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Strickland clears head to play against former team

Running back Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston

Running back Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston Texans fumbles the ball as he is hit by cornerback Donald Strickland #27 of the New York Jets. (September 13, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Donald Strickland was actually able to muster a few smiles Thursday, something the Jets nickel back hadn’t been able to do much of the last few days.

Ever since he trudged off the Meadowlands turf in the aftermath of the Jets’ gut-wrenching 10-7 loss to the Falcons on Sunday -- when the secondary failed to cover future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, leading to his game-winning 6-yard touchdown reception with 1:38 left -- Strickland has been extremely down on himself.

The seventh-year defensive back took all the blame for not guarding Gonzalez on that fateful play and was crushed emotionally, appearing to be in almost a zombie-like state even 24 hours after the brutal defeat.

But with a game on the horizon against the team that selected him in the third round of the 2003 draft and severed ties with him too early in Strickland’s eyes, he’s finally feeling like himself again. He can’t wait for Sunday and the Colts, which will mark the first time he's played his former squad.

“It took me a couple of days to get over that because it was very significant and I felt I lost the game for us, even though one play didn’t lose the game,” Strickland said. “I could’ve helped our defense win the game for us, so I took it very hard on myself and it was just unfortunate that it was coming up right before one of the most anticipated games I’ve been waiting for.”

Rex Ryan knows how much this game means to Strickland, who played two full seasons and part of the 2005 campaign in Indianapolis. So that’s part of the reason Ryan had Strickland’s picture placed on this week’s defensive game plan playbook, which lifted Strickland’s spirits and got him re-motivated to erase the aftertaste of Sunday’s game out of his mouth.

“He’s going to have a huge responsibility in this game,” Ryan said. “Nobody has a perfect game. It’s just that he made a mistake and he took responsibility on the touchdown catch. Trust me, everybody in the game, nobody plays a perfect game, not even [Darrelle] Revis. I think he had one minus. The competitor in him, you love that fighting spirit, that competitive spirit. He doesn’t want to let his team down and I expect him to play a huge game.

“We know he’s got a heck of a responsibility in front of him, but we’re very confident in him.”

Strickland’s tenure in Indianapolis came to end in October of 2005 when he was released. He said it was from a culmination of events, mostly stemming from the way things went down when he was injured. In 2004, his second season with the Colts, he opted to get a second opinion on a shoulder injury and believes that didn’t sit too well with the team’s top executives, who preferred he instead just do rehab so he could come back. But Strickland wound up going on injured reserve in October.

The following season, Strickland tweaked his hamstring the second day of training camp and missed the entire preseason before making it back for the season opener. However, he re-injured the hamstring in the opener. About a month went by and the Colts ended up waiving Strickland, a move that baffled him.

“I didn’t feel like they were very honest as far as telling me what was happening because I approached them and I just wanted to know the situation,” said Strickland, who had to find out the news from his agent. “Be straight up with me and tell me. And I just didn’t feel like I got the answers.”

That was Strickland’s introduction to the business side of the NFL and just one of the reasons he wants to give the undefeated Colts the business.

Said Strickland: “There will be nothing bigger than getting a victory and putting a blemish on their perfect record.”

Strickland still has plenty of friends on the Colts, including Dwight Freeney, Gary Brackett, Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis. But don’t expect him to be jumping out of his skin, trying to fly around the field and make all the plays against his former teammates.

“I probably made that mistake last game trying to do too much and it cost us the game,” Strickland said. “You have to learn from your mistakes, and just do what I’m capable of, and just play assignment sound and just try to do my responsibililty. That’s all I can do.”

Notes & quotes

WR Braylon Edwards, RB Thomas Jones and FB Tony Richardson returned to practice after Ryan purposefully held them out Wednesday.

The team awards were announced and the Curtis Martin MVP award went to CB Darrelle Revis, who’s having an all-world season. Freeport’s own, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, was the recipient of the Marty Lyons award (charity), LB David Harris won the Ed Block courage award (overcoming adversity), James Dearth won the Kyle Clifton award (good guy), and Thomas Jones grabbed the Dennis Byrd award (inspirational) for the second straight season.

The Jets signed S Brannon Condren, who was originally drafted by the Colts in the fourth round in 2007, to the practice squad.

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