Brian Schottenheimer Feels Pressure as Jets’ Offense Sputters

Its origin as an inspirational tool traces back about 30 years, to a pep talk his mother, Pat, gave him. She said that her five fingers represented the immediate family — two parents, two children and their Irish Setter, Maggie, who served as the thumb. Then she clenched her hand and told her son, “When those fingers are extended, they’re not as strong as when you make a fist.”

It has become almost like their secret handshake, with family members balling fists in good times and bad. To Schottenheimer the image is what endures, a reminder, he said, “of all the people that have always believed in you and always will.”

He said he had thought about it often this season, his sixth as ’ offensive coordinator, while also drawing on another piece of parental advice, as offered by his father, , “Do the best that you can, and if it’s not good enough, work harder to find the solution.”

In the N.F.L., where dispensing excuses is tantamount to snitching, Schottenheimer takes unconditional responsibility for his group’s performance, accepting the blame when it underperforms — which it has this season, by expectation and almost any statistical measure. 22nd in yards per game (314.5) and 26th in rushing (96.6), and also a quarterback, Mark Sanchez, who is seemingly stuck in neutral, as prone to leading a fourth-quarter comeback as to tossing a how-could-you-throw-that interception. Their problems — a shaky line, meager pass protection, an inconsistent running game, a dearth of long gains — are intertwined, producing a unitwide chain of culpability that, almost by default, could leave Schottenheimer in a vulnerable position, despite a contract that runs through at least 2012.

“This is a tough game, and it takes people with tough skin to handle it,” Schottenheimer said. “I have it, and it’s why I’ve never shied from assuming accountability. It’s part of the job. You just believe in yourself, trust in your abilities and believe in the plan you’ve put in place with the staff and players.”

As the offense has sagged, some players have noticed a subtle change in Schottenheimer. Plaxico Burress said Schottenheimer, 38, had become “more intense,” if possible, in preparation and personality. Known for his diligent work ethic, Schottenheimer sometimes spends 20 hours a day at team headquarters. When Burress first sees him in the morning, he often asks Schottenheimer if he slept the night before.

“He says, ‘No, man, I’ve been up all night,’ ” Burress said. “You see it in his face. He’s passionate, trying to put us in position to succeed. He’s not going to quit doing that; that’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 12 weeks.”

Bespectacled and built like the college quarterback he was, Schottenheimer cuts a contrasting figure to Coach Rex Ryan, who joked that his Thanksgiving meal stretched the boundary of his lap band. Their football expertise unites them as much as their shared understanding of the pressures — and advantages — of being a son of an N.F.L. head coach. The former Jets fullback Tony Richardson, who played four seasons for Marty in Kansas City, said it was obvious that Brian inherited his father’s attention to detail, devising game plans that left “no question marks.”

The rookie quarterback Greg McElroy compared Schottenheimer’s approach to a pyramid, with players reading over and discussing brief overviews of a general concept — the opponent’s base defense, for instance — at their daily 8 a.m. meetings before later in the afternoon delving into specifics, details as refined as a linebacker’s stance signaling an oncoming blitz. By the end of the week, guard Matt Slauson, pointing to the team’s 3-inch-thick playbook in his locker, said they have covered “every single play in every single possible formation in every possible look.”

Of Schottenheimer, Slauson said, “He’s got this passion that just spills out of him after a loss, and you just feel so terrible about it.”

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Bills Routed 44-7 by Cowboys for 2nd Straight Loss

After their fast start, the Bills no longer resemble in any way a team ready to legitimately challenge the Patriots and Jets at the top of the AFC East.

“Right now we’re more of a pretender than a contender,” coach Chan Gailey said after the Bills’ 44-7 loss Sunday at Dallas.

Fitzpatrick was sacked on his first snap when Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware got to him untouched. Guard Andy Levitre called that “a pretty good sign of the rest of the game for us.”

The Bills (5-4) trailed by two touchdowns before they even had positive yards on offense and committed four turnovers, including a fumble by Fred Jackson, in their most lopsided loss since 2007. They have lost two in a row, and three of four.

The rout made it an especially bitter homecoming for Gailey and Jackson. Gailey coached the Cowboys to the playoffs in 1998-99, his only two years on the job, and Jackson grew up in this suburb, at one time living on the property that’s now Cowboys Stadium.

“It’s not the performance we wanted to put on, myself included,” said Jackson, even though he ran for 114 yards on 13 carries. “We ran into a buzz saw.”

Tony Romo is finally healthy and now he’s got a running game, too. Throw in an opportunistic defense and a kicker who hasn’t missed since mid-September, and it’s clear the Cowboys are headed in the right direction.

Facing the best team he’ll see for a month, Romo guided touchdown drives on his first four series, and Terence Newman returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown.

Dallas (5-4) won its second straight and could be starting a big surge. Not only were the Cowboys clicking in all phases Sunday, they’re going into a soft patch on their schedule. Their next three foes went into this weekend a combined 6-18.

The Cowboys scored their most points since Sept. 9, 2007, which was the first game that current coach Jason Garrett was coordinating the offense. They also enjoyed their most lopsided win since Oct. 22, 2000. This 37-point margin is bigger than any regular-season victory in Dallas with Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells or Barry Switzer on the sideline.

“I think that’s as good as we played against a team that’s credible,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Romo put Dallas ahead 21-0 by throwing touchdown passes of 34 yards to Dez Bryant and 58 and 5 yards to Laurent Robinson. He hit his first 13 attempts and finished 23 of 26 (88.5 percent), setting the franchise record for single-game accuracy.

Buffalo won its first three games of the season and was 4-1 before the slide that included last week’s 27-11 loss to the Jets.

“We have made progress, but you can’t play like this and see it, or feel it,” Gailey said. “My responsibility as the coach is to get our guys back to playing where we were playing earlier in the season.”

Fitzpatrick was 20 of 31 for 146 yards and a touchdown, a 3-yarder to David Nelson punctuated by Nelson presenting the ball to his girlfriend — a Cowboys cheerleader.

Fitzpatrick helped make Cowboys cheerleaders happy all afternoon. He threw a season-worst three interceptions, the two by Newman and another to Frank Walker at the 1-yard line on Buffalo’s final snap. He converted only 2 of 7 third-down attempts and failed on his only fourth-down try.

This was the second straight ugly outing for Fitzpatrick, who recently signed a $59 million, six-year contract.

“We put in some good practice time and really thought we’d come out here and play well,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s hard to even think ahead right now because of how embarrassing that loss was.”

NOTES: Bills C Eric Wood and backup LB Chris White both left the game in the third quarter with knee injuries. Without elaborating, Gailey said he doubted that Wood would be ready for next Sunday’s game at Miami and that “Chris looks the worst of the bunch.” … Buffalo’s previous worst loss this season was by 16 points, the previous Sunday.

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