But make no mistake about it, Terrence McGee is turning into one of the great finds in Bills history.
Not only has the fourth-round pick out of tiny Northwestern State turned into a reliable starter at left corner the past nine games for an injured Troy Vincent, recording 67 tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups overall.
He is now the NFL's most feared kickoff return man, threatening to break some long-standing Bills' return marks.
In Sunday's wild 42-32 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium, McGee got things started with a record-setting 104-yard touchdown return on the game's opening kickoff, his league-best third return for a TD this year.
McGee ran through a huge hole created by a key block from linebacker London Fletcher, then made a sharp cut to the left sideline to elude a host of white shirts. He ran down the left sideline untouched.
"It's just exciting to put some points on the board for the team," McGee said. "I saw a big hole. We had a left return called. I just tried to hit the sideline and take it all the way."
McGee did, and ran right into the record books.
His 104-yard return was the longest in Bills' history, surpassing the old mark of 102 set by Charley Warner against Boston in 1965 and by Curtis Brown against Baltimore in 1978. McGee's return made more history, too:
--Three kickoff returns for touchdowns is a new single-season club record, and McGee is just one behind the league record of four held by Green Bay's Travis Williams (1967) and Chicago's Cecil Turner (1970).
--It was the longest kickoff return for a touchdown ever allowed by Miami and it was the first time in Bills history that they returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, a span of 672 regular-season games.
--Combined with Bethel Johnson's 93-yard kickoff touchdown against Cleveland, it marked just the fourth time in NFL history two opening kickoffs were returned for scores on the same day.
Meanwhile, McGee's return gave the Bills an NFL-record tying five returns for touchdowns this season. Nate Clements and Jonathan Smith have returned punts for touchdowns. The other teams with five were the 1951 Giants (four punts, one kickoff), 1952 Steelers (three punts, two kickoffs), and 1959 Cardinals (five punts).
The Bills' old club record was three in 1966 (two punts, one kickoff) and 1973 (two kickoffs, one punt).
"It's great," said McGee who leads the NFL with a 26.9-yard kickoff return average. "These special teams, we do a good job. We're like a three-headed monster. We can put points on the board, so it's pretty scary."
McGee can also keep points off.
He has gone three consecutive games with an interception and he nearly had a second at Miami when he made a great catch in the end zone, only to have it nullified by a replay challenge that showed his second foot just touched out of bounds.
- --At one point during Sunday's game, the Bills had lost a half-dozen players
to various injuries. The most serious were knee injuries to starting RT Mike Williams and starting TE Mark Campbell. Both were scheduled for more testing
and their status will be updated on Wednesday. RB Willis McGahee was able
to continue after tweaking an ankle. LT Jonas Jennings dislocated his shoulder
again, popped it back in, and kept on playing. Said coach Mike Mularkey: "This
game was what we expected, the Dolphins played physical the entire afternoon.
It was a total shootout. It was good to be down, on the road like we were,
and see this response. With the heat, the injuries we had, I have to give
our players a lot of credit."
- --The Bills and Dolphins combined for 20 possessions in the first half.
When these teams played the first time in Buffalo, they had 18 possessions
for the entire game. The 35 combined points were the most ever in an opening
quarter for both teams. The Bills' old mark was 31 points (vs. Houston in
1963 and Kansas City in 1964). The Bills led the Chiefs in that game 34-0
in the first quarter.
- --Rookie WR Lee Evans hauled in 21-yard and 69-yard touchdown catches against
the Dolphins' strong secondary, but it was a one-handed catch on a third-and-two
play late in the second half that may have been the most important play of
the game. Evans was able to convert that play into a first down, and two plays
later, he was in the end zone with his first TD, cutting Miami's lead to 24-21.
Buffalo's comeback was on. "That was one of the pivotal plays of the
game," QB Drew Bledsoe said. "He came through there, got a bit roughed
up by the linebacker, and I turned it loose and he was able to make the play
and convert the third down. That was a huge play and Lee's been making plays
for us for a while." Evans' multi-TD game was the first by a Bills rookie
since TE Mark Brammer in 1980 against the Jets.
- --CB Nate Clements loves Pro Player Stadium. His interception on Sunday,
one of five by the Bills against Dolphins QB A.J. Feeley, was the 15th of
his career and six have come in Miami. Eleven of Clements' 15 picks have been
on the road, which is also impressive. The Bills' No. 3 defense yielded three
first-quarter TD passes to Feeley and 297 net yards passing overall, third
most on the year. But in the end Buffalo finished with a season-best seven
takeaways (five interceptions, two fumbles), leading to 21 points. "Anytime
you get takeaways, it's big and we had a lot," Clements said. "They
made some plays, so we had to go out and get it right back for our offense.
It definitely was good. It switches the momentum of the game."
REPORT CARD VS. DOLPHINS
PASSING OFFENSE: A
-- Drew Bledsoe continued his resurgence by throwing for 277 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Dolphins' No. 1-ranked passing defense. It was the most TDs allowed by Miami this year and most since Kansas City's Trent Green had five in September 2002. Bledsoe was 9 of 12 for 198 yards on the Bills' four TD drives. WR Lee Evans continued his sensational rookie year, catching four passes for 110 yards and two TDs, good for 21 and 69 yards. WR Eric Moulds added five catches for 68 yards and a 30-yard score. Tight end Tim Euhus picked up the slack for an injured Mark Campbell (knee) and had four catches for 32 yards and a 15-yard TD. Evans' 69-yard TD grab gave the Bills a 28-24 lead it wouldn't lose. On the play, Bledsoe got FS Arturo Freeman to "jump" Moulds in trying to help out CB Sam Madison, leaving Evans to spring free wide open down the left sideline. SS Sammy Knight was too late getting over and Evans used all of his 4.2 speed to run under Bledsoe's rocket shot. That play demonstrated that when given time, Bledsoe is hardly a washed-up quarterback. The Bills allowed three sacks, and one killed a third-quarter drive, but protection was mostly solid for a tough road game. Furthermore, super sub Marcus Price was playing in place of RT Mike Williams, who was lost for most of the game with a right knee injury. Penalties hurt with a holding call on C Trey Teague wiping out a 65-yard screen pass to RB Willis McGahee.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus
-- RB Willis McGahee fell just shy of 100 yards, gaining 91 on 23 carries. He didn't score a touchdown after getting four last week at Seattle and also had his first NFL fumble to kill a promising second-quarter drive. The Dolphins, missing injured star LBs Zach Thomas and Junior Seau, made it a priority to gang up on McGahee, the former Miami Hurricane standout making his South Florida pro debut. McGahee did get lose for 20- and 21-yard runs in the fourth quarter that helped the Bills drive from their own 15-yard line to the Miami 35, killing some valuable clock while protecting a 35-32 lead.
PASS DEFENSE: C
-- The Bills' No. 3 defense allowed three TD passes of 27, 2 and 15 yards in a wild first quarter to Feeley, then got serious. Feeley wound up with five interceptions, none bigger for the Bills than DT Pat Williams' pick he returned 20 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory with 1:55 to play. The ball was intended for RB Travis Minor over the middle, but LB London Fletcher had good coverage and Williams wound up with the ball in his hands after the pass struck him in the chest. He then dashed for the end zone, showing unusual speed for a 360-pound man. Also getting interceptions were Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, Rashad Baker and Terrence McGee. Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel shared the team's lone sack.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus
-- The Dolphins wanted no part testing Williams and Sam Adams in the middle, and took to the air. It wasn't a bad strategy in rushing out to a 24-14 lead. Then Feeley began spraying the ball all over the field. Miami may have wanted to run more, because Minor averaged 4.1 yards on his 20 carries and capped a 76-yard drive late in the game with a 3-yard TD run through a huge hole up the middle. The Bills did come up with a key turnover in the run game, when Schobel pounced on a fumble by Leonard Henry who dropped the handoff to kill a drive at the Buffalo 24-yard line in the third quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
-- McGee got things started with a team-record 104-yard TD on the game's opening kickoff, his record third return for a score this season. In all, he had five kickoff returns for 173 yards, sixth best in Bills' history. Unfortunately for the Bills, the Dolphins' countered with Wes Welker and Jimmy Wyrick, who combined for 216 yards in kickoff returns (a 30.9 average). Wyrick's 58-yard return on a reverse led to Miami's second TD. Meanwhile, Clements (four for 0 yards) was bottled up on punt returns and PK Rian Lindell missed an easy 38-yard field goal wide left. On the plus side, Mario Hagan and Coy Wire came up with a fumble recovery on kick coverage and P Brian Moorman was solid, averaging 43.7 yards on nine attempts, dropping two inside the 20 and getting off a 63-yarder.
-- The Bills were in prime position to lose to the rival Dolphins, who charged out of the blocks at home, but coach Mularkey and his coordinators pushed all the right buttons in pulling out a wild affair. After ending a six-game road losing streak at Seattle last week, the Bills took another confidence-building step by overcoming 11 penalties, a 10-point deficit, a rash of injuries and the near 80-degree heat. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray didn't go overboard with the blitz, and had plenty of bodies in coverage to come up with a five interceptions after his unit allowed three first-quarter touchdowns. Offensively, Tom Clements' move to the no-huddle worked once again to get Bledsoe into a nice rhythm and keep an opponent on its heels. Miami should've been better prepared for that since it's a regular part of the Bills' scheme. The 69-yard bomb to Evans was confidence at its highest point. Mularkey and Co., can't wait to take apart Cleveland. Playoffs? When a team's on a 6-2 role, don't laugh.
The leash around A.J. Feeley's neck is awfully long.
Despite throwing eight interceptions in the past three games, two of which were returned for late fourth-quarter touchdowns, Feeley received a strong vote of confidence Monday as Miami's starting quarterback from interim coach Jim Bates.
Pressed by a reporter as to whether backup Sage Rosenfels would have the chance to start if Feeley's mistakes continue, Bates said, "Yes, but right now A.J. is our guy. He's shown some excellent, excellent football as far as throwing the football, taking charge. He's shown leadership. We're going with A.J. Feeley and expect to see improvement starting this week."
That means Feeley must avoid the same kind of mistakes in Sunday's game at Denver that have plagued him the past three contests, notably the tendency to force passes and stare at his intended receiver too long before passing.
"A lot of quarterbacks do that," Bates said. "But at times [against Buffalo], he was looking off and then throwing the bullets for big completions. He just has to get more consistent on that. Several throws, he made the read and the ball was out so quick, and we had big receptions. On others, he focused in too long and it gave the opportunity for interception or breakup."
Understandably, Bates preferred to concentrate on the positive when it came to Feeley against Buffalo. Feeley did throw three first-quarter touchdown passes and finished with a career-best 303 passing yards.
"We get through the negatives, we're going to have a real good quarterback on our hands," Bates said. "But we cannot continue to throw the interceptions and make the poor decisions that's going to cost us wins."
- --Lost amid A.J. Feeley's performance and Miami surrendering a season-high
four touchdown passes was a 104-yard kickoff return by Buffalo's Terrence
McGee on the opening kickoff. That was a franchise record for Buffalo as well
as the longest kickoff return surrendered in Dolphins history. "It was
a total breakdown," Bates said of the first special teams return for
a touchdown against his team this season. Bates, though, also pointed out
Monday that his special teams also had some positive plays. "We held
the No. 1 punt return team to zero yardage," he said. "Kickoff coverage
average possession was the 15-yard line coming out for them, except for the
one return for the touchdown. Kickoff returns was the best we've had all season
... So other than the one play, the special teams played really well."
- --Bates said rookie Rex Hadnot will be permanently replacing Taylor Whitley
at right guard in the starting lineup. Hadnot started against the 49ers and
added more punch to the running game than the struggling Whitley had as a
first-year starter. Hadnot earned the spot after impressing coaches during
a two-game stint replacing injured Jeno James at left guard. "He is going
to be a good football player for us for a long time," Bates said.
- --QB A.J. Feeley received a strong vote of confidence Monday as Miami's
starting quarterback from interim coach Jim Bates despite throwing eight interceptions
in the past three games. The Dolphins want to assess Feeley's long-term potential
over the next four games to see whether to address the quarterback position
in the offseason.
- --MLB Zach Thomas appears unlikely to play Sunday against Denver. Thomas
missed last Sunday's 42-32 loss to Buffalo because of a slightly torn hamstring.
- --RG Rex Hadnot is permanently replacing Taylor Whitley in the starting
lineup. A 2004 sixth-round draft choice, Hadnot earned the starting nod in
last Sunday's 42-32 loss to Buffalo after impressing the previous two weeks
while replacing injured LG Jeno James.
- --RG Taylor Whitley has permanently lost his starting spot to Rex Hadnot.
Hadnot earned the starting nod in last Sunday's 42-32 loss to Buffalo after
impressing the previous two weeks while replacing injured LG Jeno James.
- --WR Bryan Gilmore enjoyed his best outing of the season in last Sunday's 42-32 loss to Buffalo. Claimed by the Dolphins after being waived by Arizona in the preseason, Gilmore had three catches for 44 yards with one touchdown while splitting time with Thompson as Miami's third receiver.
REPORT CARD VS. BILLS
PASS OFFENSE: D
-- The good news is A.J. Feeley hit 10 receivers in a three-touchdown, 303-yard outing. The bad news is Feeley also threw five interceptions, one of which was returned for the game-clinching touchdown.
RUN OFFENSE: C-plus
-- Travis Minor rushed for 82 yards on 20 carries and was much more impressive running between the tackles, for which interior linemen Jeno James, Seth McKinney and Rex Hadnot deserve credit. FB Rob Konrad had two rushes for 18 yards and provided the power running the Dolphins are missing with TB Sammy Morris (rib) out of the starting lineup.
PASS DEFENSE: D
-- Not since Kansas City's Trent Green in September 2002 had an opposing quarterback thrown four touchdown passes against Miami's vaunted secondary. But the Dolphins had coverage collapses across the board in allowing three touchdown passes of 20-plus yards. FS Arturo Freeman and CB Reggie Howard surrendered two of them.
RUN DEFENSE: B-minus
-- Willis McGahee was held just short of 100 yards, gaining 91 on 23 carries. McGahee, though, helped Buffalo grind clock in the fourth quarter by rushing for 40 yards. McGahee did lose a fumble when stripped by DE Jason Taylor.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
-- After Terrence McGee scored on a 104-yard kickoff return on the game's opening play, Miami clamped down on Buffalo's return units. K Olindo Mare appears almost fully recovered from an earlier calf injury after connecting on a 47-yard field goal. Wes Welker lost a fumble on a punt return but did an otherwise solid job on returns and in coverage against one of the NFL's best special teams units.
-- Dolphins interim coach Jim Bates successfully got an end-zone interception overturned with a replay challenge. But the coaching staff appears to have made a major mistake when inserting cold third-string tailback Leonard Henry into the game for a third-quarter carry. Henry fumbled to end a Miami scoring drive and give Buffalo the momentum it would need to win the game.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
No one will mistake Randall Gay for Ty Law or Earthwind Moreland for Tyrone Poole or Troy Brown for Asante Samuel, but these fill-in guys are playing some pretty solid football for a Patriots team that has won its last five games without the services of its two starting cornerbacks, and four of those five mostly without starting nickel back Asante Samuel as well.
Consider that through the first seven games of the season in which the Patriots went 6-1, the trio of Law, Poole and Samuel combined for two interceptions and 11 passes defensed. In the five games since, the replacement trio of Gay, Moreland and Brown have combined for three interceptions, seven passes defensed and a fumble return for a touchdown.
Brown has two of those picks and four passes defensed since moving to defense the last five weeks, which is more than Law and Poole had individually though the first two months of the season.
"The players are playing well," head coach Bill Belichick said after his team's fifth straight win, a 42-15 blowout of Cleveland in which Brown had an interception and Gay returned a fumble 41 yards for his first career touchdown. "I thought that Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland and Eugene Wilson did a nice job out there and Troy Brown did a nice job in the slot. It looks like he broke up a couple of passes and intercepted one.
"I think our sub defense did well and got off the field on third down
at some critical times. That's good play by the defensive players."
The play from that group of inexperienced defensive backs has been solid for almost all of the last five weeks. Over that time, the Patriots have allowed just 65 points or an average of 13 per game and 258.6 yards per game. Only Kansas City exploited the young defenders, piling up 417 yards of offense while both Buffalo and Baltimore failed to exceed the 125-yard mark.
- --The Patriots had a rare chance to empty the bench in Cleveland after
building a 42-7 lead through three quarters. Don Davis and Dexter Reid, who
have been working into the mix anyway, played the whole fourth quarter at
safety while Justin Kurpeikis replaced Richard Seymour at defensive end and
Tully Banta-Cain played outside linebacker. Bethel Johnson took some more
reps at wide receiver and caught a 20-yard pass from backup Rohan Davey, who
attempted his first six passes of the season, completing three.
"We put in everybody we could," coach Bill Belichick said. "We had a couple of guys who were banged up that we couldn't put in there."
- --While he won't admit it, the win in Cleveland had to be satisfying for
Belichick, who was fired as the Browns head coach in 1995 after five years
and a 36-44 record at the helm. He last returned to Cleveland back in 2000
when his Patriots performed miserably in a 19-11 loss. Fans booed him mercilessly
in that game and even threw some debris from the stands.
Belichick got a little payback Sunday afternoon by drubbing the Browns on their home turf. "It wasn't a very good game when we came here in 2000," Belichick said after his team's 42-15 win. "I thought we played better today."
There was a feeling that Belichick tried to run up the score on Cleveland after the Patriots called for consecutive deep passes in the third quarter while leading 35-7, the latter of the two calls ended in a 44-yard touchdown pass from QB Tom Brady to David Patten on a third-and-22 play.
"Not at all," Belichick explained. "We really didn't have a choice. It was third-and-22. If we were in field goal range, we might have run it and tried to kick a field goal, but there wasn't much choice."
Asked if the game was personal, Belichick said, "No. We were just trying to win a football game. We tried to win one last week and we'll try to win one next week. That's what we do."
- --RB Cedric Cobbs received his first extended playing time of the season
and the results were mixed at best. He finished with 16 carries for only 29
yards and lost a fumble on a fourth down play at the Browns 5-yard line, but
he did have a couple of solid runs when he made some yards after contact.
Cobbs had one carry for 1 yard entering the game.
- --RB Corey Dillon continued on a franchise record rushing pace with his
career best seventh 100-yard game of the season. He now has 1,221 yards on
the season and is on pace to rush for 1,665 yards, which would easily surpass
Curtis Martin's record of 1,487 yards. He already has surpassed the single-season
high of the man he replaced, Antowain Smith, whose best year in New England
came in 2001 when he ran for 1,157 yards.
- --QB Rohan Davey benefited from the one-sided score and the opportunity
to play the fourth quarter and throw his first regular season passes of the
season. He completed 3-of-6 throws for 44 yards. "We just gave him an
opportunity to play," Belichick said. "Run the offense, call the
plays, make the audibles at the line -- things he's been working on all year.
He hasn't had a chance to do it in a game. I think he showed in Europe last
spring the things he can do in terms of throwing the ball. He's a big, physical
guy, he can run around and he's hard to knock down."
- --NT Keith Traylor left the game briefly with an undisclosed injury and
was replaced by rookie Vince Wilfork, but he was able to return. He seemed
fine walking around in the locker room after the game.
- --G Russ Hochstein has shown his versatility the last two weeks. He played
right tackle against Baltimore when Matt Light left the game with an ankle
injury and Sunday in Cleveland he stepped in for a banged up Joe Andruzzi
at left guard until Andruzzi could return. He also is the team's backup center.
- --WR Troy Brown continues to thrive as a cornerback. In addition to his interception and pass break-up Sunday in Cleveland, Brown also made an excellent tackle to stop wideout Dennis Northcutt short on a fourth-and-five play. Brown now has six tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed in five games as a defensive back.
REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
-- The Patriots have been unable to get their passing attack in gear of late. With the exception of the Kansas City game, quarterback Tom Brady has not been sharp lately and that was the case again Sunday in Cleveland when he completed 11-of-20 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but was just 7-for-15 for 69 yards at the half. The pass protection was shaky early in the game and Brady went down twice on the Pats' first possession of the game. His 44-yard touchdown pass came with New England already leading 35-7. He found his favorite target, Deion Branch, just once for 13 yards while connecting three times with David Givens and three with David Patten, who caught the 44-yard touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
-- the Patriots once again controlled the game on the ground, rushing for 225 yards, 100 of which came from Corey Dillon on his 18 carries. Kevin Faulk chipped in with 13 runs for 87 yards while rookie Cedric Cobbs ran 16 times for 29 yards. New England also rushed for three touchdowns in the game, but Dillon and Cobbs both lost a fumble, which prevented the grade from being an A-plus. The offensive line did an excellent job getting a hat on a hat and allowing Dillon, who left the game with a leg injury that he said wasn't an injury, but rather a "situation" that he also said was fine, to find the creases. For some reason, it was a big deal that Dillon, who had 98 yards when he left the game, came back in for one more carry to reach the 100-yard mark.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus
-- New England did a nice job defensively of pressuring rookie quarterback Luke McCown, who was throwing off his back foot throughout the game. They sacked McCown three times, although all three came late in the game, and intercepted him twice, one each by Rodney Harrison and Troy Brown. McCown did make some plays late, particularly when he completed a 53-yard pass and a 40-yard pass on consecutive plays to lead a two-play, 93-yard touchdown drive against mostly Patriots subs in the fourth quarter. He also engineered a solid 11-play, 70-yard drive at the end of the half that ended in a 16-yard touchdown pass that deflected off the intended receiver and into the arms of Antonio Bryant for the score. Overall, New England did what it had to do in the passing game. At halftime, McCown was only 10-for-20 for 97 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus
-- William Green never got going early and then the one-sided score made Cleveland one-dimensional and all but eliminated him as a threat. Green finished with 12 carries for 15 yards and the Browns ran for 46 total yards on the day. Green also lost a fumble that was forced when Richard Seymour, who led New England with five tackles, penetrated the backfield and knocked the ball free. Randall Gay scooped up the fumble and ran 41 yards for a touchdown. The Browns' longest run of the day came on a McCown 11-yard scramble. The Patriots defensive front seven controlled the line of scrimmage in the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus
-- Bethel Johnson's 93-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff set the tone for the game and eliminated any extra emotion Cleveland might have had from its coaching change. That was the only big play in the kicking game all day, although Troy Brown did make an alert play on a short punt. He ran up and anticipated the bounce, which deflected off Gay's backside, making it a live ball. Brown saved the turnover by alertly diving on the ball for the fumble recovery. Punter Josh Miller had one punt downed inside the 20-yard line but also had one land in the end zone for a touchback. The Pats did not have a single penalty in the kicking game, which is something that had been a problem recently.
-- The Patriots did an excellent job preparing for a road game in a strange situation against a team that made a coaching change during the week. Not knowing what to expect, Belichick emphasized the need for a fast start to remove any extra emotion the Browns might have, and New England did just that, jumping out 21-0 and never looking back. While Belichick might not admit it, the game had to have some personal overtones and he made sure his team was focused for what could have been a trap game against a 3-8 club on the road. The Patriots game plan called for them to pound away at the Browns front and they did just that, rushing for 225 yards and controlling the clock to the tune of 39:08. New England once again got solid play from its makeshift secondary, a credit to the coaches who continue to find a way to best utilize every player on the roster.
NEW YORK JETS
An MRI exam Monday revealed Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham has a sprained lateral collateral ligament, located on the outside of the knee. He's been classified as "week-to-week" and the Jets gave no timetable as to a possible return.
Coach Herman Edwards said surgery hasn't been discussed. In best-case scenarios, LCL injuries usually take at least a few weeks of rest to heal, which indicates Abraham will be missing a few games.
"It'll probably be week-to-week," Edwards said. ``I'm not saying he'll be back next week either, but at this point, this week I know he's out."
Abraham sustained the injury during a collision with defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson midway through the second quarter of Sunday's win over Houston. Abraham
had the knee wrapped and reentered the game briefly later in the quarter but
The loss of Abraham is a blow to a defensive unit that has carried the Jets for much of the season, especially over the last month. Riding a three-game winning streak, the Jets have allowed only 17 points over that span and lead the NFL with the fewest points given up (175). Abraham was leading the Jets and was among NFL leaders with 9.5 sacks.
"The one thing you do know is when you lose a great player, you always suffer one way in the fact that ... he's the guy that can change the game, especially when people get into the pass mode," Edwards said. "So you compensate in different ways."
Third-year player Bryan Thomas will start in Abraham's absence. Thomas started four weeks ago when defensive end Shaun Ellis was out with a groin injury, registering a season-high seven tackles and 1.5 sacks against Baltimore.
Henderson said the Jets may also move Robertson over to right end and give James Reed more work at tackle inside. The Jets used similar formations in the second half Sunday against Houston after Abraham went out. It's called their Buccaneer package, which offers a variation of the 3-4.
- --After defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson called his secondary the
"weak link" in the Jets' defense more than a month ago, the unit
has since become its strength. Safety Erik Coleman and corner David Barrett
both had interceptions and while allowing 125 yards receiving to Houston's
star receiver Andre Johnson, the Jets gave up only 32 yards receiving to the
rest of the Texans. The Jets haven't allowed a team to pass for 200 yards
in the last six games and after three straight games without an interception;
the Jets have picked off five in the last two games. "We've been growing
together as a defensive unit," Coleman said. "We just had to iron
out a couple of kinks. We've been playing well, we've been playing hard, but
we just hadn't been getting any breaks."
- --The Jets (9-3) can clinch a playoff spot with a win this week at Pittsburgh
as long as they also get a Buffalo loss or tie, a Denver loss and either a
San Diego or Baltimore loss or tie.
- --The Jets have shut out their opponents in the second half six times this
- --CB David Barrett had three pass break-ups against Houston, giving him
a career-high 11 this season.
- --DT James Reed's sack of David Carr in the first quarter was his first
of the year.
- --QB Chad Pennington came out fine physically after making his first start
in four weeks due to a strained rotator cuff. Pennington threw well and doesn't
seem to be shying away from running the ball, which is how he got hurt in
the first place.
- --DE John Abraham will miss this week's game because of a sprained lateral
collateral ligament in his right knee and is listed as week-to-week. The Jets
seemed doubtful Abraham would be able to play next week either. Bryan Thomas
will start in his place and there is the possibility that Dewayne Robertson
could move from tackle to end with tackle James Reed getting more playing
- --DE Bryan Thomas will start this week instead of John Abraham, who is
out with a sprained right knee. He replaced Abraham in the second quarter
of last weekend's game against Houston and registered four tackles.
- --DT Dewayne Robertson could be moved to end while John Abraham sits with
a sprained right knee. Robertson isn't a complete stranger to end because
he's been practicing there the last few weeks and even played their during
the Houston game. But with his short arms and bulk (310 pounds) he may have
trouble getting around opposing offensive tackles.
- --DT James Reed is coming off his first sack of the season and may be getting more playing time with the injury to John Abraham. If the Jets move Dewayne Robertson from tackle to end at times in place of Abraham, Reed will get some extra snaps inside.
REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus
-- Chad Pennington was sharp in his first game back, completing his first eight passes. The Jets kept the passing attack simple and sweet, with Pennington not completing a pass longer than 18 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
-- The Jets ran for more than 200 yards for the third time this season because of an outstanding job by the offensive line. Curtis Martin ran for 134 yards and LaMont Jordan 60 and the Jets averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
PASS DEFENSE: A
--The secondary had a huge game as they played zone but still managed to double up Andre Johnson most of the time and keep him from killing them with big play after big play. They pressured David Carr all game and forced him into bad throws, coming up with two key picks.
RUSH DEFENSE: A
-- The Jets held Domanick Davis to 52 yards after he burned them for 129 last season. It was another strong game for defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson and Bryan Thomas, who subbed for John Abraham and did well against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
-- A 46-yard punt return by Santana Moss and a Toby Gowin punt downed at the Houston three-yard line were crucial for the Jets as they came back from a 7-6 halftime deficit. Doug Brien was also key with three field goals.
-- Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson adjusted well when Abraham had to leave the game and both have kept this team believing they can win even when they're down. They've also instilled a sense of pride that has carried the Jets in recent weeks as they've shut out opponents in the second half six times this season.