AFC East Report: Week 10

The weekly AFC East Report breaks down the AFC East Division. Each week, analysts who are avid fans of each of the respective AFCE teams, will present an objective analysis of their team and summarize important developments and key updates on each team. A weekly read of this column will keep you posted on all the important developments within the division.

This week's AFCE games:

St. Louis @ Buffalo; Jets @ Cleveland; Miami @ Seattle; New England @ Kansas City;

New England Patriots:

With the thorough dismantling and domination of the Bills last Sunday night- The Patriots are now 43-10 (.811) in their last 53 games and rest comfortably atop the AFC East with an 8-1 record. The Patriots defied logic and ran roughshod, right through the heart of the Bills #3 ranked defense for over 425 yards, including more than 200 yards on the ground, as Corey Dillon continues to be the single biggest difference maker on this 2004 Patriots team.

Mind you this was accomplished against a team (Buffalo) that had just won three of their past four games, had one of the top defenses in the NFL and was a division rival. Now imagine accomplishing this without your top three cornerbacks, top wide receiver and starting right tackle For all those pundits who say the Patriots never dominate an opponent, consider these gaudy numbers;

Total yards

Pats 428
Bills 125

First Downs

Pats 25
Bills 8

Time of Possession

Pats 41:22
Bills 18:28

Having only seen Corey Dillon on occasion while he was in Cincinnati (I mean who actually watched the Bengals over the past 8 years?) I continue to be amazed at his myriad skills both with and without the ball. He has been excellent picking up the blitz, has shown soft hands in the flat and has left numerous rubber-legged defenders on the ground with his quick feet and cutback ability.

Even more impressive is the fury with which he runs. Dillon pounds opposing defenses, lowering his shoulder and driving his 230 pound frame into and often through weary, one armed defenders. Not many backs in the NFL can get to the edge, turn the corner, race up field and then run over would-be tacklers. Dillon (despite missing the Pittsburgh game with an injury) is still the 4th leading rusher in the NFL and is on pace for over 1600 yards this season.

Dillon's running prowess is enough to hold the opposition linebackers for that extra second on play action passes, allowing Brady to throw into the vacated zone, over the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Teams simply have to respect the Patriots new found running attack and Dillon should get even more carries as we head into the final weeks of the season where both weather and game conditions are sure to dictate a more conservative, clock eating offensive approach.

With the absence of Deion Branch (injured in week 2) David Givens has emerged as not only the top WR for the Pats, but one of the best in all of football. Givens ranks 9th in receiving yards this year, ahead of a litany of more popular stars like Marvin Harrison, Hines Ward, Torry Holt and Rod Smith. In addition, his 17 yard per catch average ranks 2nd in the entire NFL. Regarding Branch, despite being upgraded to questionable the past two weeks, my sources tell me he'll miss Monday night's game against the Chiefs, but should return a week from Sunday, when the Pats host the Ravens.

In the NFL, in order to get to and win in the post season, you have to be able to run the ball, stop the run and play turnover free football. Suffice it to say that these 2004 Patriots have shown the ability to do just that. Astonishingly, they actually rank in the top third of the league in rushing offense and with the exception of the Pittsburgh debacle, have been stout against the run, limiting Marshall Faulk and Willis McGahee to a combined 80 yards, the last two weeks.

While Tom Brady has been uncharacteristically inconsistent these past few weeks, there is still no quarterback in the league I'd rather have barking out signals with the game on the line. Against the Bills, although the game was never in question, Brady did miss a number of open receivers and one has to wonder if his shoulder (he's been on the injury report nearly every week this season) will ever be 100% this year after off-season shoulder surgery. Relying more on guts and guile, Brady did connect with 10 different receivers against the Bills, illustrating his expert ability to navigate through his read progressions and check down to the open receiver.

Defensively, the Pats rank 5th in the league in points allowed, despite their depleted secondary. Peerless in the box as that 8th man, Rodney Harrison continues to lead the team in tackles and ranks in the top 5 in the entire league in total tackles. 2nd year safety Eugene Wilson, a converted corner due to the Lawyer Milloy release last year, leads the team with three interceptions and provides the Patriots with one of the NFL's best safety tandems.

Tully Banta-Cain, a 7th rounder in last years draft has seen his playing time increase recently and he has been responding; against the Bills, Banta-Cain had 1.5 sacks and numerous quarterback pressures. Banta-Cain is another in a long line of hybrid DE/LB's the Patriots feature, along with Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Roosevelt Colvin. Ted Johnson is having his best season in years and is a big reason the Patriots have been effective stuffing the run.

Adam Vinitieri leads the NFL in points with 93 and continues to prove he's the best kicker in the NFL, despite having to kick outdoors and on grass and like Brady, is simply the best in the NFL with the game on the line. Vinitieri has actually improved the length of his kickoffs and is eligible to be a free agent after this season. Vinitieri, a folk hero in New England will assuredly be resigned, but if the team can't come to terms, they will Franchise him like they did after the 2001 season, until a deal can get hammered out.

The Patriots travel to Kansas City on Monday night to tackle the Chiefs, who without Priest Holmes, won't skip a beat with Derrick Blaylock, who ran for over 180 yards a week ago. The Chiefs offensive line is the single most dominant unit in the entire league and the catalyst for their entire team. I'm relatively certain Scott Peterson could run for 100 yards behind the Chiefs offensive line. Whether or not he's running towards Mexico, carrying $15,000 in cash and sporting new, blonde locks is no longer in question.

There's no doubt that The Chiefs can score. But can they stop anyone? I expect Brady, Dillon and Co. to have their way with the Chiefs matador defense. If they can score first (they have done so 17 straight games) and take the crowd out of it, 30+ points should be a given. The Patriots have been installed as 1.5 point favorites. I would take the Pats and the over, 34-27.

Analyst: Craig Natale; natalysis@yahoo.com

New York Jets:

This loss goes completely on the coaches. It was disgusting to watch the Jets dominate the Ravens for 2 quarters, take a 14-0 lead by trampling the vaunted Ravens defense, and then give it up in a whimper. They completely stuffed Jamal Lewis who probably had his worst day as a pro in any game where he actually carried the ball. So how do you lose a game that should have been a blow out? I'm still scratching my head. All I can say is leave it up to master strategists Herm Edwards and Paul Hackett.

Consider this, the Jets are winning 14-0 with the ball on Baltimore's 17-yard line at the 2:00 minute warning of the first half. Carter has completed every pass he's thrown (7 for 7 for 128 yards) and Martin already has 2 TDs and is on pace to gain 100 yards. So what does that idiot (aka Hackett) call? A halfback option by Lamont Jordan who has barely played and the result is a momentum swinging interception that leads to a Raven touchdown right before the half. Instead of 21-0 it's 14-7.

But that's not all. The Jets went into a complete shell for the rest of the game. The offense was scared and that falls on the coaches. Whatever they said at halftime led to six straight possessions which gained nothing more than 20 yards. It's as though the game plan switched to winning the punting war since Baltimore was now using Kordell Stewart. And they even failed at that. The Ravens had an average starting position around their own 40-something yardline.

Then Baltimore takes the lead and the Jet offense wakes up with 3 minutes left in the game?? You have to be kidding me. And to make matters worse the Jets take that final drive down to the Ravens 4-yard line where it's first down with 25 seconds left and 2 timeouts. They only get 2 plays off, one of which is an incomplete pass! This is amateur hour. It happened because the coaches sent the play in too late. The Jets burn timeout #2 and are too chicken to run a play from the 3-yard line with 8 second left. Come on.

Other notes:

The Jets run D didn't play a good game, they played a great game. Lewis ended up with 70 yards on 30 carries which is huge. He was also stopped on 4th down from the goal line early in the game and was useless the rest of the way. The secondary is plain old bad and it's getting worse. This sad news is their best CB Donnie Abraham was getting torched all over the place by Boller to Moore and Hymes. Again, come on! Bryan Thomas played very well, as did DeWayne Robertson, John Abraham, Eric Barton, Santana Moss and the run game.

Looking ahead:

Cleveland awaits and Arizona is after that, both on the road. These are two very beatable teams, and the Jets are clearly capable of winning with Carter at QB. Plain and simple the Jets can't play like scared turtles hanging on for a road win. It's not how New England played against the Rams and it's not how winning teams play period. This week was complete proof of that. If you read prior weeks recaps it's the same theme I've been talking about all season, they just haven't been playing resilient teams until now.

Analyst: Nick Romano

Miami Dolphins:

Good-bye week for the Dolphins

It was "good-bye" to former Miami Head Coach Dave Wannstedt during the Dolphins off week. Wanny "stepped aside" and fell on his sword when the Dolphins fell to 1-8 after a last minute implosion against the Cardinals. President Eddie Jones also announced he will be retiring (a few years too late) at seasons end. Next on the block: GM Rick Spielman.

Defensive coordinator Jim Bates takes over as the 'phins interim head coach as they travel to the west coast for back to back games against Seattle and San Francisco. Bates wasted no time at the helm by naming A.J. Feeley the new starting QB and cutting mistake prone S Antuan Edwards.

The 2004 season has been a nightmare for the Dolphins and no sign of improvement is in sight. A once proud organization based on a rich tradition of class and winning has been replaced with disarray and embarrassment. One can only remember the good ole days...10 win seasons...Dan Marino TD passes...Don Shula's legendary coaching... playoff appearances...ahhh...where did things go soooooo wrong?

The road back to respectability began this week when Dave Wannstedt said "good-bye." It will be a long road back, seven more meaningless games, with stops after that for a new head coach...a new GM...a new President...wholesale personnel changes and six months of hearing, "the Miami Dolphins are on the clock!".

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

Buffalo Bills:

There was virtually nothing worth reporting from this past game from the Bills' perspective other than proverbial horror and dismay. For the gory details surrounding this game visit Craig Natale's piece above. My eyes began to bleed early in the second quarter in this game and I have no desire to relive the folly or pass it along to fellow fans to rehash horrid memories. Besides, this is a family site. The only element of the Bills that showed up was the special teams. Other than that from coaching to offense to defense to whatever, simply grade the game an ‘F.'

Waxing more generally, Commander Tom's folly as GM of the Buffalo Bills has now become glaringly obvious. I ask one question regarding his approach without attempting to suggest a single thing; namely, could the Bills be doing a better job of preparing this team to move out of Buffalo and to L.A. all while "maintaining appearances" if they were attempting to? Sadly, this state of the team is exactly what I have been warning about for near two seasons now. It is aggravating to say the least.

As well, while having attempted to date to shelter new incoming coach Mike Mularkey from criticism in the interests of the team's future, the subject is becoming increasingly impossible to avoid. In a season with more options than last season for the offense, with virtually every move during the offseason made to accommodate the offense, given that new incoming coach Mularkey hails from the offensive side of the ball vice the defensive side, why is it that the Bills are 19 points off of last season's pace for points put up by the offense?? Clearly coaching must take the heat on this one. It is worse than last season, a season in which the mantra was that any simpleton could do better. "It is what it is through and through!" The implications are obvious and need no clarification.

Mike Mularkey and the coaching staff have been busy since their hire digging themselves a hole on top of it all. Do they use shovels? No. They go out and rent a trencher. At least their "do it right the first time" approach is admirable. Now, if only someone could turn them around, ala Jim Marshall on his infamous "fumble return" for a "TD" into the wrong end zone, then this Bills team might have some promise for future seasons. Marshall's intentions were true, but the result was a safety for his opponent, the Niners at the time. But alas, it appears that the new coach and his staff are eager to expend their entire account for good will and the fans' and media's confidence and patience all within half a season and begin leveraging themselves setting themselves into the red for years to come in this area.

This team clearly has not been prepared to play in the first halves of most games this season. On Sunday night they were not prepared at all. Mularkey, following the game stated, "I felt good going into the game. I felt good after the week. I felt good after talking to them this morning. And I wish I hand an answer but I don't." This is simply not a good statement coming from a head coach. It simply isn't. It does not inspire confidence. It does inspire asking what on earth the coach is capable of doing!

Most fans felt fine too before Sunday's game. Then, during the second quarter at some point, they suddenly began to feel less than fine. Most fans "felt" fine while purchasing their season tickets too. I suppose many won't make that mistake next season. I'm curious to see how the front office and coaching staff are going "to feel" when season ticket sales plummet next season dropping to levels that haven't been seen in Buffalo for eons insofar as regional sports history goes. Meanwhile, if Commander Tom stays on, unthinkably, what extremely risky or stupid decisions will he make simply in last ditch efforts grasping at straws simply in order to justify his existence, restore some of his long gone credibility, or attempt to have more than 40-some thousand fannies in the 75,000 seat RWS next season! This team is not just a loser, but they are wholeheartedly unentertaining to watch in any game that means anything. This would appear to simply be a job for everyone involved from top to bottom now, yet another great legacy of the Commander Tom "ticket sales first" mentality!

In the game, one of the questionable coaching calls was opting to receive early in the game. Fans and media can say what they want about the Bills to date, even in their "more successful" games. However, the ability to move the football downfield using the offense is not something that can be uttered by anyone regarding the Bills without inducing violent laughter and hilarity. The Bills have scored only six touchdowns, count ‘em, six (6), on drives originating from the opponents' 38-yard line through their own half of the field through nine games thus far, only three times from within their own third of the field, their own 37 or closer with one of those three times having an "asterisk" next to it. That's in nine games!

So why on earth would the Bills have opted to receive the opening kickoff on Sunday! Ironically, the result was the longest drive of the evening producing nearly half of the team's entire net yardage total on the night. Then of course there was the coaching call of the day by punting on 4th-and-5 from the Patriot 35-yard line. After all of that, and given the success on the first drive, and given this supposed confidence in Humpty's ability to come up with the big play, and McGahee's game-breaking abilities, how does one justify such a decision on top of a shear and utter lack of confidence in one's own kicker.

Another extremely questionable call was inserting JP Losman into the game late. Matthews would have been the appropriate choice there. Losman it has been explained was not fully ready to return. So which is it? Has the team been dishonest with fans and media or did they insert a QB not ready to play? If they've been dishonest then many will have heard enough. If he wasn't ready, then what in the name of Elvis was he doing in there?

The move would have made sense if that were the signal that Losman was ready to take over completely. But apparently that is not the case. Understandably rumors have also circulated that they did it to "make Humpty look not so bad." With this Commander Tom "soap opera" style team, it is sad that one must pause and consider that a possibility. If true, then this team's fans should immediately ask for a redeal regarding their coaching staff! Either way, it did nothing, absolutely nothing positive for Losman and his confidence raising even more questions about the leadership of this team, now at all levels. It only harmed the credibility of the coaching staff.

This is a team that has relied on its defense and special teams to prod and push the offense along simply to attain to a pathetic level and one worse than last season to date with the wintry weather and four of seven road games yet to come. This offense would be rivaling the worst in the league's history point-wise statistically if the D and special teams were not setting them up all along. This is a team that has thrived on low-scoring close games vs. teams with offenses possessing only one dimension, either passing or rushing, and having their special teams set them up for scores and with the defense holding opponent scoring down.

That works fine against teams with one-dimensional and/or poor offenses such as Jacksonville, Oakland, Baltimore, Arizona, and Miami, but does not work so well when the Bills face teams such as New England. The Bills rarely play well, this season, or any season during the Commander Tom era, vs. teams with balance on offense. This Bills team leads the league through half a season in return TDs with three. Imagine if they and the defense were not scoring themselves and setting up the offense very often in the opponents' territory, 54 points worth now, within the 37-yard line towards the end zone of opponents' territory. This team will not fare so well vs. the Rams, Seattle on the road no less, the Steelers, and perhaps even a couple of other teams.

This offense is 19 points behind last season's pace through 9 games which is pathetic. This coaching staff hails from the offensive side of the ball also. Just about everything this past offseason was done to "fix" Humpty Dumpty and the offense with Sam Wyche lecturing the masses on how he'd have Bledsoe up to Montana-like standards in a jiffy. Grade: F!

So where does that leave this team now?

With a pathetic offense and one that is producing less than it did last season on a per-game basis and to date both in scoring as well as yardage production.
With a defense that for several seasons now plays well against scrubs sometimes but plays awfully against better and more balanced offenses.
With management whose biggest moves are now proving defunct.
With a brand new coaching staff whose first goal it was to use a trencher to dig a crater to force themselves to climb out of credibility wise and all the while dragging the credibility and reputation of this team even further down the tubes than it already was following last season doing their best to ensure that no decent player wants to come to Buffalo for seasons to come!

All the while, I'm sure that Commander Tom will emerge from the hollows of One Bills Drive to once again preach patience to the masses who are watching in horror, shock, and disbelief and many of whom have not agreed at all with glaringly risky decision making at that level, yet who already have been extremely patient for four seasons during his tenure as he promised to have a playoff competitive team in place by last season let alone this one. In fact, there is not even a season of competitiveness on the horizon for this team for as far as can reasonably be seen. Instead, the team has regressed hastily under his leadership and guidance. It is right back to square one! Can you say "REBUILDING!"

The Bills should play out the string with the future in mind. There is no credibility or hope for this season. If they do not look to the future at this point it will cost them at the box office as well as with overall fan interest for several seasons now. And it should! If this team truly believes that they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, then anyone believing that should not be in any leadership role of any team ever. It would indicate a complete and utter inability to grasp reality and the reasonable. Ironic since this was exactly the case with the incoming coaching staff's, as well as Commander Tom's, assessment of Humpty Dumpty and the offensive line. Yes Bills fans, so early in a coaching career, the writing appears to be well on the wall. At least I can rest knowing that had my advice been followed the Bills would not be in this situation. It still pains and grieves me as a Bills fan to have to sit through this nightmare.

The Bills absolutely must forge a new path with a new scout leading this wagon train following this season! Commander Tom's days are numbered whether he remains on or not. He can stay, but make no mistake, it would be to the team's detriment. It is no longer a question of "whether or not he stays", rather a question for Ralph Wilson as to whether or not he truly wants a competitive team in Buffalo anytime soon. Commander Tom has only proven that his high jinx approach is wanton. Frankly, Mike Mularkey has proven only negatives to date and continues to climb into that trencher each week on Monday morning to continue digging as the crater gets larger and larger and beginning to resemble Meteor Crater in northern Arizona.

Yet, to expect that the Bills will admit failure for a first time head coach in the first season of a five-year deal is unrealistic. Clearly a more veteran and seasoned coach would have been a better decision. Then again, Commander Tom's legacy is not rife with successes. In the meantime, Bills fans can be treated to a coach and offensive staff continuing to go through on-the-job training. Boy, that should be a real hoot! Maybe in an appropriate turn of events next season Ralph Wilson will pay the fans to come to games. Ya never know with the way this team is managed. Heck, it may be the only way to fill the seats at that point.

The Bills are in a very bad way presently with no immediate relief in sight. The decisions that will be made in forthcoming weeks will have a large impact in determining the overall future of this franchise. Commander Tom and Humpty Dumpty absolutely need to be gotten rid of following this season or this team's foreseeable future is at tremendous risk. Why Humpty is even still in Buffalo raises big enough questions on its own. The Bills, again, could have had $8 million outright to rebuild the more problematic areas of the team by having released him prior to this season. But noooo! Instead, the Commander Tom propaganda machine and the Mularkey D-rate assessment team led by Sam Wyche ballyhooing that Humpty was simply Joe Montana waiting to bust out of his shell restructured Humpty, added even more to the minimum necessary cap hit, and pushing over half of it off onto future seasons, now next season. Brilliant!

It was our hope that things would not come to this, however it is clear that they have. There are no easy answers to be sure. There is no question however that the Commander Tom-Humpty Dumpty era just ended with this past Sunday's game if reason, common sense, and logic are to be applied. Forthcoming games will only cement that notion for the diehards. What the team does with both remains to be seen. But retaining either will be to the franchise's detriment in every way.

As well, recent comments indicating that the Bills are not mathematically out of the playoffs suggest that this coaching staff is so incredibly out of touch with reality that they are now bordering on insulting the fans of the Bills and utterly humiliating themselves. Apparently Humpty will start. And suppose Coach, that we did make the playoffs, which is a ridiculous notion at this point, but then what? You cannot be serious in attempting to pull the wool over the fans' eyes that you truly believe that Humpty is capable of the type of play that would be required from the QB position in order to win a single game in them!

This coaching staff has earned the nickname of "The Gravediggers!" You give them enough rope to hang themselves and then they run out and buy more and build the gallows as well. It truly is incredible.

Early prediction: Bills 20, Rams 27

The forecast is for possible rain but fine otherwise with temps around 50. Weather will only help the Bills. The Ram defense is not good allowing approximately 140 rushing yards per game or so. McGahee should be able to run decently vs. such a team. The problem should be the Bills inability to stop a balanced Ram attack. The Rams are up and down on the road as well however.

Analyst: Mark Weiler; mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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