesterday to discuss the matter. But he didn't back down.
"I said what I had to say," he said. "It's just something I was feeling."
Another player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of Baker's criticism, "You'd be correct to assume other guys feel the same way."
The Jets (1-5), mired in a three-game losing streak and a quarterback controversy, could use an intervention right about now. There's growing disenchantment in the locker room, with some players wondering about the methods of Mangini and his staff.
Understandably, their feelings are raw because of the losing, but Mangini's rigid rules and demanding work schedule (see last week's training camp-like practices) haven't helped the environment around Weeb Ewbank Hall.
"Everybody is frustrated," Baker said. "To be 1-5, with the talent we have, it shouldn't be. ... We returned a team that was 10-6 last year. We improved in some areas, obviously running back. You expect to take it to another level."
The awful start is particularly galling because, unlike most teams, the Jets haven't suffered any major injuries. Basically, they are underachieving, prompting some to look at the coaching. There's a feeling in the locker room that the game plans are too predictable, and that top playmakers aren't being utilized properly.
Some of the angst bubbled to the surface after the 16-9 loss, when Baker, referring to the third-down quarterback sneak and fourth-down incompletion on the final drive, said: "(Thomas Jones) has been running the ball all over the place and he doesn't get it. ... It's unfortunate. Nothing surprises me anymore."
Jones rushed for a season-high 130 yards, but didn't touch the ball on the last two plays, as a potential game-tying drive stalled at the Eagles' 4. Publicly, Mangini didn't scold Baker, but he made sure his tight end was rebuked behind the scenes.
"After the game is an emotional time and people are going to have emotional reactions," Mangini said. "The one thing I feel very good about is where my office is located. Any of those players are more than welcome to come in and talk to me. ... I'd love to hear from them personally."
No players have stopped by for a chit-chat, according to Mangini.
His crisis-management skills are being tested, especially with a quarterback controversy threatening to fuel the unrest. Mangini is sticking with the beleaguered Chad Pennington, perhaps because he doesn't want his players to think he's throwing Pennington under the bus.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said the team appreciates Mangini's patience with the slumping Pennington.
"Players want to see that," Cotchery said. "They want to see the coach stick behind a guy. We will feed off that."
Mangini overcame mild locker-room unrest early last season, when the Jets began 2-3. He won over the players with his smarts and game preparation. But they still don't like his rules. For instance, Baker was fined $1,500 for showing up four minutes late to the team hotel in the preseason.
Asked if he's concerned about losing the locker room, Mangini said, "It's a locker room of high character. It's why we draft character."
Things could get real ugly if they don't beat the dysfunctional Bengals (1-4), who own the league's lowest-ranked scoring defense.
Publicly, Mangini painted a positive picture of the team's plight, listing areas in which they've improved. Behind the scenes, he dropped the hammer, creating tension around the team.
"After going through the team meeting with Coach, it's one of those things you sense," wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. "You never have a true feeling of how bad things are until you see the look in your head coach's eyes."