Drew Bledsoe is still the Bills' starting quarterback.
Bledsoe posted the latest in a long line of shoddy road performances over the past 2 1/2 seasons in Sunday's 29-6 loss at New England and rookie J.P. Losman made his long-awaited NFL debut by replacing him over the final 4 1/2 minutes.
But coach Mike Mularkey said on Monday he's sticking with Bledsoe for Sunday's home game against the St. Louis Rams, saying it's too early to start playing for the future with his 3-6 team still mathematically alive for a playoff berth.
"I think it's still too early to rule out even where we're going from this point on with the season," Mularkey said. "There's seven games left and we're not out of it and Drew's proven in three of the four wins before this game, that he was a big reason why (we won) and will go and start with Drew this week."
Bledsoe completed just 8 of 19 passes for a season-low 76 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions against a New England secondary missing its two starting cornerbacks. His 14.3 rating was the lowest of his career.
Each of his interceptions were the result of poor throws or poor decisions and Mularkey admitted Bledsoe didn't play close to what he needed to in order for Buffalo to have a shot at upsetting the Patriots (8-1). Still, he said Losman, who broke his fibula in training camp and is still not 100 percent healthy, isn't close to being ready to assume the starting reins full time.
He said he played Losman on Sunday not to start a QB controversy but to merely give the team's starter of the future his first game experience.
"I think you have to be smart on how you use him, how you put him in the game in what situation," Mularkey said. "It can be just as much a negative if you put him in (at the wrong time)."
Losman was shocked he was tabbed to replace Bledsoe over veteran backup Shane Matthews, who has been the No. 2 man all year. Losman completed just 1 of 2 passes for five yards with a sack and one very bad interception. He also ran twice, fumbling once.
"It didn't feel like it was me that was playing, it felt like some other guy I was watching," he said. "I was thinking about my leg a lot, thinking about all kinds of things I shouldn't have been thinking about. Overall, the learning experience was fun but I know if I ever get another chance in there... I don't want people to think that was J.P. Losman out there playing because it definitely wasn't."
The Bills had won three of their last four games but all three wins came at home. Bledsoe went two games without a sack or an interception but reverted to his old mistake-prone ways on the road. He's thrown seven interceptions in his last two road games.
Overall, the Bills have lost 10 of their last 11 away from Ralph Wilson Stadium and 14 of their last 16. In eight of those games, Bledsoe hasn't produced a touchdown and 10 times he has failed to top 200 yards passing.
Bledsoe's struggles are especially heightened in games at New England against his old teammates. He is now 0-3 in Foxboro with two TD passes and eight interceptions. His last two visits were especially awful, with Buffalo being outscored 60-6.
Now even Bledsoe's closest teammates are starting to admit he pressed way too much in the games against New England.
"He's had some bad games here," wide receiver Eric Moulds said. "He wants to beat this team really bad and they go out there and play well and he presses his throws and he's not relaxed. At the same time, we have to help him out and make plays for him and help him get over that hump."
Bledsoe was most disappointed that he couldn't do anything to get the Patriots to come out of their Cover-2 base defense and said he should've thrown more passes to his check-down receivers.
"Coming into the game, to be very honest with you, I felt very, very confident about what we were going to be able to do," he said. "Coming into the game I felt like we were going to be able to do some things against them offensively. We just didn't get it done."
- --Buffalo's No. 3-ranked defense had gone four consecutive games without
allowing an opponent 300 yards but New England almost had that much in the
first half. The Bills wound up allowing a season-high 428 yards, 25 first
downs and a staggering 41:22 in possession time.
"Yeah, I'm a little surprised," coach Mike Mularkey said of his defense's long night. "They have played well all year long. I know they're frustrated right now, and we could've helped them offensively if we kept their offense off the field with some drives. We just didn't complement each other very well tonight in all three phases and against a well-coached team like that, you're going to struggle."
- --CB Troy Vincent, who missed his six consecutive game following knee surgery,
will try again this week to return to the starting lineup. His replacement,
Terrence McGee, continued to struggle, with New England's David Givens making
several big catches against him and winding up with a team-high five catches
for 66 yards.
- --SS Lawyer Milloy on allowing Corey Dillon (26 carries, 151 yards) to become
the first individual 100-yard rusher against Buffalo this season: "We
had a good week. I thought we were very well prepared, but they exposed some
of the edge stuff. We got soft sometimes or we missed tackles. It was just
a lot of letdowns today."
- --WR Jonathan Smith, a rookie from Georgia Tech, provided a bright spot
for the Bills with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown. Smith, a seventh-round
pick last April, was one of the ACC's top return men, averaging 12.2 yards
on 39 punt returns for his college career. "We practiced all week that
maybe we'd get a short kick, and Nate (Clements) was back there relaying the
calls and he told me the ball was mine," Smith said. "The blocking
was great. I saw a seam and I just ran. I didn't have to make many moves because
the blocking was so good."
- --WR Lee Evans, who caught just one pass for 15 yards against a New England secondary missing two starting cornerbacks: "We looked at this game as a tremendous challenge. We were playing well, and obviously they were playing well for a long period of time, so it was a good test. Our mentality was to stand up to the challenge but we came in here offensively flat and didn't give ourselves a chance. It wasn't about emotion. We just didn't execute as well as we should have. We didn't get anything going."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: F - QB Drew Bledsoe could not take advantage of a New England secondary missing starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, and turned in one of the poorest performances of his 12-year NFL career. Despite decent protection and good field position, Bledsoe could complete just 8 of 19 passes for 76 yards, 0 TDs, 3 interceptions and a career-worst 14.3 rating. Each of his three interceptions were the result of poorly thrown passes, twice when he locked onto WR Eric Moulds, who had five catches but for only 46 yards. Rookie Lee Evans caught only one pass and not until the fourth quarter and no other wide receivers were a factor. Neither were the backs or tight ends with Willis McGahee, Daimon Shelton and Tim Euhus catching a combined three balls for 20 yards. Veteran TE Mark Campbell hasn't caught a pass in three games for reasons nobody can explain. Bledsoe lamented not checking down to his outlet targets against a New England secondary that played seven and eight men in coverage in a cover-2 zone. Rookie J.P. Losman made his long-awaited NFL debut after breaking his leg in training camp, taking over for Bledsoe with 4:36 to play. Understandably he was in over his head at Gillette Stadium, completing 1 of 2 passes for five yards with a sack and interception. He also scrambled twice and fumbled.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D - McGahee entered the game on a serious roll with three 100-yard games in his first three NFL starts, but reality struck in a big way. New England, ranked 21st against the run, had been vulnerable on the ground but made stopping McGahee their No. 1 priority, hounding him at every touch of the ball and limiting him to 37 yards on 14 carries. As a team, Buffalo had a season-low 50 yards rushing. It may have been the bright lights of prime time or the bitter cold, but McGahee didn't have the power he displayed in recent weeks, failing to pick up a key third-and-one and also getting stuffed on a two-point conversion.
PASS DEFENSE: D - As usual, Tom Brady was way too comfortable facing off against the Bills and completed 19 of 33 passes to 10 differing targets for 233 yards, two TDs, one interception (by Nate Clements) and an 82.2 rating. Brady is 7-1 all-time against the Bills and in those seven wins he has thrown a staggering 14 touchdown passes. The absence of veteran CB Troy Vincent (knee) was again noticeable, with backup Terrence McGee consistently getting beat for big gains. David Givens caught five passes for 66 yards, mostly in his direction. Brady's best throw was looking off coverage to his right and coming back to his left to hit a wide-open David Patten in the end zone for a 13-yard score. Rookie safety Rashad Baker, who replaced Izell Reese in the starting lineup after Reese was beaten for a 47-yard catch by Bethel Johnson to set up a field goal, was turned inside out on the play and fell down. Brady's other TD, a 5-yarder to TE Christian Fauria, was the result of getting MLB London Fletcher to bite on a perfect play-fake, leaving Fauria all alone. Sam Adams and Chris Kelsay had sacks for Buffalo, but the pass rush was hardly the kind to disrupt a player of Brady's skill and calm demeanor.
RUSH DEFENSE - Corey Dillon became the first individual to top 100 yards on the Bills this season, running roughshod over the Bills' No. 3-ranked defense for 151 yards on 26 carries, a 5.8 average. The Patriots didn't bother attacking the middle of Buffalo's defense with Adams and Pat Williams there, so they hit the edges hard, with the majority of their runs going over undersized DE Aaron Schobel. Buffalo's tackling was horrendous, particularly by Fletcher and SS Lawyer Milloy who took too many wrong angles for players of their stature. On the night, Patriots bulldozed Buffalo for 208 yards rushing on 45 carries, hogging the clock for 41:22. New England scored on five of its first six possessions, driving 81, 91, 75, 27 and 70 yards to take a 23-0 lead. The good news for Buffalo was hold New England to a 2-of-6 showing in the red zone, including two goal-line stands, and forcing five Adam Vinatieri field goals.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- McGee, who had a 98-yard kickoff touchdown return in the last meeting between these teams, kept the Patriots on their toes all night and he averaged 22 yards on six returns. The real fireworks were provided by rookie Freddie Smith, however. The rookie out of Georgia Tech returned a punt 70 yards for a score for Buffalo's lone points (the two-point conversion failed). P Brian Moorman had a solid night, averaging 48 yards on five punts. PK Rian Lindell wasn't called upon.
COACHING -- Mike Mularkey and Co., had their team ill prepared for Buffalo's only prime time television appearance of the year. On the very first drive, the coaches sent a passive message, punting on a fourth-and-five at the Patriots' 35-yard line rather than go for the first down or even have Lindell attempt a long field goal. On the road at New England, it was vital Buffalo scored first but instead, the Patriots promptly marched 81 yards in 12 plays the other direction and the rout was on. This game plan was strikingly similar to the ones predecessor Gregg Williams and friends cooked up in New England. When things began to unravel, the Bills coaching staff had no clue against Bill Belichick and his coaches, who have won 16 straight home games.
Barring dismal play, A.J. Feeley is likely to serve as Miami's starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
Interim coach Jim Bates announced Monday that Feeley will replace A.J. Feeley for Sunday's game at Seattle. It didn't sound like a decision Bates wants to reconsider over the final seven games while the team evaluates whether Feeley is the quarterback of the future entering the 2005 offseason.
"In the evaluation, the games he has played and the throws he has made, it's time for A.J. to get an opportunity to see what he can do," Bates said. "This is a move made to win this week. I feel A.J. is ready to go. He had a couple of excellent throws and is ready to play for us and ready to play well. We plan on A.J. playing well and playing well throughout."
Tight end Randy McMichael said he believes the coaching switch to Bates from Dave Wannstedt, who resigned last Tuesday, will benefit Feeley.
"I think it's better for a lot of guys who weren't really getting their opportunity under Coach Wannstedt," tight end Randy McMichael said. "For some guys, a new coach means a new start for them. This might be the chance for A.J. to be able to just go out there and do his thing. I've heard Coach Bates has told him, 'You're my guy no matter what goes on.' That's the confidence he needs to go out there and just play ball."
But Feeley knows the key to his success will be avoiding turnovers, specifically the types of interceptions that have gotten returned for touchdowns on three occasions in his 12 quarters of action.
"I've just got to get completions and move the team," Feeley said. "If I do that, things take care of themselves. I think it's just a matter of putting up points and taking the easy ones and your shots when they come. Things will come of that. A lot of it is playing and getting into the rhythm of the game, having the game slow down for you. Things open up."
- -- Left guard Rex Hadnot will make his first NFL start at left guard against
Seattle, but coach Jim Bates opted against further change when keeping left
tackle Damion McIntosh with the first-team offense. With Dave Wannstedt as
coach, McIntosh was on the verge of being replaced by ex-starter Wade Smith.
"This guy can play," Bates said. "And after watching every game tape, it's a couple of plays. It's more technique and timing than anything."
McIntosh agrees with Bates' assessment of his struggles. "I'm trying to get myself right," said McIntosh, who missed almost all of the preseason while recovering from last March's ankle surgery. "I know where I need to be. I know I'm not at the level I was. I have to get back to that."
- -- Arturo Freeman is back in the starting lineup following last Wednesday's
release of Antuan Edwards. Freeman, who lost his spot with the first-team
defense to Edwards in the preseason, believes he was worthy of being in the
position while Wannstedt was head coach.
"I think this really vindicated a lot of thing and showed the nay-sayers and people who might have wrote things about me who never knew what I could do," Freeman said.
The Dolphins also will be taking a long look at 2003 sixth-round draft choice Yeremiah Bell in the safety rotation.
- --QB A.J. Feeley has replaced Jay Fiedler as Miami's starting quarterback
beginning with Sunday's game at Seattle. Such a move will better allow Miami
to assess whether Feeley is their quarterback of the future heading into the
- --QB Jay Fiedler was demoted from the starting lineup in favor of A.J. Feeley
beginning with Sunday's game at Seattle. Such a move will better allow Miami
to assess whether Feeley is their quarterback of the future heading into the
- --LG Rex Hadnot will make his first NFL start Sunday at Seattle. A 2004
sixth-round draft choice, Hadnot will start in place of Jeno James, who is
unlikely to play because of last week's knee surgery.
- --FS Arturo Freeman will start Sunday's game at Seattle, new interim coach
Jim Bates confirmed Monday. Freeman was promoted when the Dolphins decided
to waive Antuan Edwards, who was later claimed by St. Louis.
- --FS Yeremiah Bell will be receiving playing time in Miami's safety rotation
starting Sunday at Seattle. The opportunity for Bell to receive more playing
time was created last week when the Dolphins waived ex-starting free safety
- --S Quintin Williams was promoted from the developmental squad to the 53-man
roster. An undrafted college free agent from Wake Forest, Williams takes the
roster spot of S Antuan Edwards, who was waived last week.
- --DE Melvin Williams was claimed off waivers from San Francisco. A 2003 fifth-round draft choice by New Orleans, Williams also spent time with Seattle earlier this season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD AFTER 9 GAMES
PASS OFFENSE: D-minus - The only thing that keeps this grade from being an F is the play of TE Randy McMichael, who leads the team with 43 receptions. QBs Jay Fiedler and A.J. Feeley have been nearly equally terrible, with a combined nine touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Feeley, who is taking over as the starter, has had three of his six picks returned for touchdowns. WRs Chris Chambers and Marty Booker have been respectable, but have been hurt by the poor quarterback play and the season-ending loss of David Boston in the preseason was clearly devastating to a unit lacking enough big-play potential.
RUN OFFENSE: C - The offense was built around RB Ricky Williams, who bailed on the team before the season started. Knowing they were in trouble, the Dolphins acquired Lamar Gordon from St. Louis, only to lose him to a season-ending injury. Sammy Morris and Travis Minor have helped bring respectability to the ground game over the past month, which is a minor miracle considering the porous run-blocking that often has the ballcarrier getting drilled about the same time he takes the handoff. The pounding the group has taken almost warrants giving it a higher mark.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - Considering how long the defense is asked to be on the field because of the ineptitude of the offense, the fact the Dolphins are allowing a league-low 150.1 passing yards per game is a tremendous feat. Much of it is due to strong pressure applied by the defensive line. CBs Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison have been solid, but starting S Antuan Edwards was released last week after giving up a game-winning pass against Arizona and generally struggling for the past several games. Miami has intercepted just five passes through nine games.
RUN DEFENSE: D - MLB Zach Thomas is getting a lot of attention for a big season that has resulted in 105 tackles. But he still lacks the size to be truly effective against power running games and the Dolphins are allowing 4.5 yards per carry and 145.6 rushing yards per game. Of course, it's hard to pin all the blame on a run defense that hardly gets a chance to rest before the offense goes three-and-out and punts. Welker's predecessor, Lamont Brightful, was released after averaging 25.2 yards on kick returns but having all kinds of problems holding onto the ball.
COACHING: D - Dave Wannstedt entered the season knowing he needed to reach the playoffs to keep his job. But Ricky Williams quitting and David Boston going down to a season-ending knee injury in training camp eliminated that possibility through no fault of Wannstedt's. His handling of the quarterback situation was questionable, but this was a lost season before the opening kickoff. Wannstedt then resigned in another controversial move that some likened to Williams walking out on his team. Whatever the sentiments, it's up to interim coach Jim Bates to salvage what he can from the final seven games and help answer some questions for the front office about who will be part of the answer going forward.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Injuries have derailed many a promising season for NFL clubs, but the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots seem almost immune to that bug - their team concept making them bigger than any individual player.
Starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole go out? All the Patriots do is whack the pass happy Rams and the Drew Bledsoe-Eric Moulds-led Bills. But there are exceptions to this rule -- quarterback Tom Brady being the most obvious -- and now it's clear that running back Corey Dillon qualifies as well.
If there is a downside to acquiring Dillon, as miniscule as it might be, it is that the offense has become dependant on his production as opposed to the last three years when the difference between Antowain Smith and the backup was minimal. Dillon, fresh off a dominating 151-yard effort against the Bills, has given the Patriots one of the league's most feared rushing attacks with 900 yards in eight starts and 180 rushes for a 5.0-yard per carry average.
Dillon is solely responsible for the Patriots' 4.2-yards per carry average that has New England on pace to snap the NFL's longest streak without averaging at least 4 yards per rush. The last time the Patriots averaged 4 yards per carry was all the way back in 1985, Hall of Fame guard John Hannah's final season -- a span of 18 seasons.
"He is so talented. He is so big. He is fast," Brady offered after watching Dillon become the first back to crack the 100-yard mark against the Bills defense. "You give it to Corey and he keeps running the way he does, we are going to keep giving it to him."
Dillon has given the Patriots a dimension they have lacked since Curtis Martin left for the Jets in 1998, and even Martin never made the kind of impact Dillon has.
"When you add a running back like Corey Dillon, it only makes an already
potent offense better," Bills safety Lawyer Milloy said. "I think
the strength of the offense is the receivers and Tom getting it to them, but
obviously with the talent they have bringing in Corey, now they can run the
ball. Going into the game as a defense, you have to prepare for a lot. It's
Dillon's value is magnified by the one game he missed this season with a leg injury, which just so happens to be the Patriots' only loss of the season. Dillon sat out the Pittsburgh game and a team that has averaged 123.8 rushing yards per game with him in the lineup rushed for only 5 yards with him out. To be sure, the Steelers' dominant defense deserves much of the credit for that, but almost 120 yards worth of credit? That's doubtful.
The Bills defense entered Sunday ranked third in the NFL and was fourth against the run, yet Dillon sliced through it and ran over it.
"When you get 100 yards on them it is well deserved," Dillon said.
"We just kept doing what we wanted to do. I'm having fun."
"He definitely makes a big difference in our offense," left tackle Matt Light said. "When you get the running game going and Tom's sitting back there and able to pick people apart, you're having fun. We hit them in the mouth and played physical football and that's what we need to do."
And they need Dillon in the lineup to do it.
Early on in Sunday's game it looked like Buffalo would do what the Rams couldn't do a week earlier, which is to attack the Patriots' fill-in starting corners - undrafted rookie Randall Gay and undrafted free agent Earthwind Moreland. Drew Bledsoe completed his first two passes to Eric Moulds, who is usually shadowed by Ty Law, for 23 yards. Buffalo's offense also crossed into Patriots territory on each of its first three possessions, but came away empty each time.
From there, the Patriots pass defense dominated even without Law, fellow starter Tyrone Poole and starting nickel back Asante Samuel.
"I think it was a good team effort defensively," Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Everybody did a good job. There are too many guys to single out."
Belichick isn't about to praise a couple of inexperienced corners who he knows could be burned at any moment the way Gay was in Pittsburgh two plays after Law went down with a broken foot when Plaxico Burress beat him for a 47-yard touchdown.
"The secondary did a good job," Belichick acknowledged, "but so did the other players. We didn't give up big plays, we got some pressure on the quarterback and we turned the ball over. It looked like we got a pretty solid performance out of the 15, 16 guys that played for us."
--As is typically the case, the Patriots offered little on the injury front. Samuel was listed as probable for the game and was among the 45 active players, but did not play in the game after injuring his shoulder against the Rams the week before. Asked about his status, Belichick said, "He could have played."
- --Linebacker Mike Vrabel was added to the injury report last Friday with
a lower leg ailment, but assumed his regular role in the defense while special
teamer Matt Chatham sat out with a strained hamstring. Wide receiver Deion Branch, who had been upgraded to questionable this week, missed his seventh
straight game with a knee injury.
No update was given on wideout David Givens, the team's leading receiver who left the game in the fourth quarter with what the team termed, "getting the wind knocked out of him." In Patriots vernacular, that means anything from actually getting the wind knocked out of him to suffering a concussion.
- --Linebacker Tedy Bruschi survived a scare late in the fourth quarter with
the Patriots leading 29-6. Bruschi had his leg pinned underneath him as he
rocked back making a tackle. He appeared to twist his knee and ankle, and
teammate Mike Vrabel immediately called for medical assistance. Amazingly,
Bruschi walked off and appeared to be OK after the game, although he certainly
wasn't going to share injury news.
- "I was very lucky today," he said. "I had to sit there and
take a little bit of inventory, but I'm all right. I was able to walk off
the field and test it a little bit. The guys call me a bunch of things - the
contortionist; they call me Gumby; they say I'm double jointed. I rolled with
it a little bit and here I am talking to you."
- --PK Adam Vinatieri had another big game, connecting on all five of his
field goal tries and is now an impressive 23-for-24 on the season. He needs
just seven points for his ninth straight 100-point season and he reached the
1,000-point mark for his career. "It's one of those achievements that
all the guys in the league that have accumulated 1,000 points have been pretty
successful for a pretty decent period of time. It's a cool feeling,"
- --WR Troy Brown may not receive Deion Sanders-type hype for his two-way
play as a receiver and corner, but he should because what he is doing is much
harder than what Sanders or any other athletic cornerback has done in taking
some offensive snaps. Brown became the first player in Patriots history to
record a reception and an interception in the same game. Only two Patriots
players have recorded at least one reception and interception in their career
and both were, like Sanders, primarily defensive players. Defensive back Chuck
Shonta had one catch and one interception in 1961 and current linebacker Mike
Vrabel had one interception and one interception in 2002.
- --TE Christian Fauria found the end zone for the first time since scoring
twice in Week 2 of last season. Fauria actually scored nine touchdowns in
his first 18 games as a Patriot, earning the nickname, Score-yay, but he was
shut out since, at least until hauling in a 5-yard TD pass Sunday night. "It's
been a long time. It was nice," Fauria said. "I've been waiting
for an opportunity. They called that play and I said, 'I gotta make this work.'"
- --WR Bethel Johnson has just seven receptions on the season, but is averaging
19.8 yards with catches of 47 and 48 yards included. He hauled in a 47-yard
pass against Bills last week and his 48-yarder came back on Oct. 17 against
- --S Eugene Wilson intercepted his team-high third pass of the season when he picked off Drew Bledsoe in the first quarter while providing deep help against Eric Moulds. Wilson made the leaping catch at the Patriots 3-yard line and now has seven career interceptions.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. BILLS
PASSING OFFENSE: B - This was a solid, but unspectacular day for Tom Brady and the Patriots passing attack. For the third straight week, Brady didn't seem to be his sharp, accurate self, but he still made enough plays to move the offense in big chunks. He finished 19-for-35 for 233 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, the latter of which came when wideout Bethel Johnson fell down. He also completed passes to 10 different receivers led, not surprisingly, by David Givens' five catches for 66 yards. Brady used the whole field, throwing to his backs, tight ends and receivers while taking care of the football until the one turnover late in the game. He also completed six passes of 15 or more yards as the game plan called for him to attack vertically. He had trouble getting his team in the end zone, as the Patriots went 2-for-6 in the red zone, but he helped the offense convert 7-of-17 third downs with some clutch throws. One of Buffalo's two sacks came when Brady tripped on his guard dropping back on a third-and-goal from the 2 play.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A - Only the goal line offense prevented this from being an A-plus in what was an otherwise dominant performance. The Patriots ran for 200 yards for the first time in six years by rushing 45 times for 208 yards. Corey Dillon was terrific in carrying 25 times for 151 yards against a Bills defense that had now allowed a single 100-yard rusher this season. He ran up the middle and sprinted around the corner chewing up yards in big clumps while averaging 5.8 yards per carry against a defense that was allowing 3.5 yards per carry coming in. Dillon set the tone on the Patriots first possession, running five times for 42 yards and he controlled the game from there. Kevin Faulk chipped in with 13 runs for 61 yards. But the Patriots could not run it in from inside the 5-yard line with Dillon carrying four times for 5 yards from in close.
PASS DEFENSE: A-plus - Drew Bledsoe never looked so bad. He completed only 8 of his 19 passes and that came after he completed all three of his throws on the game's opening possession. He threw for a woeful 76 yards with three interceptions, was sacked twice and never guided his team inside the Patriots red zone. He was inaccurate and made terrible decisions, throwing into coverage. His first interception was an ill-advised throw into double coverage and Eugene Wilson made a fine diving catch to pick the ball off at the 3-yard line. Tedy Bruschi intercepted him to set up what amounted to a game-clinching touchdown before the half, a score that gave New England a 20-0 lead at the break. Troy Brown also picked off his former quarterback when Bledsoe threw behind Eric Moulds. Despite playing without its top three cornerbacks, the Patriots defense dominated Buffalo. Tully Banta-Cain picked up 1.5 of the Patriots two sacks and also intercepted rookie quarterback J.P. Losman after Bledsoe went to the bench in the fourth quarter. The pass rush wasn't consistent, but Bledsoe didn't have open receivers, which is a credit to a reserve-filled secondary. This was just flat out impressive.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus - New England knew coming into the game that if it wanted to win, it had to stop Willis McGahee, who had given Buffalo some life with three 100-yard performances in three starts, all Buffalo wins. His heavy workload had taken some heat off the pass protection and allowed Buffalo to play a mistake-free brand of football. The Patriots disrupted that formula by bottling up McGahee, holding him to 37 yards on 14 carries. His longest run was an 11-yarder that came on a play where the Bills appeared to have a flea-flicker called, but when McGahee saw a defender rushing at Bledsoe, he held the ball and ran around the end for a rare double-digit gain. The Patriots front seven was superb, which allowed safety Rodney Harrison to remain in coverage. He finished with a season-low two tackles while linebackers Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi led the way with 6 apiece. Defensive end Ty Warren may have had his best game as a pro, finishing with five tackles, most of which came at the point of attack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - A 70-yard punt return for a touchdown and Buffalo's only points ruined an otherwise solid performance. Beyond that, Buffalo returned one punt for no yards while explosive kickoff returner Terrence McGee, who returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the first meeting between the teams, was held in check. Josh Miller punted well in some windy conditions and Adam Vinatieri was a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals, connecting from 27, 24, 20, 45 and 37 yards. Kevin Faulk averaged 11.3 yards on three punt returns and Bethel Johnson returned his only kickoff 32 yards, although that return was mostly nullified by a holding penalty.
COACHING: A-plus - Bill Belichick has the Midas touch. Troy Brown with an interception? Everything he does seems to work. The coaches did a marvelous job preparing for the Bills and instituted a perfect game plan that was perfectly executed. The Patriots challenged Buffalo to run the ball against a seven-man front and then stopped it with those seven defenders, which forced Drew Bledsoe to throw into two-deep coverage, something he is ill equipped to do since he likes to throw down the field regularly. The coaches have to get credit for preparing fourth, fifth and sixth cornerbacks Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland and Troy Brown to perform well, which they all did. New England scored first for the 17th straight game and 14th straight regular season game, a sign of strong preparation. The Patriots have survived injuries to their best wide receiver, Deion Branch, their starting right tackle, Tom Ashworth, and their top three corners, Ty Law, Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel, yet they keep churning along. Belichick and his staff are innovative and unafraid to try new things and use personnel in new ways.
NEW YORK JETS
Falling on the sword for his players and coaches, coach Herman Edwards took all the blame for the play-calling and clock management problems that occurred at the end of regulation.
"All calls, whether it was on offense, defense, special teams, they go through me," Edwards said Monday soon after making a similar speech to the team. "I didn't do enough job coaching. I put our team in a bad situation, in certain situations and really cost them the game at the end of the day."
Yet Edwards' altruistic admission didn't really make it any easier for Jet fans to absorb the team's collapse Sunday.
In Edwards' estimation, with the Jets sitting at the Ravens' 4 on a 1st-and-goal with 18 seconds left and two timeouts, they should have gotten three plays off. Instead, they managed just two before settling on a game-tying 20-yard field goal by Doug Brien rather than a shot at the end zone and a win.
The Jets called a running play for LaMont Jordan to get them to the 3 and then called a bootleg for Carter on second down - resulting in an incomplete pass and stopping the clock with eight seconds remaining. But with just a second left on the 40-second game clock, the Jets couldn't get a play off on time and burned their final timeout.
Carter appeared to be looking around in confusion at the line but Monday said he was looking over at Edwards because after breaking the huddle - with eight or nine seconds left by Carter's account - he didn't think the Jets could snap the ball in time.
"I knew at that point it was going to be a little hard getting that play off," Carter said. "That's when I turned to Herm and we had to use a timeout."
So why did it take roughly 30 seconds to break the huddle?
"I'm not sure," Carter said. "One thing I know is that when a play is called, I give it to the team and we execute the play."
Edwards - who estimated Sunday that Carter broke the huddle with about 15 seconds left on the play clock - took the blame for that one as well, stating simply that the Jets have to get plays down quicker to Carter.
In a mea culpa that should have had at least a dozen other people joining him on the podium, running back LaMont Jordan took full responsibility for Sunday's 20-17 loss to Baltimore.
Jordan's interception thrown on a halfback option near the end of the second quarter cost the Jets at least three points and a minimum 17-0 lead going into halftime. Instead, the Ravens scored off the turnover and the Jets lost all momentum as the Ravens controlled the game from then on out.
"I don't want to hear that (offensive coordinator) Paul Hackett made a bad play," Jordan said. "The bottom line is this: We ran the play in practice and I made all the right decisions. I wanted to throw the ball away and just didn't get the job done. I didn't throw the ball far enough and that's just it."
- --RB Curtis Martin passed Freeman McNeil for the second-most yards from
scrimmage in team history with 11,054. He trails only Hall of Fame WR Don
Maynard, who had 11,757 all-purpose yards in his career.
- --TE Chris Baker has a broken bone in his hand but is expected to play Sunday
- --QB Chad Pennington (strained right rotator cuff) will not start against
Cleveland this week. He will step up his rehab this week trying to build up
strength in the shoulder but will not throw, an indication he'll probably
miss the next two games. He is scheduled to have a second MRI, probably this
- --DE Shaun Ellis is expected to return this week after sitting out against
the Ravens with a groin injury. Bryan Thomas, however, played very well in
- --QB Quincy Carter wasn't blamed for the Jets' clock management problems
at the end of regulation against the Ravens. Instead, coach Herman Edwards
said the team would have to do a better job getting the plays in quicker.
- --FS Jon McGraw is expected to play this week after sitting out against
the Ravens with an abdominal pull.
- --LB Sam Cowart, still healing from a knee sprain, saw his first action in six games. Yet he received limited play and didn't make a tackle.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus - Quincy Carter looked great in the first half, completing all eight of his passes. But why in the world did the Jets take the ball out of his hands and go with LaMont Jordan on the halfback option? Carter completed just 5-of-14 after that - probably because he was tiring - and his clock awareness at the end of the game was dismal.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus - The rushing attack was outstanding, particularly in the first half. The offensive line did a good job keeping Ray Lewis and Kelly Gregg off Curtis Martin, who rushed for 119 yards for the game and two touchdowns in the second quarter. Fullback Jerald Sowell made some key blocks on those scoring runs and Pete Kendall and Kevin Mawae threw in a bunch of great blocks throughout.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - The Jets sacked Kyle Boller three times in the first half but never touched him in the second half. Bryan Thomas and Dewayne Robertson were very disruptive in the middle and John Abraham was solid in pass coverage.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus - Lost in the shuffle of the bungling offense was the fact that they held Jamal Lewis to just 71 yards on 30 carries for a paltry 2.4-yard average, Dewayne Robertson was right in the thick of things.
COACHING: F - Herman Edwards took the blame for Sunday's clock management snafu and being the head coach, the final blame goes to him. The choice to go with Jordan - someone who has rarely touched the ball this season - instead of Carter at the end of the first half was insane.
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