FLORHAM PARK. N.J. — These are the games Bill Parcells worried about most. Just like the one his protege, Todd Bowles, now faces on Sunday.
It’s why Parcells fired off a text a few minutes after the Jets came back to beat the Giants, 23-20, reminding Bowles of what lies ahead for the Jets as they host the 3-9 Titans Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
It also may be why Bowles took the opportunity on Wednesday to have his players practice in pads, a rarity in today’s NFL.
“I got that text right after the game, so I understand what he’s saying,” Bowles said of Parcells after practice.
This is the classic trap game, and Bowles knows it. Beat the Giants in an emotion-packed win one week, and then host an awful team — at least record-wise — the following week. The Titans are that team, and Bowles clearly is taking a page from his mentor’s approach in these situations.
Parcells never worried about getting his team ready for a big game, whether it be against a divisional rival or, in the Jets’ case, against the team that shares a stadium and the New York market. It was the games that offered no obvious motivation — other than winning, of course — that concerned him most. And he made a point of being much more critical of his players in the run-up to that type of game.
He also indulged in his now famous motivational ploy of placing mousetraps in his players’ lockers as a warning about not taking any team — especially one with a losing record — lightly. When Parcells was the Cowboys’ coach in 2005, he had several mousetraps hanging in the locker room when his team reported for work a few days after a dramatic 21-20 road win in Philadelphia. The Cowboys were set to host the 4-5 Lions, and Parcells was concerned that his players might be too complacent.
Why the mousetraps?
“There might be mice in the building,” Parcells said. “I don’t want mice running under the secretaries.”
Eventually, Parcells fessed up. Sort of. “There are a lot of vehicles to teach with,” the coach said. “They don’t have to be all words and pictures.”
The Cowboys beat the Lions, 20-7, to improve to 7-3.
Familiar scenario, huh?
Bowles didn’t put mousetraps in the locker room on Wednesday, but he did put his players in pads for the first time in several weeks.
“We’re not a good enough team to overlook anybody,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got to treat everyone like it’s the playoffs, we’re in the playoffs right now trying to win each week. I don’t think you’ll see, hear or feel that out of our team at all.”
That had better be the case if the Jets want to continue their push toward the playoffs. At 7-5, the Jets would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. But destiny is not completely in their control. For instance, if the Steelers and Chiefs, both of whom are 7-5, win the rest of their games, they would be in the playoffs as wild-card teams and the Jets would be out. Even if they ran the table the rest of the way.
Translation: No team, even a 3-9 team going nowhere, can be taken lightly.
“They’re all big wins,” Bowles said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We know we have to go out and perform every week. Otherwise, we’ll be in a nail-biter every week. We don’t think it’s a trap game. We know they have a good team. They got a heck of a defense. They have a big offensive line, can run the ball. We have to take care of ourselves. If we don’t, we’re not going to win.”
A word of advice that Parcells would say at a time like this: Don’t eat the cheese.