BUFFALO BILLS (top)
Rookie J.P. Losman isn't the Bills' starting quarterback, but he's definitely on the march.
The team's first-round pick out of Tulane and fourth quarterback taken in the first round of last April's NFL college draft, made his long-awaited debut against the New England Patriots last Sunday, mopping up the mess created by veteran Drew Bledsoe in a 29-6 loss that snapped Buffalo's modest two-game win streak and severely damaged their chances of making the playoffs.
Since he had dressed as the designated emergency QB behind Shane Matthews, Losman, who broke his leg during training camp, was shocked he got the signal to enter the game. And he played like it. In just two series, he had a sack, a fumble, and an interception.
"It didn't feel like it was me that was playing, it felt like some other guy I was watching," said Losman, who will likely move up to the No. 2 spot for Sunday's home game against the St. Louis Rams.
"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 don't want people to think that was JP Losman out there playing because it definitely wasn't."
Choosing the final four minutes of a nationally televised road game, against the defending Super Bowl champions that were whipped into a feeding frenzy, for your prized rookie passer to get his feet wet wasn't the wisest thing coach Mike Mularkey could've done.
Losman's brief-but-disastrous appearance did nothing for his confidence and worse, it opened a can of worms for Mularkey, who is finding it difficult to convince people that Losman isn't 100 percent healthy and ready to take over for the struggling Bledsoe.
Still, Losman was able to test his healed leg under fire. He ran, took a hit on the leg, and even tackled linebacker Tully Banta-Cain after throwing an interception right into his hands from about five yards away.
"I've never been injured before. It was something I had to get over," Losman said. "I haven't slept much the last couple days because of the performance I had but I realize that, hopefully, in the grand scheme of things it'll turn out to be a good thing."
Despite his club's slim playoff chances, Mularkey won't make the move to Losman yet, apparently until his team is mathematically eliminated, believing Bledsoe gives him his best chance to win.
"I still believe health wise he's got to get better and mentally he's got to get more reps," Mularkey said. "It's been a gradual process and he really hasn't gotten enough reps to move into that (starting) spot right now."
So what was last Sunday night about?
"Really, it was just a matter of getting him some time. It was purely exposure," Mularkey said. "We didn't put him in there to win the game. It wasn't to start a controversial thing."
Unlike New York Giants rookie Eli Manning, who will replace Kurt Warner this week, Losman hasn't been able to take a regular dose of repetitions in practice. Manning is a lot more ready to take the reins of a 5-4 team that is still in good playoff shape.
As for Losman, he'll definitely be more prepared to enter the game the next time he's called upon.
"I didn't know at all," he said of the New England game. "I thought Shane was going in, and next thing I know, it's, 'Suit up, you're going in.' It makes it tough. You're unprepared. It's hard to take it serious because you know the game is over.
He added, "I got a quick dose of how hard it can get, or the way people look at you, or the questions you get when you don't do well. It forces you to study more, and prepare more. It was a wake-up call."
SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting, series is tied 4-4. The teams last met on Sept. 20, 1998 when the Rams came away with a 34-33 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium on quarterback Tony Banks' two-yard run with 11 seconds to play. That loss dropped the Bills to 0-3 under first-year head coach Wade Phillips, but the Bills would go on a five-game win streak fueled by a quarterback change from Rob Johnson to Doug Flutie, to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs.
- Bills coach Mike Mularkey said he's shooting "for the stars and nothing
less" when it comes to making the playoffs. Buffalo (3-6) is one of 11
teams still alive for two wild-card spots in the AFC, but six clubs (Jacksonville,
Baltimore, San Diego, New York Jets, Cincinnati and Houston) have better records.
The Bills have two games left against wild-card contenders (Cincinnati and
Cleveland). "I've been in situations very similar to this, same amount
of losses, and made the playoffs in 1989," said Mularkey, referring to
his time with the Steelers as a player under Chuck Noll. "So one game
isn't going to change our outlook. I know they still believe."
- Veteran WR Eric Moulds has a bit more practical take after losing to New
England for the seventh time in the last eight meetings. The two-time Super
Bowl champion Patriots have become Buffalo's measuring stick in the AFC East.
"I think it killed everything that we have been trying to establish,"
Moulds said. "We fell back. Like I said, we fell."
- The Bills continue to play musical chairs at left offensive guard and no
end is in sight. Ross Tucker started in place of Lawrence Smith but later
in the game, Smith began rotating with Tucker. "Each guy does one thing
better than the other," coach Mike Mularkey said. "Really, depending
on the situation or by the quarter, (that will continue). Both, in my mind,
are starters on the line."
- PR Jonathan "Freddie" Smith, who returned a punt 70 yards for
a touchdown against New England last Sunday, had plans for the ball. "It
was exciting but I would rather have won than ran a punt return back,"
he said. "At the time it felt good. It helped the team and motivated
us a bit. I'll keep the ball and send it home to my mom."
- Buffalo managed to go 0-for-7 on third downs last Sunday night at New England.
The reason for the ineptitude? The Bills never got into what the coaches like
to call "makeable" third downs. Only once did they face a third-and-one
(RB Willis McGahee was stuffed for minus-1 yard). The rest of the time Buffalo
faced third and 8, 7, 8, 10, 7 and 5 yards. QB Drew Bledsoe passed on five
of those downs, completing one. "We didn't do any of the things needed
to win a football game," lamented Moulds.
- New England PK Adam Vinatieri, who kicked five field goals in last Sunday's
Patriots' victory, now has 29 career field goals against the Bills, tying
him with Jan Stenerud, Pat Leahy and Dean Biasucci for third all-time against
- Mularkey, wrestling with the Patriots loss, the first game in which his
team was physically beaten up: "They really didn't do anything different
than we expected, that's the disappointing thing. They basically lined up
like we thought they were going to line up. They didn't do anything exotic,
didn't try and trick us, didn't do anything that should've thrown us off,
they were just better than we were. That's it, plain and simple."
- Until New England's Tom Brady toyed with it for an 88.2 rating, including
a blistering 127.1 in the first half, the Bills defense had held the previous
four quarterbacks it faced to a measly 67.7 mark: (Jay Fiedler, Kyle Boller,
Josh McCown, Chad Pennington).
- The Bills have signed DL Uyi Osunde (ooh-ee O-Sunday), who spent last summer with the Cleveland Browns, to their practice squad. He was second in career sacks at the University of Connecticut with 22.5 and never missed a game (46 with 37 starts).
BY THE NUMBERS: 117.1 - The difference in QB rating between Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe last Sunday night after one half when New England led 20-0.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What happened out there is that they did a great job containing me. We just didn't get anything going. They just wanted it more than us. They did a good job defensively, containing the run. They just wanted. You could see it out there." -- RB Willis McGahee who was held to 37 yards on 14 carries by the New England Patriots after having topped 100 yards in his first three NFL starts.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Rookie free agent Rashad Baker will get the call to start at free safety against the Rams' No. 4 passing game featuring Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt on Sunday, replacing veteran Izell Reese. Production from the free safety spot has been a problem for the Bills for years.
Baker replaced Reese last Sunday in New England after Reese was beaten down the seam for a 47-yard gain by Bethel Johnson to set up a second-quarter field goal. Baker himself struggled, getting turned around and falling down on a 13-yard TD from Tom Brady to David Patten, then later getting flagged for pass interference on Patten on a third-and-three play in the third quarter. That also led to a field goal.
Buffalo's coaching staff said Baker couldn't have played Patten any better on the pass interference call and they liked how the former University of Tennessee star played the run.
"For the most part I felt I did pretty well, except for the play when I fell down and the guy was able to score on me, but I thank the coaches for leaving me in there and letting me get my confidence as the game went on," Baker said.
Baker, a four-year starter at Tennessee, knows the Rams and QB Marc Bulger (65 percent completion percentage, 13 TDs) will be coming after him
"Oh definitely. That's one thing any team would look for, a match-up against a rookie safety, but I believe I'll be at my best for the game."
Meanwhile, DE Chris Kelsay has taken over the starting LDE job. He had been sharing duty with Ryan Denney but has now started the past two games. Denney is now spotting both Kelsay and RDE Aaron Schobel. Kelsay has 18 tackles, 3.0 sacks and 11 QB hits.
Also, the Bills wasted little time getting TE/OT Jason Peters involved in their game planning. The 6-4, 328-pound Peters was activated for the Patriots game off the practice squad and played as an extra blocking tight end and on special teams as an interior lineman on the kick-blocking unit.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- QB Drew Bledsoe's three interceptions against New England put him on the
negative side (minus-1) of the TD vs. interception ratio. He has nine TDs
and 10 interceptions so far. For his Bills career, he has thrown 44 touchdowns
vs. 37 interceptions.
- WR Eric Moulds, who was bothered by a severe groin injury much of last season,
has managed to remain healthy and productive. Through nine games, 34 of his
52 receptions (65.4 percent) have resulted in first downs. Last year, he had
first downs on 35 of 64 catches (54 percent).
- RB Willis McGahee has gone six straight games with at least one rush of
10 yards or better.
- FB Daimon Shelton has a catch in four straight games, his longest streak
since another four-game stretch in 2001 with Chicago. His 12 catches match
a career single-season high.
- DT Sam Adams notched his first sack of the year last Sunday at New England, hauling down Tom Brady. It was the 35th sack of Adams' career.
GAME PLAN: After getting badly off track in last week's loss at New England, the Bills will try and recreate the ball-control formula that won them home games against Miami, Arizona and the New York Jets. They must be committed to getting RB Willis McGahee going against the Rams' No. 29-ranked run defense, allowing 140 yards per game, then when they get into the red zone, QB Drew Bledsoe has to be patient, accurate and smart about protecting the football. Defensively, the Bills need to regain their confidence after giving up a season-high 428 yards and 25 first downs to the Patriots, but it won't be easy against the Rams' No. 6 offense, which is averaging 22.6 points per game. That's down from their Greatest Show on Turf days, but the Rams are still dangerous, starting with veteran RB Marshall Faulk, who still has something left in the tank. He had a season-high 139 yards rushing to key last week's victory over Seattle that stopped a two-game losing streak to AFC East teams (Miami and New England). The Rams lost to the 1-8 Dolphins 31-14 on the road, but swept a good Seattle team so it's difficult to know which team will show up at The Ralph.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- Bills LT Jonas Jennings vs. Rams RDE Leonard Little: Little is the NFL's
third-leading active sack leader with 44, including five this season.
- Bills FB Daimon Shelton vs. Rams SLB Tommy Polley: The Bills need their
big fullback clearing out bodies to get RB Willis McGahee on track, and Shelton
will need to be aware of Polley, who has 45 tackles, a sack and two passes
defended in his last five games.
- Bills QB Drew Bledsoe vs. Rams secondary: The Rams' No. 29 defense has its
share of problems but safeties Adam Archuleta and Aeneas Williams, the NFL's
career active interception leader with 55, are two of the best.
- Bills RDE Aaron Schobel vs. Rams LT Orlando Pace: Schobel is coming off
a poor game against New England and needs to get pressure on QB Marc Bulger,
a rhythm passer who can get hot in a hurry.
- Bills FS Rashad Baker vs. Rams QB Marc Bulger: The rookie Baker gets the
start against the Rams' No. 4 passing attack led by Bulger and WRs Tory Holt
and Isaac Bruce.
- Bills kicking game vs. Rams kick coverage: KR Terrence McGee and punter returner Nate Clements will look to make a game-changing play against St. Louis' 31st and 27th-ranked coverage units.
The Bills would love to get WR Josh Reed (knee) back for the Rams but it's looking as if he'll miss his third straight game. He's officially doubtful. Reed's absence was felt at New England where the Bills couldn't attack with enough slant routes from the slot, Reed's specialty. With Reed out, the Bills' receiving depth gets thin after Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, with Sam Aiken (four catches) and rookie Jonathan Smith (zero) next in line.
"They haven't let me run yet," Reed said before Wednesday's practice. "It's coming along but you learn to be patient with it."
Meanwhile, CB Troy Vincent (knee) may miss his seventh consecutive game. He was not able to work on Wednesday. That leaves second-year man Terrence McGee, who has been vulnerable, in the lineup.
SS Coy Wire (abdomen) was able to work and it looks like he'll be able to play on Sunday, helping Buffalo's depth in the secondary and on special teams.
Rookie reserve DE Constantin Ritzmann (foot) has been placed on injured reserve.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (top)
Not every 1-8 team would be entering a game at Seattle with an upbeat attitude.
Then again, not every franchise has undergone an in-season coaching change.
If nothing else, the promotion of defensive coordinator Jim Bates to replace the departed Dave Wannstedt has added a level of enthusiasm that had faded amid one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
"You've got to understand this is his team now," Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael said of Bates. "For the second half of the season, he's the man. He wants the team to be run the way he wants it to be run. That's why you see the change at quarterback, the release of Antuan (Edwards, who was the starting free safety), the practice schedule. Everything is catered to what he wants as a head coach."
Two of the marked most differences between Bates and Wannstedt that have surfaced so far: A) the speed of practices (shorter under Bates); B) Attention to detail under Bates, who has instilled a rule that any player committing an offsides penalty has to run to the end of the practice field, touch a fence and run back.
"He jumps on guys who make mistakes," Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas said of Bates. "It's something we haven't had. If you jump offsides, you have to run a lap to the fence and back. It's kind of old-school, but the guys kind of like it."
Said McMichael: "Most times when you make a mistake at practice, you just run back to the huddle. But nowadays, he's making you sit out a play, run to the fence and back, and just think about what you did. It's funny, but at the same time, that's what he wants to do, so we have to do it."
At this point of the season, the Dolphins are unlikely to make amends for some personnel deficiencies. But a new attitude could do wonders for a franchise that hasn't had a losing season since 1988.
"We're looking at it as a fresh start," said Bates, who had served as Wannstedt's defensive coordinator since the latter became head coach in 2000. "Let's go out there and get something going and have fun."
SERIES HISTORY: The Dolphins hold a 6-2 all-time series lead. That includes a 24-20 victory over the host Seahawks in October 2001 that was most memorable for Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's curious decision to attempt a 28-yard field goal in the final two minutes even though his team was training by four points.
--It hasn't been the best of weeks for Dolphins General Manager Rick Spielman.
Not only do the Dolphins (1-8) have the NFL's worst record, a Spielman statement was publicly rebuked last week by team president Eddie Jones. One day after Spielman said owner Wayne Huizenga told him his job was secure for 2005, Jones said he was sanctioned by the owner to express that wasn't the case.
"If those people have certain demands that are reasonable, nothing will stand in the way of getting the best people," Jones said Thursday.
Such a move was done to prevent the possibility that some potential candidates for Miami's presidency and head coaching position wouldn't have interest because they would have to inherit Spielman as general manager. Many of Spielman's personnel moves have yet to pan out in 2004, especially the decision to acquire QB A.J. Feeley from Philadelphia.
On his weekly radio show, Spielman said his future may be linked with how well Feeley performs in the final seven games.
"I'm sure it's going to be tied because we took a little bit of a risk on a young quarterback," Spielman said. "How quickly a young quarterback comes along ... It's different stages. Some take a little longer than others. Everybody has some struggles at the quarterback position as they grow into that position.
"This situation is a little different. He came from a totally different system and he's learning what our system is about and how our coaches coach. Hopefully, he'll continue to progress through the year."
-- Dave Wannstedt and Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga aren't parting ways on bad terms. The two had dinner Tuesday night at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. Wannstedt, whose coaching contract will be honored by Huizenga through the 2005 season, will be keeping an office at Dolphins headquarters serving as a consultant through Super Bowl XXXIX.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 - Days the Dolphins are spending on the West Coast. After the Seattle game, the Dolphins are heading to San Francisco for the rest of the time before a Nov. 28 game against the 49ers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was great. All the guys got away from football. I think that's the most important thing sometimes. When things aren't going right, the best thing you can do is get away from it. You see a lot of guys coming back looking refreshed." - TE Randy McMichael on last weekend's bye.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
During a conference with Dolphins media, Seattle tailback Shaun Alexander made it clear that he would welcome a residence change to South Florida when becoming an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
"We all know about coach (Don) Shula and the legacy he had there, and we know about the great town for football that's in Miami," Alexander said. "My first NFL game was in Miami (a 23-0 Dolphins victory in the 2000 season-opener).
"I thought, 'Wow, if every team is like Miami, then it's going to be a rough year for us.' And it was a rough year for us because we were bad. Miami's always got this special feel for me because it was my first NFL game I got to play in."
Alexander would be a welcome addition to any backfield. But with the Dolphins having to address so many personnel decisions in the offseason, Miami might not feel the need to sign a high-priced tailback via free agency with Sammy Morris and Lamar Gordon under contract through the 2005 season.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- RB Sammy Morris will remain the starting tailback for Sunday's game at Seattle.
Dolphins coach Jim Bates was debating promoting Travis Minor after he provided
a spark off the bench in two of the past three games.
- RB Travis Minor will remain as Miami's backup tailback for Sunday's game
at Seattle. Dolphins coach Jim Bates was debating promoting Minor ahead of
Sammy Morris after he provided a spark off the bench in two of the past three
- LG Jeno James missed Wednesday's practice while recovering from recent arthroscopic
knee surgery. Rex Hadnot will start in place of James on Sunday at Seattle.
- DT Mario Monds is listed as questionable for Sunday's game at Seattle because
of a broken hand. Monds was fined by team officials after he failed to show
for Monday's practice because he reportedly overslept.
- WR Marty Booker should be able to start Sunday's game at Seattle. Booker, who is listed as questionable on Miami's injury report because of a sprained right ankle, took part in 11-on-11 drills during Wednesday's practice.
GAME PLAN: Bates may be playing coy when downplaying some of the changes Miami may make on offense during his first game as head coach. Unlike the Dave Wannstedt-led regime, Bates has realized the importance of two of Miami's three best skill-position players being wide receivers Chris Chambers and Marty Booker.
"I think there is no limit as to what we're going to do as far as the ratio of run to pass," said Feeley, referring to Wannstedt's run-first offensive philosophy that filtered down to first-year coordinator Chris Foerster.
"I think if it allows us to throw the ball 90 percent of the time, then we will do it. I don't think ... There's not a ceiling on how many times we're going to throw the ball."
Defensively, linebackers coach Bob Sanders will handle play-calling on the sidelines with Bates nearby. Highly respected secondary coaches Mel Phillips and Bill Lewis will handle more of the load in defensing passing attacks. Robert Nunn will assume more game-day duties as a staff assistant.
The key will be finding a way to stop Seattle's high-powered rushing attack that is spearheaded by Alexander.
"They're running the ball better than any team in the league," Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said. "They've got plenty of talent. They're running game is where it all starts. They've got a very good running game and a quality offensive line."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Dolphins MLB Zach Thomas, who has a team-high 120 tackles, vs. Seattle FB Mack Strong: Thomas said he remembers a block by Strong gave him a concussion the last time he played against Seattle. Thomas will need to have a strong game to help keep Alexander in check.
Dolphins LT Damion McIntosh vs. Seahawks RDE Grant Wistrom: McIntosh was given a vote of confidence by Bates this week after struggling as a starter the past seven games. But such faith could be ruined by Wistrom, who will be playing for the first time since suffering a leg injury Oct. 17.
INJURY IMPACT: Jeno James hopes to return to the starting lineup Nov. 28 at Seattle.
NEW YORK JETS (top)
Once tied with New England for the best record in the AFC, the Jets (6-3) are now two games behind the Patriots and Pittsburgh and tied with five other teams, making the road to the postseason a little bumpier - a road whose next stop brings the Jets to Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday.
The focus will continue to be on quarterback Quincy Carter, who was front and center during the firestorm on the last play of last week's loss to the Ravens, when the Jets were forced to needlessly burn their final timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.
With Chad Pennington just starting his rehab for a strained right rotator cuff this week and not expected to throw until next week at the earliest, it appears Carter will be the Jets' starter for at least this week and probably next week in Arizona.
The Jets may not even get Pennington back for their home game against Houston on Dec. 5, the final game before they finish the season with a grueling stretch against Pittsburgh, Seattle, New England and St. Louis - all teams over .500.
That's why this current stretch becomes so crucial, especially without Pennington.
"(It's) very critical, just because we can get back on a winning streak," defensive end John Abraham said. "This is our first time losing back-to-back games so we really have to get back on our horse and try to ride this thing on a good note."
After several days of the Jets replaying the Ravens loss on film and probably hundreds more times in their heads, there seems to be a growing consensus that the foul-ups were not the fault of Carter but offensive coordinator Paul Hackett and the coaching staff. Edwards reiterated that the Jets couldn't get the last few plays off on time or in a timely fashion because they simply didn't get them down to Carter fast enough.
"We've just got to get it there faster ... especially for Quincy," Edwards said. "It's a little different than when Chad would be in there obviously."
Even though Carter has been with the Jets for almost three months, the offense is still very new to him. While Pennington could work instinctively, Carter must think a little longer and sometimes get help from coaches.
That why the Jets have looked at several aspects of the play-calling, making several tiny changes in various areas to shave much-needed seconds off the process. The Jets have shortened the verbiage on some plays to get them called out faster and may use fewer personnel groupings in certain situations because they lose time constantly brining players in and out.
"We've addressed it and we're definitely going to handle it better," Carter said. "We want to move on from here and we definitely want to move on from here and get it behind us. We've done everything that we could as far as getting plays in and making sure that I understand everything that's going into the game plan."
SERIES HISTORY - 17th meeting. Browns lead series 10-6. This will be the second game between the Browns and the Jets since 1994. They last met two years ago in New York when the Browns eked out a 24-21 win after the Browns scored 21 straight points to finish the game.
The Jets had one of the all-time memorable playoff games with the Browns in 1987 - a double overtime choke in which the Jets held a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter only to let the Browns tie it up. Then Browns kicker Mark Moseley missed a 23-yard attempt in the first overtime before booting the game-winner from 27 yards out in the second overtime.
--Three Jets players lead the Pro Bowl voting according to the early returns. DE John Abraham and C Kevin Mawae are hardly surprises but Jerald Sowell is leading the voting at fullback. Sowell, in his seventh season and never selected for the Pro Bowl, is tied for the team lead with 27 receptions. He also has a touchdown and has been a tremendous run blocker.
--The Jets have three former University of Miami players on their 53-man roster - LBs Jonathan Vilma and Darrell McClover and WR Santana Moss. The coach they face this week, Cleveland's Butch Davis, recruited all three when he was coach of the Hurricanes from 1995-2000.
"They are clearly playing on the same level," Davis said. "I recruited all those kids coming out of high school and you just know that they are football players. You know they have the passion to play and the hunger to be good."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1.5 - The number of sacks Bryan Thomas had last week against Baltimore, the same number he has amassed in the previous two-and-a-half years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't want to show this on Monday night." - A topless and soaking wet Jason Ferguson said to television cameras when the defensive tackle was asked about the current MNF firestorm.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Past the groin injury that kept him out of last week's game, DE Shaun Ellis will move back into his starting role, with Bryan Thomas moving back to his role as a defensive tackle on passing downs.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- TE Chris Baker had a cast placed on his left hand to protect a broken bone.
He will probably play this Sunday but won't be catching any balls with that
cast. Anthony Becht may see a few more passes thrown his way as a result.
- DE Shaun Ellis is over the groin injury that kept him out of last week's
game and should start against the Browns, moving Bryan Thomas back to getting
in on passing downs only.
- DE/DT Bryan Thomas is coming off his best game as a Jet (seven tackles,
1.5 sacks) but with Shaun Ellis coming back from a groin injury, Thomas will
return to playing at DT on passing downs.
- C Kevin Mawae may be having his best season thus far with the Jets. Coupled
with LG Pete Kendall the Jets' run blocking is better than it's been in the
last few years, and that includes several years in which Curtis Martin rushed
for over 1,000 yards.
- FB Jerald Sowell could be headed for his first Pro Bowl. He is the current leader for the AFC at FB and is having a great year. He's tied for the team lead with 27 receptions and has been very valuable as a blocker in the Jets' running attack.
GAME PLAN: The Browns are undersized in the middle of their defense so the Jets will keep going with the running game behind Curtis Martin. They're going to run right at Cleveland to take some of the pressure off quarterback Quincy Carter, who is still getting used to the offense. They won't take many chances with Carter either.
Teams have been forcing Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia to roll out by blitzing every time. This keeps Garcia from beating teams deep so expect the Jets to do more of the same.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- Jets WR Justin McCareins vs. Browns CB Anthony Henry. The Jets will want
to get McCareins more involved in the offense on crossing and slant patterns
and figure to do a lot of this against the Browns. The Jets won't risk too
much over the middle because Quincy Carter is still new to the offense.
- Jets MLB Jonathan Vilma vs. Browns RB Lee Suggs and William Green. The Jets don't know which one will start or even get the majority of carries but Vilma has been the point man in the run defense of late, getting excellent penetration and making some tackles for losses on opposing backs.
INJURY IMPACT: TE Chris Baker will play despite a broken bone in his hand but may be limited as far as his pass-catching ability. ... DE Shaun Ellis (groin) will play this week but might be slowed just a bit. ... FS Jon McGraw (abdominal pull) should play this week but the injury has bothered him all season and likely won't fully heal until the offseason.
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