That's the situation at running back for the Bills (8-6) who make their third and final West Coast trip of the season on Sunday needing a victory at San Francisco (2-12) to keep their playoff hopes alive.
McGahee has a bruised and hyper-extended right knee suffered when he took an awkward tumble while catching a screen pass last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
He's not expected to practice much if at all this week and remains a game-time decision, even though the prudent move may be for the Bills to rest their dynamic first-year star for next Sunday's showdown with Pittsburgh (13-1).
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure," McGahee said Wednesday when asked if he's going to play this week.
However, he did not practice and spent most of the day in the trainer's room.
This normally would be a golden opportunity for Henry, who lost his starting job to McGahee eight games ago, to reemerge from hiding, help the team and help his trade stock. However, the 2002 Pro Bowler has missed the past three games because of torn ligaments in his left ankle that have been very slow to heal. He began light jogging and planting of his foot this week, but he ruled himself out of Sunday's game.
"No, I'm not playing," he said. "I'm still rehabbing, taking it day by day. It's feeling better, but we'll see. As far as I'm concerned, I tried to do some running on it earlier this week. It's just going to be a process."
Henry said he wasn't facing surgery on what to this point has been vaguely described by the club as a lower-leg injury.
If McGahee and Henry are indeed out for the 49ers, the Bills would have to turn to three relatively untested running backs.
Williams, a free agent rookie out of Alabama who led the SEC in rushing last fall with 1,367 yards and 14 touchdowns, would likely get the start but Burns, a seasoned third-year pro, would see his fair share of plays, coach Mike Mularkey said.
That's because Burns is the better pass blocker.
"It's a great opportunity," said Williams, who has rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries the past two games. "We're not sure on anybody's status right now, but I have to be ready to go.''
Brown, who was signed on Wednesday off the Cleveland Brows' practice squad, is the third option. The 6-1, 215-pounder is a much bigger back than Williams and Burns but he has a lot more rust, spending 12 weeks so far this season on the practice squads of the Steelers and Browns. He appeared in two games last year for coach Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh.
"He's kind of a slasher. He picks and chooses and hits it," Mularkey said. "He's a big back with good speed. One thing I can say about him is he's a little upright. He's going to take some hits. I think once he gets hit a couple times that will control itself.
"He's a very good pass protector. When he had a chance in preseason in individual drills he did well. He knows enough of what we're doing that it makes it a little easier for him to come in here and play."
McGahee's injury can't be dismissed as a slight bump in the road. He's only 53 yards shy of 1,000 in nine games as a starter, and the Bills are 8-1 in those contests. His nine rushing touchdowns are the second most in club history for a first-year player, two behind Joe Cribbs' 11 some 24 years ago. He has been a huge spark in Buffalo's turnaround from an 0-4 start.
Compounding matters for the Bills right now is that their two top tight ends, Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus, are out for the year because of knee injuries. The Bills produced only one touchdown drive at Cincinnati, relying instead on a touchdown each from their defense and special teams and four takeaways to win in a rout.
"I feel like, at 1 o'clock, something is going to kick in to make the difference in the game," Mularkey said confidently. "And I think our players feel that way. We've lost other positions to injury and we've had guys step in and make some plays. I feel the same way about Willis."
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe said if he's got to take to their air more against a 49ers' secondary that has yielded 18 touchdown passes, he will. San Francisco ranks 31st in points allowed.
"Week in and week out, we talk about guys being injured and other guys have to step up," he said. "If Willis can't go, then Joe Burns and Shaud Williams have to carry the load and we can win with them. Obviously the nature of our offense changes a little bit if Willis doesn't pay, but how that plays out, we'll wait and see."
The Bills can reach the playoffs providing they win their final two games, the New York Jets (10-4) lose their final two and two of the three remaining contenders -- Jacksonville, Baltimore and Denver -- lose at least once. The Bills have the tiebreaker edge on New York but not the other three clubs.
Many players said 12-win New England's loss at two-win Miami on Monday night was a nice reminder about not getting careless against the 49ers or to get carried away about winning eight of their last 10 games.
"What's there to get caught up in? We're 8-6," safety Troy Vincent said. "We haven't done anything. We're not the defending champs. We didn't win our division. We just happen to be a team that's put some wins together. We still have to go out and prove who we are each and every week. No one's going to lay down when they see the Buffalo Bills come out of the tunnel and just pack it in."
SERIES HISTORY: Ninth meeting, series is tied 4-4. The teams last met in 2001 when the 49ers came away with a 35-0 victory at 3ComPark in early December. The Bills would go on to finish 3-13 in coach Gregg Williams' rookie season. It was one of Buffalo's worst losses in franchise history, with San Francisco holding a 409 to 191 edge in yardage, a whopping 230-29 on the ground. The last Buffalo victory at San Francisco was a wild 34-31 affair on Sept. 13, 1992, when Jim Kelly and Steve Young put on an aerial circus. Each threw for more than 400 yards in the only game in NFL history without a punt.
- --The Bills placed three players on the AFC's Pro Bowl squad announced on
Wednesday -- LB Takeo Spikes, DT Sam Adams and kick return specialist Terrence McGee. It is Spikes' second selection in as many seasons with the Bills. Adams
was named for a third time and McGee, a second-year pro, earned his first
trip to Hawaii. McGee leads the NFL with three kickoff returns for touchdowns,
a team record, and leads the AFC with a 26.6 average. He was the 111th overall
choice in the 2003 draft out of Northwestern State and his big year prevented
a repeat Pro Bowl appearance for Kansas City's Dante Hall, who returned his
second kickoff for a touchdown last Sunday. "That makes it special, because
Dante's always up there each year," McGee said. "When he got that
other one, I got a little scared. I didn't know what to expect then."
Spikes has been a side-to-sideline playmaker for Buffalo's No. 3-ranked defense
which has 22 takeaways during the Bills' five-game win streak. Spikes has
96 tackles and four interceptions, two for touchdowns. "It's an honor
to get recognized by your peers but what helps it even more is that we still
have something to play for in December," Spikes said. "Like Sam
said, you celebrate your personal goals at end of the season, but right now,
it's all about the playoffs. We're trying to do everything we possibly can
to get to the next level." Chosen as alternates to the Feb. 13 game were
WR Eric Moulds, DE Aaron Schobel and CB Nate Clements.
- --K Rian Lindell had a career-game against the Bengals, going 4-for-4 on
field goals and scoring 15 points. It would've been even better had coach
Mike Mularkey not called a time out the second before Lindell drilled a 49-yard
field goal, making him 5-for-5 on the day. "Rookie error," Mularkey
said. "Of course, it had to go through when I called the timeout. The
official on the sideline couldn't get the whistle out of his mouth."
- --Mularkey was a ninth-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1983 and still
thinks fondly of the San Francisco organization. Though he lasted just one
training camp before a long career in Minnesota and Pittsburgh, Mularkey said
the West Coast offensive philosophies he learned from Bill Walsh influence
his coaching to this day.
- --Three-time Pro Bowl WR Eric Moulds made the AFC squad as an alternate.
The nine-year pro has bounced back from a bad groin injury that curtailed
his play in 2003 with 76 catches for 925 yards and five touchdowns. Not reflected
in his numbers is the role he's played in the development of star rookie Lee Evans. Said Evans: "He's probably the single reason I've been able to
develop as I have. He's been one of the people I talk to every day. He tells
me things that are not in the playbook. He's played against certain people
and he's been there and done it. He can say things you need to know to play
the game, not just the scheme."
- --In an effort to boost the status of OT Mike Williams, the Bills took the
unusual step of pointing out how badly Vikings OT Bryant McKinnie is playing.
McKinnie was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2002 draft and Williams was No.
4. When beat writers came to the stadium pressroom on Wednesday, they found
copies of a short article critical of McKinnie in Pro Football Weekly sitting
at their workstations. Someone on the club had used a yellow highlighter on
each one to point out McKinnie had surrendered 19.5 sacks since his rookie
season and that even when he's played well, it's been below expectations,
particularly in road games. Nobody in the building would own up to the copies
but general manager and president Tom Donahoe has bristled in the past over
media criticism that he took the wrong tackle. The club's public relations
staff would only say that it is in the business of giving out information
reporters may find useful.
- --DT Sam Adams, who played on Super Bowl teams in Baltimore and Oakland, on Buffalo's 8-2 surge: "We are a dangerous team. We started off bad, but we're finishing strong, and that's what you want to do."
BY THE NUMBERS: 22 -- Bills takeaways during their five-game win streak. They had 18 all of last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All the way. I tell you, everything is thrown out. God-willing, we want to make the playoffs, but when we get there, all the stats, I don't care if you're putting up 40 points a game or your defense is doing this and that. ... When we show up for the playoffs, I don't care about nothing. You put your pants on just like we do and we're coming to get you." -- LB Takeo Spikes, talking about the Bills' chances of a deep playoff run, if they get to the post-season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Special teams coach Bobby April is a like a mad scientist thinking up ways to use 328-pound TE/OT Jason Peters. Despite his great size, Peters, a free agent rookie out of Arkansas, can run like a man 100 pounds lighter.
Since being signed off the practice squad on Nov. 13, Peters has been most effective as a wedge buster on kick coverage and a one-man wedge on kick returns. The Bills rank third in the NFL in kickoff returns and fourth in kick coverage.
Last week at Cincinnati, Peters also made his presence known on punt coverage as a down lineman sent to rush the punter. In the first quarter, Peters beat the center, right guard and fullback to block Kyle Larson's punt, then fell on the free ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
April said turning Peters loose up front was an obvious move for him to make.
"When he was not dressing, we put him on the scout team and we made our center, Jon Dorenbos, block him, and he just gave Jon fits," April told reporters after the game. "We couldn't block him. So we knew if he ever dressed he was going to rush the punter because we couldn't block him. He was wearing us out in practice. He's a threat. Teams have to be prepared to block him when he's out there. He's a rare guy because he's so big and so athletic. The opponent has their hands full with him ... and we got him as a free agent.''
The Bills have determined Peters' future position in the NFL to be offensive tackle, but they are open to anything with an athlete this rare. Peters spoke about rushing the punter like a defensive lineman rushing the passer would.
"The punt before I bull rushed him (the long snapper) and he was kind of soft so I guess he thought I'd bull rush again, so I gave him a swim move and went up field and dove and blocked the punt," he said. "I just play hard. You never know when a play is going to be a difference maker."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- --S Jon Dorenbos was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a knee
injury and is out for the season. He was injured two weeks ago covering a
kick against the Cleveland Browns.
- --WR Josh Reed keeps chipping away in what's been a very frustrating season
for the third-year pro out of LSU. With two games to play, the former starter
has 14 catches for 142 yards. He still remains a valuable possession target
from the slot, and caught two passes for 24 yards last week in Cincinnati.
- --LB London Fletcher is having another monster year but won't be going
to the Pro Bowl. His 125 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles rival the
numbers posted by seven-time pick Ray Lewis of Baltimore, but edging him out
for the AFC nod at middle linebacker was Pittsburgh's James Farrior who is
having a solid year for the NFL's top-ranked defense with 82 tackles, three
sacks and three forced fumbles.
- --FS Troy Vincent has 43 interceptions for his career, fifth among active
players. Aeneas Williams leads with 55. With two games under his belt since
switching from cornerback, Vincent said his goal is to make the Pro Bowl next
year at safety. He's a five-time Pro Bowler at corner.
GAME PLAN: The 49ers are still playing hard, as evidenced by a 31-28 victory over Arizona and a 26-16 loss to Washington the past two weeks, so Buffalo can't mail this one in or their playoff hopes will end. Even without RB Willis McGahee, or a hobbled version, the Bills need at least 30 rushing attempts to set the tone and establish clock control on the road. Controlling Bryant Young in the middle will get that job done. San Francisco has given up 18 touchdown passes and gotten only 27 sacks, so QB Drew Bledsoe should find some success through the air. The Bills are bracing for more blitzing than normal from the 49ers, who have nothing to lose. On paper, Buffalo's rugged No. 3 defense should have the upper hand against a San Francisco offense missing injured starting QB Tim Rattay and playing second-year pro Ken Dorsey. San Francisco has allowed 48 sacks and the time seems ripe for coordinator Jerry Gray to use every blitz package he knows to create turnovers and set the offense up for some short drives. San Francisco has given up 18 interceptions, four which have been returned for touchdowns. Since starting out 0-4, the Bills have outscored the opposition, 66-3, in the third quarter.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- --Bills SS Lawyer Milloy vs. 49ers TE Eric Johnson: Johnson has set a San
Francisco record for a tight end with 77 catches and Milloy will look to get
- --Bills LBs vs. 49ers FB Fred Beasley: The 246-pound Beasley looks to hurt
people and open holes for RB Kevan Barlow.
- --Bills RB Shaud Williams vs. 49ers' No. 30 run defense: The rookie from
Alabama figures to start and needs a productive day in place of Willis McGahee.
- --Bills RT Mike Williams vs. 49ers LDE John Engelberger: Can Williams maintain
his consistent play of late and shut out San Francisco's sack leader with
- --Bills special teams vs. 49ers punt returner Arnaz Battle: Battle is averaging only 8.5 yards per return, but he's got a 71-yard touchdown under his belt. Bills rank 15th in punt coverage.
- --S Bradford Banta will handle the snapping duties for the remainder of
the season after Jon Dorenbos went on injured reserve Wednesday because of
a knee injury. The move to sign Banta last week has been wise so far.
Banta, an 11-year veteran who was released in camp by the Detroit Lions, had an error-free day on 12 snaps in his Bills' debut last Sunday in Cincinnati.
"You think about that first one, but then you just say, OK, I've done this a thousand times before. What's the difference?'" Banta said. "It was my first game in a while, so things were going a little faster. But as long as you don't hear my name, I'm fine."
- --Injuries to Willis McGahee and Travis Henry have put a serious crimp in Buffalo's running back situation, at least for a week. Second-year pro Dante Brown was signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Wednesday to help matters. He played two games last season for Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh and knows the offense, making it more likely he'll be ready to see action if needed at San Francisco.
At least one member of the Dolphins is guaranteed to be playing in the 2005 postseason, as defensive end Jason Taylor was voted Miami's lone representative to the Pro Bowl.
Taylor is tied for fifth in the AFC in sacks with 8.5. But Taylor believes other aspects of his game helped land him a Pro Bowl spot along with fellow ends Dwight Freeney (Indianapolis) and John Abraham (New York Jets).
"I think the fans look at numbers and vote off that," said Taylor, who will make the third Pro Bowl appearance of his eight-year NFL career. "I think players and coaches understand the game more and in a different way. They understand the things you do that don't show up in the stats column all the time, the little things like picking up additional blocks and intangibles like the play the other night."
Taylor is referring to his pressure of New England quarterback Tom Brady late in the fourth quarter of last Monday's 29-28 upset of New England. While being spun to the ground by Taylor, Brady heaved a desperation pass that was intercepted by strong-side linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo at the Patriots 21-yard line. That set up the game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback A.J. Feeley to wide receiver Derrius Thompson with 1:23 remaining.
"That doesn't show up in the sack column, but we get a big (interception) on it," Taylor said. "It's the little things like that that make a big difference.
Taylor's selection was especially sweet considering he entered the season without having Adewale Ogunleye aligned on the opposite side. Taylor and Ogunleye combined for 28 sacks in 2003 to both receive Pro Bowl berths.
But the Dolphins traded Ogunleye to Chicago in the offseason and replaced him with David Bowens, who has six sacks this season. Plus, both of Miami's starting linemen from 2003 (Tim Bowens and Larry Chester) barely played this season because of injuries.
"Has it been different or more difficult? Yes and no," Taylor said. "It's been different because you lose a lot of players. We've lost Larry and Tim, too. But I've got guys who have stepped in and I can't thank these guys enough. ... The whole Wale thing, I was never really concerned about it. I know there was more talk on the other end of it than there was on this end of it."
Ogunleye, who has 5.5 sacks, wasn't voted to the Pro Bowl.
The Dolphins haven't had just one player chosen for the Pro Bowl since 1998. Cornerback Patrick Surtain and tight end Randy McMichael were chosen as first alternates, while linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was a second alternate for special teams and middle linebacker Zach Thomas a third alternate.
SERIES HISTORY: The Dolphins hold a 6-4 all-time series lead, but the two teams haven't played since 1993. That was one of the most memorable games in Dolphins history, as Dan Marino suffered an Achilles' tendon injury that caused him to miss the rest of the season.
- --Dolphins safety Shawn Wooden was honored Tuesday as this week's Ameriquest
Mortgage Neighborhood MVP.
The award has gotten a $1,000 donation to Habitat for Humanity made in Wooden's name. Wooden has worked for years helping build housing for the underprivileged in inner-city Miami and donated $4,800 each season toward the charity.
A nine-year NFL veteran, Wooden is spending this season on injured reserve and is expected to retire in the offseason.
- --The Dolphins (3-11) made NFL history on Monday night when defeating the
Patriots (12-2), as Miami became the first team to ever defeat another with
at least 10 more victories.
On the flip side, upsetting New England pushed San Francisco (2-12) closer to the first pick in April's draft. The 49ers are guaranteed the selection by losing one of their final two games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Seasons since two NFL interim head coaches played against each other. Cleveland's Terry Robiskie, who was interim coach in Washington for a 2000 game against Arizona's Dave McGinnis, will be facing Miami's Jim Bates.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, I was working. I was getting ready to play football, Ricky. I don't want to see it." -- Jason Taylor when asked whether he saw a recent "60 Minutes" interview with Ricky Williams in which the retired tailback admits he is still smoking marijuana and doesn't feel the need to apologize to his teammates for retiring.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A.J. Feeley continues to take steps in his development as a quarterback, as evidenced by his interception-free performance against New England. Against Cleveland, Feeley can post back-to-back victories for the first time in his nine Dolphins starts this season.
"His confidence is building," said interim coach Jim Bates, who named Feeley his starter shortly after replacing Dave Wannstedt on an interim basis on Nov. 8. "The team confidence in A.J. is building every week. For him not to throw an interception [Monday] night is a tremendous improvement. And then to take us at the time to win the game late in the fourth quarter, to do what he did, it's just got to build his confidence and build the confidence within the team with A.J."
The fact Feeley, who has had five interceptions returned for touchdowns this season, didn't commit a turnover was noticed by his teammates.
"We're in every game but it seems like there's always a disastrous play at the end that kills us," tight end Randy McMichael said. "We didn't have that this week."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- --MLB Zach Thomas (hamstring) participated in a light practice Wednesday
but is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Cleveland. Thomas
has missed the past three starts because of a slightly torn hamstring.
- --LB Eddie Moore (calf) didn't practice Wednesday and is listed as doubtful
for Sunday's game against Cleveland. Moore was replaced by Brendon Ayanbadejo
in last Monday's 29-28 upset of New England.
- --C Seth McKinney (knee) didn't practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable
for Sunday's game against New England. If McKinney couldn't play, the Dolphins
could potentially move Rex Hadnot to center and insert Taylor Whitley at RG.
- --LB Renauld Williams broke a bone in his wrist during last Monday's 29-28
upset of New England and needed surgery. Williams, who was beginning to make
an impact on special teams, is out for Sunday's game against Cleveland and
probably won't play again this season.
- --CB Sam Madison (calf) didn't practice Wednesday but is listed as probable
for Sunday's game against Cleveland. Madison, who has 52 tackles and a team-high
three forced fumbles, was injured in last Monday's 29-28 upset of New England.
- --K Olindo Mare missed Wednesday's practice after aggravating a lingering
calf injury two days earlier in a 29-28 upset of New England. Mare is listed
GAME PLAN: The Browns have gotten spanked across the board in their past three games since Terry Robiskie replaced the departed Butch Davis as Cleveland's interim coach. Cleveland has been outscored 100-22 and generated only 248 yards of total offense in their past two games.
The Dolphins haven't fielded a 100-yard rusher this season, which is a streak Miami has a chance of ending against a Browns defense that has allowed four consecutive tailbacks -- Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson (202 yards), New England's Corey Dillon (100), Buffalo's Willis McGahee (105) and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (111) -- to break the century mark.
Miami has traditionally made life miserable for inexperienced quarterbacks and there is little reason that should change against Cleveland's Luke McCown, who has thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (three) since replacing the injured Kelly Holcomb in the starting lineup. Holcomb, though, may be back for Sunday's game.
Cleveland's best chance for success is a ball-control offense that takes advantage of Miami's suspect run defense. Browns tailback Lee Suggs rushed for 105 yards in last Sunday's 21-0 loss to San Diego and could match that total against Miami, which allowed 121 yards to New England's Corey Dillon.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- --Dolphins QB A.J. Feeley, who will be making his eighth start for the Dolphins
this season, against Browns SS Robert Griffith, who has a team-high 135 tackles:
Against New England, Feeley managed to avoid throwing an interception for
the first time as a Dolphins starter. Griffith has only one interception this
season but has great instincts and could prove troublesome to Feeley.
- --Dolphins LDE David Bowens vs. Browns RT Joaquin Gonzalez: Regardless of whether Luke McCown or Kelly Holcomb starts at quarterback for Cleveland, Bowens could be in line for a big game against a marginal talent like Gonzalez, who played at the University of Miami.
- --LB Renauld Williams was starting to make an impact on special teams, logging two stops against New England. But Williams, who was already playing despite a broken jaw, will likely miss the rest of the season after breaking a bone in his wrist against the Patriots. It's unknown whether the Dolphins will make another roster move to replace Williams, who was given a chance to play because of injuries to linebackers Zach Thomas, Eddie Moore and Tony Bua.
It's only the second time this season the Patriots have had to pick up the pieces following a loss. But it seems there are more pieces scattered around a greater area this time after the AFC East champions blew an 11-point lead and lost to the cellar-dwelling Miami Dolphins (3-11) Monday night.
They will have to put the shock of that loss quickly behind them as they prepare for Sunday's game in New York against the Jets (10-4) while coming off a short week of preparation.
New England has been incredibly resilient in the past, responding to any sign of adversity with an impressive resolve. But that resiliency has usually helped them avoid the type of collapse they suffered in Miami when they watched an 11-point lead disintegrate into a disheartening one-point loss to the Dolphins.
To his credit, coach Bill Belichick has instilled a tried and true bury-the-ball philosophy that stresses the need to forget every game already played, win or lose.
"I don't think last week's game will have any bearing on this week's," he said. "Each week is its own game with its own match-ups. The team that plays better this Sunday will win. That's the way I've always approached it."
Need a gauge to see how the Patriots will respond to the loss at Miami? Look no further than the team's previous three defeats.
Following the Patriots ugly 31-0 loss at Buffalo in the 2003 season opener, they went to Philadelphia and blew out the Eagles by a 31-10 count. Then after a loss at Washington a couple of weeks later, the Patriots held off a strong Titan teams for the first of 21 straight wins. Even this season, New England responded to a 34-20 trouncing at the hands of the Steelers by rattling off six consecutive wins. So while the loss at Miami stings, history shows that it won't have any lingering effect on the team's play moving forward.
"We only have five days until we play one of the best teams in the league. So it's on to the Jets," quarterback Tom Brady declared while trying to deflect questions about the Miami loss after already answering several in his Wednesday press conference.
"Every time we play the Jets it's a battle. The Meadowlands is a tough place to play. It makes for a tough week. We have a lot of respect for the Jets."
"The good thing about this team is that we never get too high on wins or too low on losses," All Pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. "We have to put it behind us and move forward. Life goes on. You win some you lose some."
The Patriots don't lose in the fashion they did Monday night however. Over the last two seasons, just about every game that came down to the final minutes or a final play has fallen in the New England's favor.
That changed in Miami, which deteriorated the team's air of invincibility and brought it back to the parity-filled pack. How else does one explain a 12-1 club seemingly immune from slip-ups losing to a 2-11 club that is playing out the string?
The fact of the matter is that the Patriots are as vulnerable now as they have been all season, which is not a good sign this late in the year with the postseason looming.
While a loss like the one the Patriots suffered in Miami can devastate a team emotionally, it's likely that it devastates fans more than players who have been through just about everything the NFL has to offer.
So emotion is not the issue for the Patriots moving forward. They will recover. But the ability to stop opposing offenses is a big issue. Sure Brady threw four interceptions against the Dolphins, but those performances are few and far between for the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
Defensively, though, New England has been consistently inconsistent over the past several weeks and now will run into a Jets offense that is much better equipped to attack and dissect the defense than the Dolphins unit that just hung 29 on the Patriots. That's the issue the Patriots must deal with this week.
"We haven't played the type of football that we want to play," Seymour said. "But there is still an opportunity to go out and show what we're capable of doing. Our defense has to do a good job this week. The Jets have some playmakers and if they can run the football, it will be a long day for us."
They certainly figure to do just that with former Patriot Curtis Martin leading the NFL in rushing with 1,511 yards to go with 12 rushing touchdowns. Martin was held to 70 yards in a strong Patriots defensive effort back in October, but New England's defense has had trouble of late with balanced offenses that can protect the passer, which the Jets can do.
"Curtis is phenomenal," safety Rodney Harrison said. "He's running like he's 22. But we have to get back to our fundamentals and communication and just play football. We have a bitter taste in our mouth and you want to get back out there after you lose."
The Patriots will do that on a short week, one that will provide a measuring stick as to what level the Patriots can take their play. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Halloween, but only two opposing quarterbacks -- Drew Bledsoe and Kyle Boller -- have been held below an 80 passer rating during that time. That should come as no surprise considering the inexperience the Patriots are marching out into their secondary. But one has to wonder if that will be their undoing as teams continue to exploit coverage mismatches. Chad Pennington will get his chance this week.
SERIES HISTORY: 90th meeting. Jets lead series 47-40-1, but the Patriots have won the least three and five of six. Series dates to 1960. New England won earlier meeting, 13-7, at Gillette Stadium and has won three in a row against the Jets at Giants Stadium.
- --Tom Brady received a strong endorsement from his head coach Wednesday
in the wake of the Miami loss in which a terrible Brady interception late
in the game set up the Dolphins winning touchdown.
"I'm glad Tom Brady is our quarterback. Let's leave it at that," coach Bill Belichick said. "There's not anyone else I'd rather have. The quarterback has the ball in his hands on every snap and the decisions he makes with it are critical. Not every one is a good decision. There are always a few that can be better."
"I think everybody realizes it was a poor decision, myself included," Brady said of the interception he threw at the Patriots 21-yard line with 1:45 to go. "You evaluate yourself harshly. Sometimes it happens. I wish it didn't happen to me. We'll see if I learn from it."
Brady seems to recover well from poor performances. Monday marked the third time he threw four interceptions in a game. After the first two he responded with strong efforts in wins. His combined numbers in the game after throwing four interceptions are 51-for-75 for 505 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
- --The Patriots have not lost two games in a row since December of 2002,
when they lost at Tennessee and then to the Jets at home. In fact, that 30-17
loss to the Jets back on Dec. 22, 2002, was the last December loss for the
Patriots until the debacle in Miami last week, a game that snapped a seven-game
December winning streak. And now the Jets have a chance to hang a rare two-game
losing streak on the Patriots, just as they did when New England was defending
its 2001 championship.
It certainly is a tough spot for New England. The Patriots are on the road after a road Monday night game, a situation, amazingly, that they've faced only one other time in franchise history. Back in 1977, New England lost at Cleveland on a Monday night and then at the Jets the following Sunday. Overall, the Patriots are 4-7 on the road after a Monday night game, but they are 2-1 against the Jets in that situation.
- --Chad Pennington's first start against the Patriots came in that Dec.
22, 2002, New York win in which he threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns
without an interception. In the two meetings since, Pennington is only 43-for-73
for 391 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions with a 0-2 record.
He threw all five of those picks in last year's 21-16 Patriots win in New
- --Four Patriots were selected to the 2005 Pro Bowl. Quarterback Tom Brady
will make his second trip to Hawaii along with kicker Adam Vinatieri, while
special teamer Larry Izzo and defensive lineman Richard Seymour will make
their third trips to the all star game. Seymour is the only repeat Pro Bowler
and he will go for the third straight season.
Potential Pro Bowlers who did not make it include running back Corey Dillon, safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
"Rodney is a guy that deserves it year in and year out," Seymour said. I admire the way he plays and the effort he puts in. There's obviously more to it than (a guy's performance)."
It is widely believed in the Patriots locker room that Harrison's annual snub is a result of his reputation as a dirty player more so than his on-field performance. Dillon was victimized by the league's best rushers coming out of the conference. Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James will represent the AFC.
- --The Patriots can clinch a first round bye this week with a win. A tie combined with a San Diego/Indianapolis tie also would give the Pats the bye.
BY THE NUMBERS: 28 -- The most points the Patriots have scored in a loss during the Bill Belichick era, a figure reached Monday night in Miami
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I haven't turned on the TV in a day-and-a-half. That helps." -- Tom Brady on how he moves on after a sub-par performance like his Monday night effort in Miami.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
It didn't take long for Justin Kurpeikis to pay for losing contain on Wes Welker's 71-yard punt return Monday night. He was released Wednesday, meeting the same fate as Shawn Mayer and Rabih Abdullah did earlier in the season for special teams mishaps that ended in touchdowns. Defensive back Omare Lowe also was let go for the second time this season.
Both players could be re-signed to the team's practice squad this week after clearing waivers. Kurpeikis spent five weeks on the active roster and played in all five games before being cut. There are two vacancies on the practice squad created over the weekend when Lowe and linebacker Eric Alexander were signed to the active roster.
Two more former Patriots re-joined the 53-man roster to take the spaces vacated by Lowe and Kurpeikis. Wide receiver Kevin Kasper returned for a second tour of duty, as did Abdullah.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- --CB Ty Law participated in some of the individual portions of practice
Wednesday, but sat out the team portion and remains doubtful for this week's
game. Law hopes to play this week and stated that he wanted to play the last
two regular season games to prepare him for the postseason. As of now, it
looks like he might have to wait another week.
- --S Dexter Reid is doubtful with a shoulder injury that might be serious.
He did not practice Wednesday and is a candidate to end the season on injured
- --LB Matt Chatham remains questionable with a hamstring injury that has
troubled him all season. He won't likely play this week for the third straight
- --RB Kevin Faulk injured his knee Monday night and missed some portion
of practice Wednesday. He reported being fine after the Dolphins game, but
his appearance on the injury report is not a good sign.
- --CB Randall Gay continues to be questionable with an arm injury, but he
did practice Wednesday and should play Sunday vs. the Jets.
- --WR David Givens played sparingly last week despite an ankle injury that
forced him to miss practice time last week. He missed practice again Wednesday
and remains questionable. Belichick gave no update on his status, but the
Kasper signing could indicate that Givens may have had a setback. If that's
not the case and Givens is improving, he should play more this week against
- --WR Bethel Johnson missed Wednesday's practice with the thigh injury that
kept him out of Monday night's game and he won't likely play this week against
- --S Je'Rod Cherry missed practice with an ankle injury that he suffered
Monday night. He was limping badly after the game and was still gimpy Wednesday,
but is expected to play this week.
- --TE Daniel Graham returned last week after missing the Bengals game because of a rib injury. He caught three passes for 24 yards last week and missed practice time on Wednesday as the Patriots try to manage some of the injured players by easing up in practice.
GAME PLAN: The Patriots' defense will have to take more chances this week to prevent the accurate Chad Pennington from picking his way down the field against a struggling secondary. That means playing some inexperienced corners up at the line of scrimmage and bringing extra rushers after Pennington, who likes to get rid of the ball quickly. New England has done a good job of collapsing the pocket on Pennington in the past and making him throw early. But the coverage must be tight to prevent him from unloading it before the pressure can disrupt his timing. Of course, that could expose the corners on the outside, but simply sitting back and letting Pennington use the short passes he loves to patiently drive downfield is asking for trouble. None of that will matter if New England is unable to slow down the NFL's leading rusher, Curtis Martin. He had only 70 yards in the first meeting but is having a huge year and will be a handful for New England's front seven. New England may use more eight-man fronts than they have recently in an effort to increase the pass rush and slow Martin. Look for them to roll coverage toward Santana Moss.
Offensively, the Patriots need to get Tom Brady going early to shake off any lingering doubt that may have been created by last week's four-interception performance. That means get the short passing game going early rather than try to do too much down the field stuff early on. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis needs to do his best to get the ball out of Brady's hands quickly to allow him to get comfortable in the pocket a week after being hit steadily throughout the game. Once that is established, Brady can return to the downfield passing and Corey Dillon running that has made the offense more explosive this season. Dillon ran 22 times for 115 yards in the first meeting but the Patriots scored only 13 points.
The Patriots will have to simply play better short-yardage defense and will need to be tougher in the red zone on both sides of the ball. Also, New England must play disciplined football since the Jets don't beat themselves with penalties. The Patriots had two 15-yard penalties Monday night and average more than one per game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- --Patriots DT Keith Traylor vs. Jets C Kevin Mawae: Mawae helps the Jets
average 4.5 yards per rush, so Traylor must have one of his better games of
the season to keep Martin from gaining big chunks of yards. If Traylor forces
the Jets to use two blockers on him, Martin will have a tougher evening. If
the guards are getting clean looks at inside linebackers Ted Johnson and Tedy
Bruschi, Martin could break off some long runs into the secondary. The Patriots
have allowed only two 100-yard rushers all season and have allowed only one
individual back to rush more than 66 yards (Rudi Johnson, 89) since Pittsburgh's
Duce Staley ran for 125 back on Halloween.
- --Patriots CB Randall Gay vs. Jets WR Santana Moss: Gay is the Patriots
fastest corner, but will face a difficult test against the fast, quick Moss,
who is the Jets biggest big-play threat with a 19.9 yards per reception average.
The Patriots are so concerned with Moss that they usually put Ty Law on him.
Expect New England to roll the safety toward Moss in an effort to limit big
- --Patriots WR Deion Branch vs. Jets CB David Barrett: After a big performance
in his first game back from injury, Branch has been relatively quiet with
11 catches and no touchdowns in the last four games. He needs to step up and
be a bigger factor in the passing game this week and will have to do it against
the aggressive Barrett, who has two interceptions this season.
- --Patriots RT Brandon Gorin vs. Jets DE Shaun Ellis: Gorin is doing his best to survive at right tackle, where he has started the last eight games since taking over the injured Tom Ashworth. He's held his own, but will be tested this week against Ellis, who has seven sacks and is a tough run defender as well.
- --The Patriots secondary remains a mess and could ultimately prevent the
Patriots from making a serious run at a championship. While they have continued
winning without their starting cornerbacks, teams are certainly figuring out
how to exploit the inexperience and overall lack of talent in the defensive
backfield. Randall Gay should play this week, but he missed most of the second
half last week and remains on the injury report with an arm injury. It's something
that he could obviously re-aggravate at any time and be forced to the sideline.
With Law still doubtful, the situation doesn't appear to be improving enough
to provide any kind of relief this week. Gay and Asante Samuel should start
on the corners with Troy Brown and Earthwind Moreland working in to subpackages.
If Faulk is unable to go, Cedric Cobbs will be activated and work in along
with Patrick Pass. Pass will take over as the third down back since Cobbs
is a liability in pass protection. With Reid out and Cherry hobbled, the Patriots
gunners on the punt team are in tough shape. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain filled
in for Reid last week and should do so again this week. If Cherry is unable
to go, the Patriots may call on Don Davis or Moreland to fill the spot.
- --WR Bethel Johnson is unlikely to play and with Faulk hurting, Kevin Kasper will likely join Pass as the kick returners. With Chatham out, Eric Alexander will assume his special teams duties.
Coach Herman Edwards wants the offense to remain aggressive even though the Jets are going up against one of the best defenses in the NFL on Sunday with a 4 p.m. game against the New England Patriots at the Meadowlands.
Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett usually predicates his offense based on the opponent's offense. If the Jets are facing a high-scoring team, then his game plan matches it. If it's a defensive oriented game, Hackett scales back the offense and gets conservative.
But Edwards doesn't want to see that this week. Facing a playoff team -- one they may face in the postseason -- he feels the Jets must assert themselves on offense and step up their scoring to match the defensive effort the Jets have been getting all season.
It's also another big game for the Jets, one they have to win to gain any kind of confidence that they're one of the NFL's elite heading into the playoffs.
"You play in a big game again now at home all of a sudden, and it's something, you need to win one of these, you really do," Edwards said. "Because if you're going to be in the playoffs and you have aspirations of getting in the playoffs, you have to beat teams like this in the playoffs because these type of teams that play in the playoffs are a very, very good football team."
The one problem is the Patriots have had quarterback Chad Pennington's number the past few meetings.
In December of 2002, Pennington threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns as the Jets beat the Patriots in a game the team needed to get to the playoffs.
But the Patriots intercepted five of Pennington's passes in a game last December as Pennington earned a rating of just 31.2.
Then in their first meeting this season, the Patriots clamped down on Pennington, holding him to 7-of-16 passing for 58 yards. Pennington didn't throw for a score that game.
"They understand how to play defense," Pennington said of the Patriots. "No matter what scheme they play, they are good at all schemes. They know how to get pressure on the quarterback but they also know how to play zone coverages and read routes and they are good at a lot of things. They're just good."
This week, Pennington and the Jets go up against a banged up Patriots secondary that is already missing cornerback Tyrone Poole and is also likely to be without Ty Law as well. With receiver Troy Brown playing in the nickel, the Jets may be able to exploit that. Yet former Patriot Curtis Martin doesn't think it's that easy.
"If their right hand is hurting, then they get better with the left hand," Martin said. "They're a good, balanced team. They're well coached and they know how to make up for weaknesses, they know how to make up for injuries and they know how to cover all of those things."
SERIES HISTORY: 88th meeting. Jets lead series, 47-40. The Jets haven't won at home against the Patriots since the 2000 season, when they nipped New England 20-19.
- --The Jets can make the playoffs for the third time in four years with a
win in either of their last two games. Yet because those games are against
defending Super Bowl champion New England and St. Louis, a team likely needing
a win to make the playoffs themselves, there's a small chance the Jets won't
make it despite reaching 10 wins.
- --If the Jets lose their last two and the Bills win their last two and
are tied at 10-6 with a third team, the Jets would lose out because Buffalo
would win the tiebreaker over common opponents. The Jets would lose the tiebreaker
with the third team after being knocked out of the tiebreaker by a team in
its own division.
- --The scuttlebutt is that WR Wayne Chrebet is playing his final season
with the Jets. The Jets have already been fazing Chrebet, 31, out of the offense
over the last several weeks and he's already had five documented concussions.
He's scheduled to count $2.3 against the cap next year but will have to sign
Santana Moss to a long term deal after his current contract expires after
2005 and they've already got Justin McCareins locked up with a 7-year, $24.5
million deal. The Jets love rookie Jerricho Cotchery and feel he can take
over for Chrebet in the slot next season.
- --The Jets are 6-1 at home this season, their best mark in four years under
coach Herman Edwards.
- --If the Jets make the playoffs this season, it would make Herman Edwards the only Jets coach to lead his team to the playoffs in three of his first four years.
BY THE NUMBERS: 174 -- The number of yards RB Curtis Martin will need to set a record for the most yards in a season by a back who started the year 30 or older.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They put the pressure on you right away in the game. They get the ball, they are going down there to score points, and you have to hope that you can hold them to a field goal rather than a touchdown." -- Coach Herman Edwards on New England's penchant for scoring first.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Jets want to run inside against the Patriots and that will mean an increase in LaMont Jordan's workload. Jordan is a big, pounding physical back who specializes in running inside for big yardage with little need to get warmed up.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- --LB Victor Hobson practiced again Wednesday and is expected to play this
week, although he may not be 100% after missing a month because of a high
- --LG Pete Kendall didn't practice Wednesday with a sore knee but is expected
to play Sunday. He missed a practice last week with the same problem and played.
- --DT Dewayne Robertson didn't practice because of an illness. He is expected
to play Sunday.
- --QB Chad Pennington is under the gun this week after chastising the media
for being to hard on him in the week preceding his great game against the
Seahawks. If he can beat the Patriots, he can thump his chest more. If he
loses, he's likely to get skewered in the press.
- --LB Mark Brown continues to play well in place of Victor Hobson and could keep his starting job this week even with Hobson's return because the defense has played well as a whole. Coordinator Donnie Henderson is a big proponent of chemistry so he doesn't like to tamper with successful situations.
GAME PLAN: The Jets will continue to be aggressive on offense, with the plan to keep running Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan to set up their play-action passing game, which was very successful last week against the Seahawks. With Patriots WR Troy Brown playing in their nickel defense, the Jets may try to exploit that with slot receiver Wayne Chrebet. The Jets will get after Patriots QB Tom Brady, who played well under such pressure early in the season, but wilted last week against Miami. The Jets will use DT Dewayne Robertson to get inside but also want to see more from DE Bryan Thomas.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
- --Jets WR Wayne Chrebet, who has five catches in the last five games, vs.
Patriots CB Try Brown, who is making the switch from receiver: With Ty Law
still hurt, the Patriots may have to depend on Brown more. With Brown likely
to work in the slot, this could be a way for Chrebet to get back into the
- --Jets LB Eric Barton, who is coming off his best game of the season, vs. Patriots QB Ton Brady, coming off his worst game of the season: The Patriots struggled with pass protection last week so the Jets want to pressure Brady, who gets rid of the ball quickly. With their best pass rusher in DE John Abraham out with a knee injury, Barton will be the main rushed along with DT Dewayne Robertson.
- --LB Victor Hobson (high ankle sprain) will return to the lineup this week
but probably won't start. He'll be close to 100 percent after missing the
- --DE John Abraham (sprained right knee) will not play.