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Week 12 AFC East Insiders Report

<p>The Experts at Scout have provided a weekly report on teams around the AFC East. Here's week 12's insider report on the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots.</p> <p>The Patriots report can also be found separately on Patriots.scout.com</p> <p>Get the Insiders Report on the game, along with their unit-by-unit report card. <b> <a href="https://secure.scout.com/store/view.aspx?s=121&p=6" target="_blank">Free Trial</a></b></p>

INSIDERS PERSPECTIVE

BUFFALO BILLS

Coach Mike Mularkey, who built a reputation as a creative play caller during his three seasons as offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, isn't afraid to try new ways to move the football.

Unfortunately for the Bills' rookie head coach, not everything brewed up in his fertile mind has worked this season, helping contribute to the club's 5-6 record. To his credit, though, Mularkey hasn't turned gun shy and on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, he was rewarded in the form of a smashing 38-9 victory, a win that snapped the Bills' six-game road losing streak dating to last season.

The game plan brewed up by Mularkey and coordinator Tom Clements and executed by the players left the Seahawks' reeling. It included a no-huddle attack on the game's first series that took advantage of Seattle's banged-up linebacker corps and helped quarterback Drew Bledsoe get the butterflies out and settle into a nice rhythm.

It included high-risk plays, such as two reverse calls.

It included a dose of trickery. On a fourth-and-one play early in the fourth quarter, Bledsoe faked a QB sneak that everybody at Qwest Field thought was coming, only to turn and fire a lateral back to running back Willis McGahee, who then scored from 30 yards out to put the game away.

Buffalo's aggressiveness even extended to special teams where Rian Lindell converted an onside kick to open the second half.

"Tom did a great job. He mixed it up good and we used different personnel groupings on some of those things, the reverse and the sneak pass.

"All those things, you hope when you call them they have big-play potential. They look bad when they don't, but when they do it's a chance for a big play."

Mularkey, who is always jotting down plays on napkins and scraps of paper, has no shortage of ideas but they're only as good as the players executing them. Too often this year, Bledsoe hasn't demonstrated the ball handling skills or footwork to make a trick play work, or else the line or the running backs had breakdowns.

But everything was clicking on Sunday, when the Bills rang up season-highs for yardage (434) and first downs (25). The fake QB sneak left the locker room buzzing.

On the play, Bledsoe took a couple steps to his right, really selling the sneak before turning and passing back to McGahee who had nothing but green real estate and fullback Daimon Shelton in front of him. He scored by clipping the pylon marker with his outstretched hand.

"That was a real nice play," Seattle defensive tackle Cedric Woodard said. "Everybody in the stadium was thinking quarterback sneak. He pulled it back and threw it. I'd never seen that before. It was a good play."

How did it work? Mularkey credited the acting skills of Bledsoe, McGahee's speed, but also the timing of the call coming after a timeout.

"With that down-and-distance, the sneak was the obvious look," Mularkey said. "That's why the play worked as well as it did. All 11 gave them the impression that was the play."

McGahee, who last week was part of a successful flea-flicker against the St. Louis Rams, wasn't going to be denied the end zone and his 30-yard TD run allowed him to pass 100 yards for the fifth time in six career starts.

"We did a great job executing that play," said McGahee, who scored four TDs on the day. "I knew I had the first down and then I wanted to get to the end zone."

Chicanery aside, this wasn't a victory achieved through smoke and mirrors. It was convincing, with the Bills converting a whopping 9 of 15 on third down. Bledsoe was a red-hot 9 of 15 passing on third down for 95 yards, including completions of 24 and 16 yards.

"That's been an Achilles' heel for awhile now, but we converted a lot of third downs, stayed on the field, and kept our defense off," Bledsoe said. "That's one of the key statistics in winning football games. We did a much better job with that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Buffalo's No. 4 defense, which got embarrassed by giving up 428 yards and 25 first downs in a road loss to the New Patriots two weeks ago, is coming back with a vengeance. In successive games against two offenses ranked in the NFL's top six, the Bills held the Rams to 270 yards and the Seahawks to 230. "They're just good," said Seattle RB Shaun Alexander, the NFC's leading rusher who was held to a season-low 39 yards on 13 carries, getting little work after the Seahawks had to switch to a passing mode. "Good teams can find ways to (expose) your weaknesses. They showed all of our weaknesses." A key to Buffalo's defensive success was its offense running 19 more plays and staying on the field. The Bills defense faced just 57 snaps.

--It was a terrific homecoming for four Bills with Washington state roots: QB Drew Bledsoe, SS Lawyer Milloy, PK Rian Lindell and DT Sam Adams. Adams, who began his career with the Seahawks, still makes his home in the city and owns a semi-pro football team in nearby Everett. "We took (the crowd) out of it early and that was the whole point. We had to take them out real quick, because if they had gotten it going, it could've gotten real ugly. But they are good fans and good people. This is a great community to play pro football in. They were good to me. It was good to see even if I was the enemy for only one day."

--Bills LG Ross Tucker on opening the second half with an onsides kick: "To me, that was a way of making a statement that we came here to win. We were up by two touchdowns, but we are not going to try and milk that. We definitely came here to win. Personally, I was skeptical of the call ... but then we got the ball and I thought it was the greatest kick ever."

--The Bills, who lost their opener to Jacksonville on the final play of the game, are learning the meaning of going for the jugular. Coach Mike Mularkey wasn't easing up leading 17-3 at half and the Bills tacked on three second-half touchdowns. "I said on the sideline, 'We have to finish games. We can't go into a shell.' We've been trying to do that, not go into a kill-the-clock mode. Our guys are recognizing that now."

--RB Travis Henry was on crutches after suffering a broken bone in his right leg while catching a short pass over the middle to convert a third down on Buffalo's opening scoring drive. The play looked innocent enough, but Henry had his leg pin underneath him as LB Isaiah Kacyvenski landed on him. Henry also suffered a leg fracture a year ago and the injuries, on top of losing his starting job to Willis McGahee, will impact his trade value in a negative way this off-season.

REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus

- QB Drew Bledsoe's three interceptions could've contributed to another ugly road defeat, but unlike past efforts, he was able to summon the poise to overcome that adversity. It's what you expect out of elite players. Bledsoe led five scoring drives of 60, 62, 74, 51, and 68 yards and was 20 of 26 for 222 yards in those drives, including a sizzling 9 of 11 for 95 yards on third down. The Bills hogged the ball for nearly 13 more minutes. Wide receivers Eric Moulds and Lee Evans seemed to toy with Seattle's secondary, combining for 14 catches for 163 yards. Each caught a 24-yard pass and Evans made a pretty coffin-corner catch for a 3-yard TD. The running backs were also involved this week, with Travis Henry, Daimon Shelton and Willis McGahee all converting big third-down plays on screen plays or curls over the middle against a week Seattle LB corps decimated by injuries. The offensive line allowed only one sack, fewest in 11 road games.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A

- McGahee (28 carries, 116 yards, 4 TDs) made it five 100-yard games in six career starts and this one was extra impressive because it came on the road. The Bills hadn't had a 100-yard rusher on the road this season and had only three in its previous 16 road trips. McGahee's 30-yard TD on a fake QB sneak/lateral with Bledsoe was a thing of beauty and he showed great strength and determination in reaching out for the pylon. McGahee also bounced a play outside to score on a 2-yard run. His four rushing TDs are most by a Bill since Roland Hooks in 1979. Shelton threw several big blocks, as did the tight ends.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus

- Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck was generally ineffective in completing 19 of 38 for 185 yards, one TD, one interception and a 61.8 rating. Bills were assisted by five dropped passes by Seahawks receivers, including three by leading receiver Darrell Jackson. Hasselbeck also padded his stats with a meaningless late TD drive, going 7 of 10 for 72 yards and an eight-yard TD. LB Takeo Spikes had a huge game in pass defense, notching a sack and three pass breakups. DE Ryan Denney had the Bills other sack. CB Terrence McGee had an interception and two passes defended.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus

- Shaun Alexander, the NFC's leading rusher, was held to a season-low 39 yards but he received only 13 carries thanks to the Seahawks falling behind 17-3 at halftime but also because Seattle coach Mike Holmgren forget about his bread-and-butter player. Alexander had only three carries for zero yards in the first quarter. Still, the Bills were more than up to the challenge of stopping one of the NFL's best, adding him to their "hit" parade that also includes Curtis Martin, Fred Taylor and Marshall Faulk. Meanwhile, FS Rashad Baker had a key tackle on Hasselbeck's QB draw on third-and-goal at the 2, forcing Seattle to settle for a field goal when it was still a competitive game.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

- McGee, the AFC's leading kickoff returner, was inside the Seahawks' heads before he even touched the ball as kicker Josh Brown put the opening kickoff out of bounds trying to angle away from McGee. With possession at the 40, the Bills marched to a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Things went so well offensively, punter Brian Moorman was called upon only once. Meanwhile, PK Rian Lindell, an ex-Seahawk, was an unsung hero, kicking a 25-yard field goal, recovering his own onsides kick, and putting three kickoffs inside the Seattle 7-yard line. He did miss on a 53-yard field goal but Seattle was flagged for illegally leaping to block the try. Buffalo retained possession and scored.

COACHING: A

- Mike Mularkey pulled out all the stops to win his first road game, pushing all the right psychological buttons. By giving his team more time off the night before the game, serving the players cheeseburgers and taking them on a stroll of the Seattle waterfront, he put a rested team on the field both mentally and physically. As for the game plan, his aggressive moves sent the message to his players they were playing to win, not to lose, an important big step for a team that desperately needed to taste a road victory. The no-huddle start was a brilliant stroke by coordinator Tom Clements, taking advantage of new faces in a Seahawks defense hurt by injuries. Once again, defensive coordinator Jerry Gray had all the answers to shut down another top running back. Bills have climbed back into the ranks of the respectable and credit has to go to the coaching staff, which has worked tirelessly to turn things around from a 0-4 start.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

Even without Zach Thomas, the Dolphins were in good hands at middle linebacker during last Sunday's 24-17 victory over San Francisco.

Pressed into action when Thomas was sidelined by a hamstring injury after two series, Derrick Pope responded with a performance belying his rookie status. Pope had five tackles, one sack and a one-yard fumble return for a touchdown, marking Miami's first defensive touchdown of the season.

"When I saw Jason (Taylor) hit the quarterback and the ball came out, my eyes got as big as the moon," said Pope, who recovered a Tim Rattay fumble forced by a Taylor sack. "I just wanted to make sure I picked the ball up and stepped in for a touchdown."

Dolphins interim coach Jim Bates was pleased with the performance of his team's 2004 seventh-round draft choice.

"He's just got that eye," Bates said. "He made some mistakes. We all made some mistakes. But he plays hard, he plays with a lot of emotion, and he's a very, very physical football player."

Bates, though, made it clear who would remain in the starting lineup when Thomas is healthy.

"If Zach's ready to go, Zach's playing," Bates said.

NOTES, QUOTES

Besides LB Derrick Pope, second-year safety Yeremiah Bell is another young defensive player who earned praise from coach Jim Bates following the 49ers game. Bell, who moved up the depth chart following the team's recent release of free safety Antuan Edwards, played as Miami's third safety against San Francisco.

"Yeremiah came in and did a real nice job the half that he played," Bates said. "He showed his talent. He showed his speed. He did some things down the field that proves he's consistent and getting better."

A 2003 sixth-round draft choice, Bell spent most of his rookie season on Miami's developmental squad before landing on injured reserve with a leg injury.

-- ESPN sent a camera crew to Monster Park on Sunday under the belief retired tailback Ricky Williams might be attending the game to watch his former team. Williams was never spotted in the crowd and wasn't in the Dolphins' post-game meeting section for friends and family.

--MLB Zach Thomas should be able to return Sunday against Buffalo. Thomas missed the final 3 1/2 quarters in Sunday's 24-17 victory over San Francisco after aggravating a hamstring injury.

--LG Jeno James should be able to return Sunday against Buffalo. James has missed the past two games following knee surgery.

--S Yeremiah Bell received extensive playing time in last Sunday's 24-17 victory over San Francisco. The Dolphins' desire to gain a better assessment of Bell led to the release of FS Antuan Edwards earlier this month.

--TB Sammy Morris is having further medical testing done on his injured rib to determine his playing status for Sunday's game against Buffalo. Morris missed last Sunday's 24-17 victory over San Francisco.

--QB Sage Rosenfels still hasn't officially received a snap at quarterback this season. Rosenfels was set to replace A.J. Feeley (finger) during last Sunday's 24-17 victory over San Francisco. But Feeley permanently re-entered the game after the Dolphins committed a false start on Rosenfels' only snap.

REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS

PASS OFFENSE: B-

- QB A.J. Feeley once again showed his toughness by withstanding an early beating from San Francisco's blitz-happy defense. The Dolphins, though, had some success keeping San Francisco off balance with a short-passing game that nicely utilized wide receivers Chris Chambers, Marty Booker and Derrius Thompson, who combined for 11 questions.

RUN OFFENSE: D

- Travis Minor was stopped for two yards or less on 14 of his 22 carries and finished with just 47 yards. Minor struggled to rush between the tackles while replacing the injured Sammy Morris.

PASS DEFENSE: A+

- The Dolphins had a season-best eight sacks, including three by DE Jason Taylor. Taylor stripped Tim Rattay in the end zone in the fourth quarter, resulting in MLB Derrick Pope returning the subsequent fumble one yard for a touchdown.

RUN DEFENSE: A

- Kevan Barlow and Maurice Hicks managed to rush for just 66 yards on 22 carries against a Dolphins defense that allowed a long carry for just nine yards. DT Bryan Robinson also forced a Hicks fumble that was recovered by CB Patrick Surtain, leading to Miami's second touchdown.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B+

- Wes Welker had punt returns of 20 and 35 yards, with the former setting up Miami's first score. K Olindo Mare's 50-yard field goal redeemed his missed 22-yarder earlier in the game.

COACHING: C

- Defensive assistants Clarence Brooks and Glenn Pires earned praise from coach Jim Bates for suggesting a game plan calling for heavy pressure on Rattay. The Dolphins' offensive staff struggled to get some plays into Feeley during the second half but once again showed the ability to make adjustments by managing to stifle San Francisco's heavy pass rush in the second half.


Note: the Patriots Insiders Report has already been published and can be found on the Patriotrs Insider site:
http://patriots.scout.com

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

It is the time of year when the good teams become great ones. Before Thanksgiving, teams work to establish an identity and positioning. After Thanksgiving they look to win a championship. That's the Patriots' mentality as they gear up for the season's final month when they often thrive in unpredictable weather.

In winning championships in two of the last three seasons, the Patriots went undefeated after Thanksgiving in both years, finishing the regular season on a 5-0 spurt while adding three more wins in each postseason. During that stretch, the Patriots were also 8-0 in home games, including the postseason. They are now 1-0 this year.

When the weather becomes inconsistent, the Patriots become consistent playing in it. Last year, they dealt with heavy rain in an October win over the Giants while winning in the snow against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Colts and in extreme cold temperatures against the Titans. So Sunday's win over the Ravens in a downpour was just par for the course.

"We like November and December weather in Foxborough," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "Once October ends, the weather gets bad and we love it. You breathe the air and feel we should be playing at a higher level."

The numbers support his feeling. New England allowed nine points in two November home games and has now allowed just 16 in its last three after allowing 54 in its first three. Last year, the Patriots allowed 13 points over their last four home games, which helped them secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, where they allowed only 28 points against the Titans and Colts, who were guided by league co-MVP quarterbacks Steve McNair and Peyton Manning, respectively.

Despite their 10-1 record, the Patriots will need some help to lock up home field this year since Pittsburgh is also 10-1 and has a win in hand over New England. But one can bet that when weather is a factor as it was Sunday against Baltimore that New England will thrive in the conditions.

"I think any playing experience in those conditions helps," coach Bill Belichick said. "We practice out in that from time to time. I know it drives everybody crazy, but there is no way to simulate it. You can talk about it, but the only way to get out there and deal with it is to get out there and learn how to play with your feet under you and learn how to handle the ball and throw the ball where the receivers have a chance to catch it around their body and defensively, making sure you defend the field from the inside out. You hope you can recall your experiences and build on them."

The Patriots, not surprisingly, seem to be able to do just that. They not only build on their experiences, but also thrive on the messy conditions. Now they hope to build on another post-Thanksgiving win as they prepare for a 3-8 Cleveland team as part of their three-game swing through the AFC North that ends with a home game against Cincinnati on Dec. 12.

NOTES, QUOTES

The Patriots snapped a rather dubious streak in Sunday's 24-3 win over the Ravens. Opponents and prognosticators often talk about New England's alleged ability to avoid mistakes, but the Patriots went 21 straight games with at least one turnover before protecting the ball in the win over Baltimore.

Before Sunday, the last time New England failed to lose a turnover was back on Oct. 26, 2003 in a 9-3 win over the Browns at Gillette Stadium. It should be noted though, that New England was plus-15 in turnover ratio over that 21-game stretch.

And even though they made a slew of mistakes in the first half against Baltimore, they avoided the big one that the Ravens defense thrives on.

"We were struggling," coach Bill Belichick admitted. "But the good thing was, offensively, we didn't turn the ball over. That is the first time in a long time we've done that, gone one game without turning it over. So that was good."

It was, according to quarterback Tom Brady, the key to the game. "That team was, I think, 43-2 under Brian Billick when it won the turnover battle. So that was probably the most important part of the game."

--Billick downplayed the Patriots' halftime adjustments in his postgame press conference, but New England's offensive coaches were forced to adjust to some Baltimore rush schemes for which they were unprepared and which gave them problems throughout the first half when Brady was under heavy pressure while only being sacked once.

"The Ravens gave us a lot of pressure in the first half," Belichick said. "They were bringing some secondary blitzers off the edge and we had a little problem picking that up. I thought Charlie Weis and Dante Scarnecchia did a really nice job at halftime and made some adjustments. That was a lot less of a problem in the second half."

"I think they had some things for us that we weren't ready for, things they hadn't shown," Brady added. "I think it was important for us to make some changes in the second half."

--LT Matt Light's status remains unclear. Light was helped off the field in the fourth quarter Sunday and could not put pressure on his left leg. It was an encouraging sign that he walked out of the locker room unaided after the game, but the fact that he was unavailable to address the media was not a good sign since injured players don't typically speak to the press. Of course, speculating on the nature or severity of the injury is fruitless. Coach Bill Belichick did not offer an update after the game saying only, "Hopefully he'll be all right." Keep in mind that Belichick said back in Week 2 that wideout Deion Branch, who was injured on the last play of the first half of that game at Arizona, wanted to come back in for the second half. He came back in eight games later.

--DL Jarvis Green scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a Kyle Boller fumble in the end zone after Tedy Bruschi strip-sacked the Ravens quarterback. "It felt good. Tedy Bruschi made a great play and I saw the ball bouncing around and I fell on it," Green said. "I told myself that I wouldn't let it out of my hands if I got the ball."

--RB Corey Dillon's 123 rushing yards against Baltimore was his third highest total of the season and marked the sixth time in 10 games that Dillon has reached the 100-yard mark. He not only became the fastest Patriots back to reach 1,000 yards, but he also set a new career high for 100-yard games in a season. He also is on pace to shatter his single-season personal best rushing total of 1,435 yards set back in 2000. He is averaging 112.1 rushing yards per game and his 4.8 yards per carry equals his career best mark set back in 1997 when he was a rookie for Cincinnati.

--LB Rosevelt Colvin notched his fourth sack of the season on Sunday against Baltimore and is now tied for second on the team with Richard Seymour behind Willie McGinest, who leads the club with six sacks. Colvin is now 11 games into his comeback from a fractured hip and appears to be improving steadily. If he can make a bigger impact over the final month, he could give New England a defensive boost in the pass rush department.

--CB Randall Gay intercepted his second pass of the season when he dropped off his man and picked off Kyle Boller in zone coverage. Gay started at corner against the Ravens opposite Eugene Wilson in what is becoming the secondary shuffle. Dexter Reid started at safety along with Rodney Harrison, who also lined up at cornerback with Gay moving back to safety and linebacker Don Davis also taking snaps at safety at times. Troy Brown was once again the slot cornerback in the nickel and recorded one pass defense. The team's top three corners, Ty Law, Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel, all missed the game.

--LB Roman Phifer missed his first game of the season with a calf injury. It was his first injury absence from the lineup since the 2002 season. His status for Sunday in Cleveland is unclear.

--S Rodney Harrison limped off the field on two different occasions during the Ravens game, but reported being fine after the game.

REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus

- It was tough going for the Patriots against a hard-nosed Ravens pass defense. Tom Brady hit only five different receivers and completed only 50 percent of his throws, completing 15-of-30 passes for 172 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. It was the first time Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass in 17 games, although he had one nullified when David Patten was called for pushing off on a 23-yard touchdown reception. Brady was under heavy pressure throughout the first half even though he only was sacked once. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 61 yards in the second half and had time to throw, but often had no open receivers, particularly in the red zone. The Ravens kept the clamps on New England's diverse passing attack, forcing some errant throws with its pass rush and some drops with its hard hits. The key for New England was to avoid turnovers, which it did.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A

- Corey Dillon has to garner consideration for league MVP. He had his sixth 100-yard game of the season by pounding away at a physical Ravens defense. He ran successfully both inside and outside the tackles and made some nifty cuts while also breaking tackles with strong stiff arms and power running. It was, in short, a typical Dillon performance this season. He ran 30 times for 123 yards and his seventh touchdown of the season when he ran through a late Ray Lewis tackle attempt. He had 13 runs for 40 yards at halftime, but gained 83 yards on his 17 second half runs. The offensive line did a good job, but Dillon's ability to pound it inside allowed him to pop some runs outside and gain yards on the perimeter. He made one mistake in the game when he ran out of bounds in the final minute of the half, which stopped the clock and gave Baltimore a scoring chance, which it used to kick a field goal for its lone points.

PASS DEFENSE: A-plus

- Sure, the Ravens' passing offense is one of the worst in football, but the Patriots played without starting corners Ty Law and Tyrone Poole and without starting nickel back Asante Samuel. A group that included Randall Gay, Troy Brown, Dexter Reid, Don Davis, Earthwind Moreland, Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison held Boller to 15-of-35 passing for 93 yards, although they were greatly aided by a strong performance from New England's front seven, which sacked Boller four times and pressured him throughout. The defense scored a touchdown when Tedy Bruschi forced a Boller fumble that Jarvis Green recovered in the end zone. This was a dominant performance in adverse conditions.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus

- For the second week in a row, New England did not have to face its opponent's lead back and Pro Bowl runner due to injury. Last week it was Kansas City's Priest Holmes out and this week it was the Ravens Jamal Lewis and Musa Smith. That left third string runner Chester Taylor as the lead back. He carried 16 times for 61 yards before being taken out of the game by the score. He did gain 18 yards in the fourth quarter when Baltimore fell well behind and the Patriots were happy to let him break off some runs in front of a deep zone defense designed to prevent any quick scores. But the front seven performer well as did Rodney Harrison in run support. Harrison had 12 tackles while Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi combined to make 16 stops. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork played well inside. The Patriots have steadily improved against the run and are now allowing 103.9 yards per game despite allowing 204 rushing yards against the Colts and 221 against the Steelers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

- The Patriots mishandled kickoffs and punts. They committed too many penalties and punter Josh Miller had his worst game of the season, netting only 25.6 yards on his eight punts. Only Adam Vinatieri saved the grade by converting all three of his field goal tries, including a season high 48-yarder, in the wind, rain and mud at Gillette Stadium. Troy Brown eventually took over for Kevin Faulk returning punts and averaged 9.3 yards per return on three tries compared with Faulk's 3.3. Bethel Johnson had a strong 27-yard kickoff return to open the second half, but was bailed out of a huge mistake when Reid recovered his fumble on the play. Four of the team's seven first half penalties came in the kicking game, including a pair of 15-yarders on the same play that set the Ravens up for their only points.

COACHING: B

- New England faced a tough task against a physical Baltimore opponent coming off a short week following a Monday night road game and was up for the challenge. But it took a whole half for New England to get going. The first half was marred by penalties and mistakes that didn't prove costly thanks to Baltimore's inept offense. Bill Belichick mishandled the clock at the end of the half, which aided Baltimore's cause in putting up its only three points. New England took over at its own 17 with 1:08 on the clock with Baltimore holding two timeouts. Brady took a knee on first down and Baltimore called timeout with :56 left. Rather than take a knee and make Baltimore use its second timeout, the Patriots called an outside run and Dillon ran out of bounds to stop the clock with 51 seconds left. The Patriots ran Dillon again on third down for two yards and Baltimore used its final timeout with :46 to go. Josh Miller then punted only 38 yards, B.J. Sams returned it 12 yards and the Patriots were hit with two 15-yard penalties, giving Baltimore a first down at the Patriots 16 with :36 left. If New England took a knee on second down and Baltimore used its final timeout with about :53 left, they could have taken a knee on third down and let the clock run down near 10 seconds before punting. That would have left Baltimore with very little time to score. Also, Brady admitted that New England wasn't prepared for some of the blitzes Baltimore threw its way early in the game. But the coaches deserve a lion's share of the credit for making important halftime adjustments and getting the team focused to play a strong second half to win the game. The Patriots stopped committing penalties and scored on their first three second half possessions. All in all, the coaches did a good job preparing for a difficult Ravens team in a short week despite some slip-ups that didn't prove costly.


NEW YORK JETS

It appears Chad Pennington is ready to return as the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. After missing the last three weeks with a strained right rotator cuff, Pennington seemed optimistic about his return this Sunday against Houston.

"The question is does a week really make a difference," Pennington said. "The type of movement that it has to make and the functionality of my shoulder, I don't think a week makes a difference. ... Coming back this week and having the potential of playing is definitely more attractive than coming back next week."

Pennington sustained the injury on Nov. 7 in Buffalo when his outstretched arm was struck by a Bills defender as he was reaching for a first down at the end of a run. Pennington stayed away from football for two weeks and resumed throwing last Wednesday and Thursday, throwing about 50 passes a day of no more than 25 yards.

Before the game in Arizona Sunday, Pennington went all out, throwing passes from 40 to 45 yards.

Pennington believes when practice resumes Wednesday, he'll be sharing snaps with the first team with Quincy Carter, who has started the last three games in Pennington's absence.

"I always said I'm going to come back when I feel I can help my team and not hurt my team," Pennington said. "I feel that way. I feel like I can play well."

The Jets are 2-1 under Carter, who has completed 32-of-54 passes (59 percent) for 424 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

This week may also be as good a week to bring back Pennington because it's a home game against the Texans (5-6) rather than a road game against AFC North-leading Pittsburgh (10-1).

When Pennington broke his left wrist last season, he missed the first six games and returned in the second quarter of the seventh game in Philadelphia, relieving Vinny Testaverde. That scenario isn't likely, however, because those Jets were 2-4 while the 2004 Jets are 8-3, trying to keep hold of the lead wild card spot in the AFC.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Communication between the coaches in the press box and the sideline went in and out for much of the game, including an eight-minute span in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Jets went back in time and used hand signals and injured QB Chad Pennington relayed the plays in to QB Quincy Carter.

"I was a Boy Scout so I know my Morse Code signals," coach Herman Edwards said. "I could've used a cell phone but my wife had it. I don't know if I would've had enough minutes left anyway."

--LG Pete Kendall and CB David Barrett, both ex-Cardinals, had good games against their former team. Kendall has his usual solid game blocking as the Jets rushed for 146 yards and Barrett forced a fumble and picked off Josh McCown in the final minutes to seal the win.

Of all the games I wanted to win, I wanted to win this game more than any of them," said Barrett, whose interception was his first of the season

--QB Chad Pennington is likely to split reps with Quincy Carter when practice resumes Wednesday and if Pennington (strained rotator cuff) comes out well without incident, he'll probably be the starter against Houston.

--QB Quincy Carter will probably share the snaps with Chad Pennington this week in practice. If Pennington has no problems, Carter will go back to being the backup this week against Houston.

--OLB Victor Hobson started the week as questionable with a high ankle sprain. He didn't practice all last week and missed the game in Arizona because of the injury and Hobson may be hobbled for another week or two because of the normally lingering injury. Mark Brown would continue starting in his place.

--CB David Barrett, following a poor start, has picked up his game tremendously over the last month. Against Arizona he totaled six tackles and notched his first interception. He also had a forced fumble and mass a pass defense for the fourth time in five games.

--LT Jason Fabini is quietly having a good year. The Jets have allowed 21 sacks this year, 10th best in the NFL. While C Kevin Mawae and LG Pete Kendall have been crucial to the success of the running game, Fabini has been solid in pass protection after some shaky outings last season.

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

PASSING OFFENSE: B

- No turnovers, a key considering the Jets had to use two quarterbacks in the game. In three games with QB Quincy Carter under center, the Jets have turned the ball over just twice. Carter wasn't perfect against the Cardinals but seemed to get into the flow more quickly, more surprising considering he left the game in the first series with a head injury.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus

- The Jets need to run the ball a lot early when Carter came out and they had to run the ball late to kill the clock. They did well on both ends as Curtis Martin totaled 99 yards and LaMont Jordan had 43 and half their 16 first downs came on the ground. More solid blocking from LG Pete Kendall and FB Jerald Sowell.

PASS DEFENSE: A

- The Jets picked off Shaun King and Josh McCown three times combines and held the Cardinals to under 200 yards passing, the fifth straight game they've done so. The Jets had just one sack but it was a great game for the secondary. Terrell Buckley played extremely well in the nickel and batted away a potential touchdown in the fourth quarter.

RUSH DEFENSE: A

- The Jets knocked Emmitt Smith out of the game after carries and 21 yards with a toe injury. It was much easier sledding the rest of the way as the Jets held Arizona to just 50 yards rushing after that. The Cardinals averaged just 3.0 yards a carry. LB Eric Barton and DT Dewayne Robertson were very active inside.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

- Another bad day for punter Toby Gowin, who netted an average of just 27.9 yards on seven punts. Three punt returns by Moss totaled just 10 yards. Doug Brien was key, however, with a 46-yard field goal.

COACHING: B-plus

- After not getting the plays to Carter fast enough three games ago against Baltimore, the Jets did a great job in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals when Carter's headset went out. Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett adjusted well going from Carter to Bollinger to Carter again and threw in a few wrinkles like the 11-yard pass play to fullback B.J. Askew and the 69-yard scoring bomb to Moss.

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