Around the AFC EAST
Insiders Slant for the Bills, Jets and Dolphins
Mark Campbell, a 6-6, 255-pound sixth-year veteran who has been tagged with the dreaded "blocking tight end" label, is actually one of the more underrated pass catchers at the position and he proved it against St. Louis, catching three touchdown passes.
That was the most in a single game by a Bills tight end in team history and the most by any player since Andre Reed in 1993. Three touchdowns is the most Campbell had ever caught in an entire season.
What's shocking is how Campbell became such a focal point for quarterback Drew Bledsoe after he failed to catch a single pass in three consecutive games. In a 29-6 loss at New England in which Bledsoe completed just eight passes and had a career-low 14.3 rating, he didn't dump one ball off to his big safety valve.
During a three-game block in October, Campbell caught seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns and seemingly was rounding into form as a consistent threat in Buffalo's offense. Then he disappeared.
"I think it's circumstantial," said Campbell, whom the Bills acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns during the 2003 off-season.
The former Michigan standout caught a career-best 34 passes last season for 339 yards and one touchdown.
"It seems in the other games we've had a tendency to run more and I consider myself a big part of that," Campbell said. "Sometimes it's just not there. Some teams play the tight end better than others. Fortunately today, we were able to make some plays. I can't say enough about Drew. For as much heat as he's been under, he made some great reads out there and some perfectly thrown balls. I give him a lot of credit."
Getting Bledsoe to check off to his backs and tight ends has been a year-long effort by the Bills coaching staff. Nobody can give a perfectly sensible answer why he hasn't merely hit those outlets more consistently to keep the chains moving. That was coach Mike Mularkey's philosophy when the year began.
Buffalo has clearly underutilized Campbell, who has only 14 catches on the season but for a team-high five touchdowns after Sunday's effort.
"Underutilized? Yeah, there is some merit to that," Bledsoe admitted about Campbell. "Whenever a quarterback can find his tight end, those are easier, shorter throws to make. It can make the offense go. So when we get Mark involved, it's definitely good for us."
Particularly in the red zone. The Bills have been one of the league's weakest at functioning inside the opponent's 20-yard line, coming away with a touchdown just 10 times in 25 opportunities heading into the Rams' game. Buffalo had no red-zone chances at New England but earned seven against St. Louis and cashed in three times thanks to Campbell's slick scoring grabs of 10, 19 and 5 yards.
Campbell got single coverage and beat either strong safety Adam Archuleta or Rich Coady.
"I have always loved the red zone, for the record," Campbell said, lobbying for more work. "I always considered myself as a good red-zone option. For whatever reason, sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't."
As for plays between the 20s, Buffalo has to start thinking more about their tight ends, as well, on first and second down. They have gotten into a rut lately, running on first and second down and winding up in long third-down situations. In those cases, the Bills often go to four wide receivers, leaving Campbell, Ryan Neufeld or rookie Tim Euhus out of the equation.
- Buffalo's No. 5 defense, which got embarrassed by giving up 428 yards and
25 first downs to the Patriots a week earlier, got back on track, holding
the sixth-ranked Rams to 270 yards total. The Bills collected six sacks and
four turnovers. Said LB Takeo Spikes: "It shows we have a lot of determination,
and we didn't quit. That's what it boils down to. You can either run like
a dog that just got a whoopin' with your tail between your legs, or you can
come out fighting like a cat backed up in a corner."
- SS Lawyer Milloy had a career-best three sacks against the Rams. One included
a nifty spin move to get to QB Marc Bulger. "I let my natural instincts
take over," he said. "I've been playing this game long enough where
I can trust my body to feel if a guard is coming too hard so I can make a
spin move. That's more about being a veteran."
- The Bills' 54-yard flea-flicker involving RB Willis McGahee, QB Drew Blesoe
and WR Sam Aiken was not a thing of beauty, but it worked, setting up a field
goal that tied the game at halftime. McGahee was nearly tackled for a loss
but at the last second, pitched the ball high back to Bledsoe, who calmly
got control and just barely got off his heave to a wide-open Aiken on a post
route. "I thought maybe he (McGahee) was going to keep it, I really did,"
Bledsoe said. "He got up there and then at the last second, turned around
and chucked it back. By the time I looked up, Sam Aiken was in another county."
- It was an emotional game for LB London Fletcher, who spent his first four
NFL seasons playing for the Rams, winning a Super Bowl ring in 1999. Last
week, Rams coach Mike Martz said letting Fletcher depart as a free agent was
a mistake. "I get no satisfaction in that," Fletcher said. "I
had a lot of good times in St. Louis. The organization treated me well and
while I was there the fans were great. We had a great group of guys on that
team. Going out there and playing against them, it was tough, it was a little
emotional. But that's in the past. It was three years ago when I played for
- Jim Ritcher, a stellar guard on Buffalo's four Super Bowl clubs and who played 14 seasons for the Bills, was inducted onto the team's Wall of Fame. He's the fifth offensive linemen honored, joining Billy Shaw, Bob Kalsu, Kent Hull and Joe DeLamielleure. Ritcher remembered Bills fans, who are also honored on the Wall as The 12th Man, in his induction speech. "If it wasn't for you, we'd be a bunch of big guys playing the back yard on Thanksgiving," he said. "I'm privileged to be on the wall with the 12th Man."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. RAMS
PASSING OFFENSE: A
After enduring a long week, veteran Drew Bledsoe went out and shut up his critics with a very efficient game, albeit against one of the NFL's worst defenses. After a terrible interception on his second series of the game that set up a Rams TD that buried Buffalo in a 10-0 hole, Bledsoe mounted an impressive comeback by calmly completing 15 of 24 passes for 185 yards and three short TD throws to TE Mark Campbell, who had never caught more than one touchdown pass in a game before. He and Bledsoe were in synch on all three of their red-zone scoring plays covering 10, 19 and 5 yards. It hasn't always worked this way this up-and-down season, but Bledsoe was able to attack the soft middle of a defense that paid too much attention to his wide receivers. Campbell, a 6-6 target, made Rams' SS Adam Archuleta and Rich Coady look silly.
Meanwhile, WRs Lee Evans and Sam Aiken turned in two big plays to set up scores. Evans hauled in a pretty 32-yard catch down the left sideline to set up Campbell's second TD and Aiken was on the receiving end of a 54-yard flea-flicker. Eric Moulds had unusual struggles, dropping several passes and getting flagged for two bad penalties, but luckily for the Bills, other teammates picked up the slack. The line did well. After Rams' top pass rusher Leonard Little sacked Bledsoe on a third down on the game's first series, he was shut out by tackle Mike Williams and guard Chris Villarrial. In the end, Bledsoe's 108.5 rating was vastly better than his career-low 14.3 a week earlier at New England.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C
It was a very quiet 100 yards by Willis McGahee, but he was able to keep his streak alive of hitting the century mark in all four of Buffalo's home victories. St. Louis, ranked 29th against the run, worked hard to limit his effectiveness. Take away a 41-yard run late in the third quarter, and McGahee had just 59 yards on 19 carries (3.1 average). That run was actually a 49-yard TD scamper around left end, but it was nullified by a holding penalty on Evans. The play also likely would've been reviewed - replays showed McGahee stepped out of bounds making a cutback at the sideline. Travis Henry got a couple carries for nine yards.
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus
In one of the game's key matchups, the Bills came out smiling. Despite inserting rookie free agent Rashad Baker in the lineup at free safety, Buffalo was still confident enough to blitz and it came through in a big way against Marc Bulger and the NFL's fourth-ranked passing attack. In the first half, Bulger threw a pair of TD passes and has his way, but halftime adjustments by coordinator Jerry Gray worked miracles. The Bills began to gamble and blitz with abandon and the move paid off as Bulger was sacked four times (six for the game) while throwing three interceptions. The Bills generated their pressure from the secondary with SS Lawyer Milloy picking up a career-best three sacks and cornerbacks Terrence McGahee and Jabari Greer getting one each. Meanwhile, LB Takeo Spike had a big day with four pass breakups and an interception when he stripped Bulger from behind and picked up a jump ball. DT Sam Adams also tipped a pass and came down with the loose ball for his third career interception. McGee also had a pick in the end zone.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus
When a team can hold Marshall Faulk, the NFL's 12th all-time rusher, to a career-low tying six yards on 13 carries, it's had a very, very good day. This was a team effort, spearheaded by Adams up front, LB London Fletcher in the middle, and Milloy in the secondary. Nickel corner Kevin Thomas and starting left CB McGee combined for 18 tackles. Adams had the stop of game, nailing Faulk for a three-yard loss on a third-down-and-1 early in the third quarter. The Bills returned the ensuing punt for a touchdown to break the game open, 31-17. The Rams' Faulk and rookie Steven Jackson combined for 10 carries for just one yard in the second half, when the St. Louis had a mere 98 yards in total offense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus
Call it the revenge of Bobby April. The Rams former special teams coach cooked up a master game plan and the Bills executed it to perfection with special teams contributing to 17-points to start the second half and blow the game open. Rookie Jonathan Smith set up a TD with a 53-yard punt return, Nate Clements scored on an 86-yard punt return, and Jason Peters recovered a muffed Rams' kickoff by ex-Bill Erik Flowers that led to a field goal. Rian Lindell, meanwhile, hit all three of his field goal attempts, making him 13 of 15 on the year. Remember when people worried about him?
A true test of a staff is its ability to regroup its men after a bad loss. After its 29-6 debacle in New England, rookie Mike Mularkey and Co. came back in a big way against the high-flying Rams, taking advantage of the fact St. Louis cares about offense but wants nothing to do with defense or special teams. On offense, the Bills attacked with the tight end. On defense, they blitzed and created turnovers. On special teams, they worked the exact returns that were drawn up on the chalkboard. Imagine if the Bills didn't slow themselves down with 15 penalties.
A.J. Feeley's emotions were belying what he felt physically the day after a 24-17 loss to Seattle.
Feeley said that he will play in Sunday's game against San Francisco despite suffering a right hip injury against the Seahawks. Feeley hobbled through the final three quarters and was still limping on Monday.
"I'm playing on Sunday regardless of what's going on," Feeley said. "If I have to get a (pain-killing) shot five or six times, I'll do it."
It's easy to understand Feeley's desire to play Sunday, as he wants to redeem himself for the throw that cost Miami (1-9) the game against Seattle. Feeley had a pass intercepted by Seahawks safety Michael Boulware and returned 63 yards for a touchdown with 56 seconds remaining for the game-winning score.
"You saw how he played with pain," said Dolphins interim coach Jim Bates, who named Feeley his starter shortly after being promoted to replace Dave Wannstedt two weeks ago. "He was just a warrior out there yesterday. We win that game, which we could've very easily, we'd be carrying A.J. off the field in honor because that was a courageous effort.
"He feels horrible. Everybody feels horrible. We've got to eliminate mistakes that cost us games."
Bates said he will have a better idea Wednesday about the physical status of Feeley and Jay Fiedler, who was sidelined after just one second-quarter series after aggravating a pinched nerve. But if Feeley has his druthers, he will be taking snaps in Wednesday's practice.
"I'm going to practice," said Feeley, who completed 23 of 45 passes for 229 yards against Seattle. "If I have to get shot up again just to practice, I'll do it. I'm not going to miss practice as much as we need to get everything down."
- -- One new coaching wrinkle added by Bates for the Seahawks game was moving
offensive coordinator Chris Foerster from the coaches box to the sideline.
"We wanted to speed up the execution as far as when you go from the press box to the sideline to the quarterback," said Bates, who also moved down from the coaches box following his promotion to interim head coach. "We wanted to get in and out of the huddle where we could give a better look to the quarterback so where he's not being rushed ... I thought for the first game it went well. We were at the line of scrimmage several times when there was 18 to 20 seconds. That was the reason for it."
- -- Despite having a sprained ankle and hamstring, WR Marty Booker started
and finished with two receptions for 20 yards.
"You've got to play through pain," Booker said. "You're never going to be 100 percent, I don't care who you are. It's a matter of fighting through it."
Just as painful to Booker was Miami losing its ninth game of the season.
"I guess we ain't living right," Booker said. "When it rains, it pours. But we've got to keep fighting. We've still got six games left."
- --MLB Zach Thomas' status for Sunday's game at San Francisco won't be known
until Wednesday's practice. Thomas missed the second half of last Sunday's
24-17 loss to Seattle because of a hamstring injury.
- --TB Sammy Morris was still ailing Monday from a rib injury that sidelined
him for the second half of a 24-17 loss to Seattle the previous day. Morris
will likely be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against San Francisco.
- --FB Rob Konrad said Monday that he will play Sunday against San Francisco.
Konrad missed the second half of last Sunday's 24-17 loss to Seattle because
of a concussion.
- --QB Jay Fiedler may be relegated to third-string status for Sunday's game
at San Francisco. Fiedler aggravated a pinched nerve in his neck in last Sunday's
24-17 loss to Seattle.
- --QB Sage Rosenfels may be elevated above third-string status for the first
time this season for Sunday's game against San Francisco. Rosenfels' status
will be determined by how A.J. Feeley (hip) and Jay Fiedler (neck) fare this
week in practice.
- --K Olindo Mare is optimistic that he can kick Sunday against San Francisco. Mare aggravated a right calf injury in pre-game warm-ups during last Sunday's 24-17 loss to Seattle and missed one of his two field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-
Feeley continues to kill the Dolphins with major mistakes as evidenced by Seattle S Michael Boulware's 63-yard interception return for a touchdown that proved the game winning-score. Feeley, though, did impress his teammates with a gutsy performance playing through a right hip injury. The offensive line's protection was so spotty that Feeley and Fiedler both ended up getting injured. Chris Chambers had a career-high nine catches and now has 16 receptions in the past two games.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-
Despite some positive plays, the Dolphins were unable to establish a consistent rushing attack. Morris had 19 rushing yards on seven carries before being sidelined with a rib injury. Feeley did score Miami's fourth rushing touchdown of the season with a seven-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: B-
For almost the entire second half, the Dolphins made Seattle Trent Dilfer look like a quarterback who hadn't started a game since the eighth game of the 2002 season. Miami registered its first two-interception game of the season with CB Patrick Surtain and FS Arturo Freeman both coming up with turnovers. Surtain also finished with a game-high nine tackles. But the Dolphins did get burnt by WR Jerry Rice, who had a 21-yard touchdown reception and a 56-yard catch en route to finishing with three catches for 86 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: B
Miami's suspect run defense responded to the challenge of facing the NFL's leading rusher, as Shaun Alexander was kept under the 100-yard mark. Alexander finished with 29 carries for 96 yards, including a four-yard touchdown. The Dolphins did generate another turnover when DE Jason Taylor recovered a Mack Strong fumble after the Seahawks FB was stripped by Patrick Surtain.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Olindo Mare missed a crucial 34-yard field goal that would have tied the score 1t 17-17, but he did make amends with a 39-yard attempt that did just that in the fourth quarter. Miami smothered Seattle's return game, with P Matt Turk logging a 38.4-yard net average on eight attempts despite having two punts take wickedly bad bounces. Miami's Wes Welker had a 23-yard punt return.
Proof of how players have responded to Bates since Wannstedt's resignation was evident by the fact the Dolphins continued to play hard despite trailing 17-7 at halftime. Bates also made what appears a successful move by having Foerster on the sideline rather than in the coaching box like he was under Wannstedt. The Dolphins were able to get plays into Feeley quicker and run an effective no-huddle offense.
NEW YORK JETS
Quarterback Quincy Carter, who was 11-of-20 for 116 yards against the Browns, will certainly keep playing, at least for this week's game at Arizona and likely the Dec. 5 game at home against Houston.
After having his strained right rotator cuff examined by doctors Monday, Chad Pennington was given the green light to begin throwing this week.
Pennington said "everything is going according to plan" and if there were no setbacks, he expects to return by the Houston game at the earliest and the Dec. 19 game against Seattle at the latest.
Yet before a third-down conversion to Justin McCareins on the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, Carter had been just 1-for-7 for 2 yards on third downs against the Browns, absorbing three sacks and throwing an interception as well. While coach Herman Edwards said he would have no problem putting untested backup Brooks Bollinger in a game, it wasn't a consideration Sunday.
"No, because I just felt that Quincy was going to get it done, our offense was going to get it done. It never entered my mind," Edwards said. "There comes a time that maybe you think about it, but at that point I didn't think about it. When we got (the field goal), I felt very good. All we had to do was keep playing."
Probably absorbing too much blame when poor clock management killed the Jets at the end of regulation in their loss to Baltimore the week before, Carter turned that around in the final six minutes against the Browns, including three straight at the end of the drive.
A third-down pass for 11 yards to Justin McCareins to give New York a first down started the streak and it was followed by a 13-yard completion to Santana Moss. Completing the drive and the rally, Carter hit McCareins for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Jets the lead with 5:32 to go.
"Quincy did a great job, he didn't panic when we were behind he didn't lose his composure and we've got to give credit to him," fullback Jerald Sowell said. "He's been in situations like this before and I think guys believe in him, we know that he's the leader of a team now and we can count on him."
In his two starts for the Jets, Carter is 24-of-42 for 291 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
- --Quarterback Chad Pennington was very guarded when discussing how much
his strained right rotator cuff has healed, or hasn't healed, and when he
is expecting to return. The original prognosis, after he sustained the injury
on Nov. 7, was that he would be out 2-4 weeks. There is some concern within
the organization that Pennington could miss the season and need surgery to
fix the shoulder.
- "It's one of those injuries that's hard to comment on because you can't
predict it," Pennington said. "I wish (the rehab) would have been
over in a week, but it's doing pretty good."
Pennington will begin light throwing this week but won't be practicing. He indicated that surgery could be a distinct possibility for the offseason. He has already missed two weeks and is expected to miss at least the next two games at the minimum.
- --Running back Curtis Martin had a rare moment of appreciation for himself
after 88 yards on 17 carries against Cleveland - totals that gave him 1,000
yards in each of his first 10 seasons. Martin and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders
are the only ones to accomplish the feat.
"This is one accomplishment that really means something to me," said Martin, who suffered a bruised knee but kept running on it to move up to sixth on the NFL's all-time rushing list. "It's very rare that I ever enjoy anything that I've done. Maybe when my career is over I'll really enjoy it, but this is something I'll enjoy right now."
- --LB Victor Hobson is out this week with a high ankle sprain. He left in
the middle of Sunday's game with the injury and was replaced by Mark Brown,
who will start in Hobson's place. The injury, however, is usually one that
takes several weeks to heal from. Hobson could miss more than just a week
or at least be seriously hampered by it if he is able to play. The loss of
Hobson will hurt the Jets run defense, where Hobson has been strong in the
- --LB Mark Brown will start in place of Victor Hobson this week against
Arizona while Hobson sits out with a high ankle sprain. Brown is an undrafted
free agent who made the team two years ago after impressing coach Herman Edwards.
Playing primarily special teams, Brown will be making his first career start.
- --RB Curtis Martin is listed as probable for Sunday's game in Arizona despite
a bruised right knee suffered in the Cleveland game. With a high threshold
for pain, Martin will certainly play this week, but the Jets won't overuse
him, giving a few more carries to LaMont Jordan.
- --FS Jon McGraw is questionable for Sunday's game in Arizona with an abdominal pull that's made him inactive the last two games. He will likely be on the bench again, with Terrell Buckley playing more in the nickel and dime.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
Quincy Carter took six sacks and couldn't use his mobility to make things
happen when under pressure, which he seemed to wilt under most of the game.
Yet he came through at the most important time, completing three straight passes
at the end of the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, including the 11-yard
touchdown to Justin McCareins.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B
Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan combined for 161 yards and Jordan proved key
on the game-winning drive and on the last drive that ran out the clock and sealed
the game. He had 61 yards in the fourth quarter. Jordan also showed the Jets
once again that they have a competent backup behind Martin, who sat out much
of the second half with a bruised knee.
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus
The Jets only recorded one sack - a big one by S Erik Coleman in the fourth
quarter to stop Cleveland's final drive - but they got pressure on Jeff Garcia
and Kelly Holcomb all game. DE Shaun Ellis knocked Garcia out of the game at
the end of the first half with a injured shoulder. The Jets also had several
shots at interceptions - at least one each by Coleman and Terrell Buckley -
but dropped them.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus
The Jets held Cleveland to just 99 yards on the ground The 21-yarder to William Green helped set up the Browns only touchdown but the running game did minimal damage to the Jets otherwise. LB Eric Barton led the Jets with 10 tackles and LB Jonathan Vilma had six.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus
Toby Gowin was a bigger tackler than a punter as the Jets allowed Dennis Northcutt to average 16.2 yards on five returns. They also allowed the Browns to come right up the middle to block Doug Brien's 43-yard field goal attempt. Rookie Jerricho Cotchery was the bright spot with a 30-yard gain on his only kickoff return.
Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett made the necessary changes to alleviate Quincy Carter's continue adjustment to the Jets offense, substituting much less. Yet seemed to be caught off-guard by the changes the Browns defense made against them. What was he expecting them to do? Head coach Herman Edwards made sure not to let his players get too down after last week's disappointing loss. They were certainly upbeat going into the Browns game.