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"It was a great thing, our last home game, going out victorious and knowing we're going to the playoffs, that's a big thing," said the fifth-year pro out of St. Albans. "We were up and down all year, but we finally were able to put three wins together and get into the playoffs."Coming off a terrible 4-12 season a year ago, expectations were low for the Jets, with Pennington returning from his second shoulder surgery, Curtis Martin out for the year, two rookies starting on the offensive line, a head coach and coordinators with new schemes to learn. But they silenced the naysayers and finally, on Sunday, they were allowed to mention the 'P' word that had been forbidden until then."We tried to treat every game like a playoff game," Baker said. "And now we can really talk about it because it's here."The Michigan State alum is affectionately known as Chris Baker "the touchdown maker" by Jets fans, although it's been more for the tight end's blocking ability than for catching Pennington passes. That figured to change this year, though. New coach Eric Mangini brought in Brian Schottenheimer from San Diego as offensive coordinator and for Baker that meant more catches in the new West Coast scheme. To prepare, Baker watched DVDs of Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, known as the best tight end in the NFL. "He's one of the best tight ends out there, he's come in and made an impact in the league," Baker said. "Aside from the obvious reason that our coach is from there and that's the offense they run, being able to watch the guy and his route running is going to help me."Pennington wasn't the only Jets player to make a comeback this season. After nearly averaging 15 yards per catch, Baker broke his leg in Week 8 against San Diego last year.Although he wasn't used quite as much as Gates in San Diego - mostly because he was needed to block for the Jets' running backs by committee - Baker, who resculpted his body in the offseason, did make his share of catches. He set career highs in receptions (31), yards (300) and tied a career-best for touchdowns with four, set in 2004. It should have been five, if not for a controversial call in Cleveland. Baker leapt up to grab a 24-yard pass from Pennington on fourth down that would have tied the game for the Jets with 59 seconds left. Before he could come down with either foot in bounds, Baker was drilled from the side by defensive back Brodney Pool, who sent Baker sprawling. But the officials ruled that Baker could not have made the catch in bounds. Because it was a judgment call, the play is not reviewable under the NFL's instant replay system. The Jets would lose the game, 20-13."I think he's done a really good job of developing a role in the passing game, and his route running continues to improve," Mangini said.And now, for the third time in his five-year Jets career, Baker is going to the postseason as the Jets will face their archrival New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium. After being heavy favorites against the Raiders, the Jets are back to their role as underdogs, as a team that nobody expects to beat the Patriots.That's just fine with Baker. "We can't worry too much about what everybody else is going to think, it's been pretty much that way the whole year for us," he said. "I think we'll be OK."
©2007 Community Newspaper Group
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