Free Trial

"> Free Trial

">

Scout Report: AFC East News and Notes

<p>AFC East SCOUT report on the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. The Patriots and Jets playoff news is here, as well as free agent info on the Bills and the Dolphins.</p> <p>Get inside to see breaking news on these teams, including injury analysis, predictions and more. <b> <a href="https://secure.scout.com/store/view.aspx?s=121&p=6" target="_blank">Free Trial</a></b></p>

PHOTO: New England Patriots defensive back Eugene Wilson (26) intercepts a pass intended for New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet. The Patriots defeated the Jets 23-7. (AP Photo)

BUFFALO BILLS [ BILLS :: PATRIOTS :: DOLPHINS :: JETS ]

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has once again been sent reeling against the ropes by a poor performance in a big game and a third straight year of missing the playoffs with the Bills.

Questions about his future will again dominate the offseason. And just when it seemed the proud 32-year-old had silenced his critics and stopped the calls for rookie first-round pick J.P. Losman.

When asked if there will be an open competition between Bledsoe and Losman next summer, coach Mike Mularkey left the door open.

"Everybody's job will be evaluated here," Mularkey said, electing to shed no more light on Bledsoe's future.

Bledsoe left no doubt about how he feels about giving Losman a shot for his job.

"No, it's my team," he said.

As quarterback, Bledsoe played an important role in the Bills improving from 6-10 to 9-7 but not as much as the NFL's No. 2 ranked defense and top-shelf special teams did. The defense produced a league-best 39 takeaways, setting up or scoring 140 points. Special teams added six touchdowns.

Statistically, Bledsoe had a better year than 2003 when he had his worst season since his rookie season of 1993. He threw for 2,932 yards (vs. 2,860) with 20 TDs and 16 interceptions (vs. 11 and 12 last year). His rating improved from 73.0 to 76.6, his yards-per-attempt from 6.07 to 6.52. The number of times he was sacked fell from 49 to 37.

However, Bledsoe still ranked near the bottom of the NFL's important indicators: 25th in rating, 26th in completion percentage, 26th in yards per attempt.

He didn't have a 300-yard passing game - his last came in Week 2 against Jacksonville in 2003 - and he topped 200 yards only five times.

Mularkey dismissed all the numbers.

"You know what, I really couldn't tell you (how important they are)," he said. "I don't sit and read that stack, I don't have time and I don't think it matters. Do you win or do you lose? That's the stat that comes out most."

Bledsoe is 23-25 as Buffalo's starting quarterback. He is 2-6 against teams with winning records this season, and struggled badly in losses to AFC powers New England (twice) and Pittsburgh.

Many are wondering that even if Bledsoe gave the Bills their best chance to win next season and stop a five-year playoff drought, how far could he take them in the playoffs?

Buffalo would've faced Peyton Manning, who tossed an NFL-record 49 TD passes, and the Indianapolis Colts in this year's wild-card round had it not lost to the Steelers' 29-24 last Sunday at home when Bledsoe committed two costly errors and threw for only 189 yards against a team of backups.

Since throwing for 4,359 yards and making the Pro Bowl in his first year with the Bills, Bledsoe, 32, has been in sharp decline and two different coaching staffs have worked to minimize the risks of playing him.

In Buffalo, his yearly attempts have fallen from 610 to 471 to 448.

His sacks have gone down from 54 to 49 to 37 but he has failed to back up the argument that with time, he'd be more effective. His completion percentage has fallen from 61.5 to 58.2 to 57.1.

Bledsoe's best quality right now is his unwavering confidence. His contract runs two more seasons.

"I'm proud to be a part of this team and I anticipate great things for this team going forward," he said. "I'm excited about what the future holds for me and this organization.

"I'm proud that we were able to dig ourselves out of a 0-4 hole, a 1-5 start. This team showed a lot of character and determination to be playing for something that counted at the end of the season. Right now, I'm just very disappointed that we won't be able to keep playing."

Bledsoe feels he can continue to grow in Buffalo's offense with Mularkey and offensive coordinator Tom Clements. Every starter will return with perhaps the exception of free agent left tackle Jonas Jennings.

"Obviously, there are going to be plays I'd like to have back, that I'd love to do again," he said. "Overall, I'm proud I was able to stay the course and keep going forward as the leader of this team through some very hard times. Playing this position, that's the biggest challenge you face. Deal with the lows and keep going forward."

NOTES, QUOTES

  • Just missing the playoffs left the Bills experiencing some good old-fashioned anguish. "I'm glad we won six games in a row. It showed us what kind of team we are and what type of team we can be," guard Ross Tucker said. "But this is the NFL, and there's no comfort in a solid effort or a good try. I've always thought of that as a loser's mentality. The bottom line is that we didn't get it done. And it's really tough to swallow."

  • CB Terrence McGee gave one of the top quotes of the season when asked what he thought about Willie Parker, the Pittsburgh Steelers' fourth-string rookie free agent RB who finished with 102 yards rushing against the Bills last Sunday. "I still don't know who that is. Who is Willie Parker?" said McGee, sounding like he was reading a line from a tragic play.

  • The Bills lost the toss against the Steelers but elected to defend the west goal. The peculiar decision forced Buffalo to drive into a very stiff wind in the first and fourth quarters. Working with the wind those two quarters, Pittsburgh outscored Buffalo 16-14. "At the time, the wind was swirling. We were damned if we did and damned if we didn't," coach Mike Mularkey said of opening toss.

  • Buffalo's jump from an NFL-low 18 takeaways to an NFL-best 39 is nothing short of amazing. It helped legitimize its No. 2 overall ranking, which is based on yardage. "When you have turnovers, no matter what the stats are, it gives you a better chance to win ball games," veteran SS Lawyer Milloy said. "That was our No. 1 goal, really, wins. It wasn't where we finished in yards, it was wins and losses. It's two years in row now with the No. 2 defense and two years out of the playoffs, so what's it matter?"

  • Mularkey spent two days meeting individually with players and thanking them for their hard work. After seven consecutive weeks in a playoff mode - one loss and the Bills would've been out of contention - the air came out of the balloon with a 29-24 loss to Pittsburgh. In reflecting on the year, Mularkey, who spent nine seasons in the NFL as a tight end, said he really felt most disappointed for the players who physically put it on the line. "I had a flashback of the last basically year these guys have been working, and some of those pictures in my mind of working in the indoor facility in March and April and May, and the hard work they put in. Then it was closure. None of us were ready to end it like it did. It was hard. It was hard."

  • The Bills' 2005 schedule is set. NFL schedules have been determined through 2009 using a formula adopted by the league in 2002, but two games are determined each year based on the prior year's standings. By finishing third in the AFC East, Buffalo will play the third-place finisher from the AFC South (Houston) and AFC North (Cincinnati) next season. In addition to their home and away games against AFC East rivals Miami, New England and the New York Jets, they host Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Atlanta and Carolina and play at Oakland, San Diego, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Dates and times will be announced in April.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Like they say in horse racing, we came with a rush but got beat at the wire." - Bills owner Ralph Wilson after his team won nine of its final 12 games to just miss making the playoffs.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

RB Travis Henry wants out of Buffalo now that Willis McGahee has asserted ownership of the No. 1 job, rushing for 1,128 games and 13 TDs in just 10 starts this season. But demanding a trade and getting one are two different things.

The Bills haven't forgotten the fact that McGahee tore up his left knee twice (high school and college) and that he bruised and hyper-extended his right knee this season at Cincinnati. McGahee is a workhorse, capable of 30 carries a game, but there is never a rock-solid confidence he won't re-injure himself. The healthiest of ball carriers break.

Bills GM Tom Donahoe has never been eager to talk about dealing Henry, who is signed through 2005, simply because he loves the insurance he provides. Of course, Henry has his own injury issues, missing the final four games of this year with torn ligaments in his ankle.

Donahoe will shop Henry and listen to offers but it would be foolish to assume Henry's as good as gone, even though he said, in his mind, he is. Smallish rookie Shaud Williams (42 carries, 167 yards, 2 TDs) is a nice change-of-pace back but isn't a good candidate to carry a full workload were McGahee to go down for any length of time.

It means if the Bills trade Henry, they'll be right back in the market for a proven backup.

"It is unfortunate that Travis Henry was hurt this year and we did not have him available the last part of the season to help our football team," Donahoe said on the team's website. "At the current time we have two running backs on our team who are very capable and both of whom are proven starters. How this works out in the long run remains to be seen. Travis, in his four years here, has proven himself to be a quality running back. Willis, in his first year as the starter here, has proven that he can be the same. It is a good position to be in with our football team, but we will just have to wait and see how it plays out."

COACHING CAROUSEL: Mike Mularkey has four years left on his contract and will start Year 2 of his regime on solid ground and with lots of momentum. He made himself an NFL Coach of the Year candidate for rallying the Bills from an 0-4 start to a 9-7 finish, missing the playoffs by one game.

Mularkey hopes to keep his staff intact, but success breeds raiding. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is on a list of potential candidates Syracuse University is interested in speaking to about its head-coaching opening. Gray, 42, has led Buffalo's defense to consecutive No. 2 overall rankings and this year the Bills led the NFL in takeaways with 39.

Gray said he's interested in the Syracuse opening, or any opportunity to become a head coach at the pro or major college level. LB coach Don Blackmon would be a candidate to succeed Gray as Bills coordinator if Gray were to leave.

FREE-AGENT UPDATE:

  • LT, Jonas Jennings (UFA. Will draw interest as one of best young blockers on the market. Bills will need to act quickly).
  • DT, Pat Williams (UFA. One of NFL's top run stuffers and at 32, shows no signs of slowing down. Makes Buffalo his year-round home for family and his own car detailing business, so if money is fair, he'll take it).
  • OT, Marcus Price (UFA. High-quality reserve who logged three more emergency starts this season. A top priority to re-sign).
  • TE, Ryan Neufeld (UFA. Hard worker with limited receiving skills. Injuries at the position make bringing him back a more urgent need).
  • FS, Izell Reese (UFA. Former starter, lost his job to rookie Rashad Baker. Not likely to be back).
  • QB, Shane Matthews (UFA. Very reliable backup and mentor to J.P. Losman. Bills want him back unless he retires).
  • WR, Drew Haddad (UFA. Young veteran deserved look as a punt returner but never got the shot. Could be back).
  • LS Bradford Banta (UFA. Quality veteran fill-in for the final three games after Jon Dorenbos injured his knee. Dorenbos' health will determine if Bills bring Banta back).
  • CB, Kevin Thomas (RFA. Will be tendered at the top level of around $650,000. Young playmaker who is team's nickel back).
  • RB/FB, Joe Burns (RFA. Well-liked player but not at the top tender).
  • OL, Mike Pucillo (RFA. He went from starter to backup to not dressing for games. Could return as depth player but not at the top price).
  • LB, Josh Stamer (ERFA. Top special teams player who will be retained).
  • LS, Jon Dorenbos (ERFA. Late-season knee injury puts his future in question but he's solid if he can return healthy).

FEELING A DRAFT: The Bills' pick is 20th overall, but they won't get to exercise it. They sent the pick to Dallas last year for the chance to jump back into the first round (after picking WR Lee Evans' 13th overall). With the Cowboys' 22nd pick, Buffalo took Tulane QB J.P. Losman. Giving up a 20th for a 22nd is an acceptable tradeoff for GM Tom Donahoe, who's happy his quarterback of the future has a year under his belt.

"We do have a first round pick this year and his name is J.P. Losman," Donahoe told the club's website. "He has had the opportunity to learn from Sam Wyche and Tom Clements and Drew Bledsoe, and as an organization we do not feel that we lack the benefit of a first round draft choice in 2005."

Packaging some kind of deal involving RB Travis Henry to get back into the first round isn't out of the question for Buffalo. A stud center, tight end, or free safety would be upgrades.

MEDICAL WATCH: TEs Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus - Each missed the final three games of the season after knee surgery. They are into a full rehabilitation mode with hopes of being ready for the start of training camp next summer.


MIAMI DOLPHINS [ BILLS :: PATRIOTS :: DOLPHINS :: JETS ]

Nick Saban claims he isn't the savior of the Miami Dolphins.

Then again, the Dolphins' new head coach doesn't believe he has to be for Miami to reclaim its status among the NFL's elite franchises.

"I'm not here to predict championships," Saban said Tuesday during his introductory news conference. "I'm here to formulate a process that helps people be successful. If we can do that, we are going to put ourselves in a position to win a championship sometime in the future."

Saban's approach as a successful college head coach convinced Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga to sign him to a five-year, $22.5 million contract that also includes power over football decisions.

"There are (three) things to football operations - how you bring the players to the team, which is either pro or college personnel, how you coach the players and how you develop them," said Saban, who is working with general manager Rick Spielman in assessing Miami's current roster. "I want to put together a good team of people and work with the people that are here to make the best possible decisions we can to bring this franchise forward in a positive way."

The allure of such power helped convince Saban to accept Huizenga's offer rather than those made by other NFL franchises in the past.

"I was interested right from the beginning because of the reputation of this organization relative to ownership, tradition and success in the past," said Saban, who left one of the highest-paid college coaching positions at LSU to join the Dolphins. "I always say that history is the best indicator of what the future is going to bring. I think if we do things the right way around here and make good decisions and put a good team of people together that we are going to have a good opportunity to improve, get better and have a good football team again.

Saban said Huizenga and Dolphins President Eddie Jones made "no sales pitch" in convincing him to take the job. But there is no question that Saban's wife Terry was sold by what the Dolphins brain trust had to say.

"When Eddie and Wayne left our house in Baton Rouge, Terry looked at me and said, 'If you fail on this one, it's not going to be because of those guys,'" said Saban. "That's the first time she ever felt that way and I ever felt that way. We feel like it's a great opportunity."

NOTES, QUOTES

  • The Dolphins will be able to conduct two extra voluntary minicamps this offseason because Nick Saban is in his first season as head coach. The first day a session can be conducted under league rules is March 21, which also coincides with the NFL's annual meeting in Hawaii.

  • Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison will be serving as a special media correspondent for the NFL Network for Sunday's wild-card game between Denver and Indianapolis. Madison will conduct post-game interviews and provide analysis following the game.

  • Dolphins reserve safety Alphonso Roundtree has become a coach/co-owner of the Independent Women's Football League's Miami Fury franchise. Roundtree spent 2004 on injured reserve after suffering a gruesome ankle injury during the preseason finale. Ex-Dolphins guard Jamie Nails and ex-NFL defensive back Daryl Porter are two other Fury coaches.

  • The statistics posted by the 2004 Dolphins were just as ugly as the franchise's 4-12 record. The numbers were especially poor on offense, as the Dolphins were the worst in the NFL in interceptions thrown (26) and rushing yards per attempt (3.5).
    The Dolphins also finished 31st against the run by surrendering an average of 143.9 yards an attempt. But Miami was second in pass defense with a 162-yard average.

  • Rookie Wes Welker set a franchise record with 464 punt-return yards. He also ended Miami's 15-year draught without a kickoff return for a touchdown against Baltimore.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was ridiculous. Even in the offseason, before we played a game, there were so many distractions. The Ricky (Williams) thing ... It was just that type of year last year. I'm just so happy for 2005, because 2004 was pretty ugly." - Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas reflecting upon the 2004 campaign.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

RB Ricky Williams doesn't appear interested in playing football, but new Dolphins coach Nick Saban is willing to listen if the retired tailback is willing to change his mind.

Asked whether he would he open to Williams' return, Saban said, "I think that if Ricky Williams has value to this organization, he certainly is somebody that we would like to have be part of this organization. I would be open to that."

But such a scenario remains highly unlikely. Besides the negative stigma created by his retirement just before the start of the 2004 season, Williams also is facing a four-game drug suspension following three positive tests for marijuana. Williams turned down the chance to serve down the suspension this season and recently told 60 Minutes that he would be unable to pass an NFL drug test because he was still smoking marijuana.

COACHING CAROUSEL: It's believed almost every Dolphins coach who met with Saban on Wednesday was told that they have the chance to seek employment opportunities elsewhere as he formulates his staff. But with most under contract through 2005, those coaches would have to receive permission from the Dolphins before interviewing with another franchise.

A new offensive coordinator to replace Chris Foerster is a given, with Houston Texans interior offensive line coach Joe Pendy believed the leading candidate. Current quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman also may garner consideration.

Two coaches - Bernie Parmalee (tight ends) and Bill Lewis (nickel defense) - already have accepted staff positions at Notre Dame. Jim Bates, who posted a 3-4 record as Miami's interim coach, said Tuesday that he didn't know whether he wanted to return as a defensive coordinator if such an opportunity were offered.

"I say it's very open right now," said Bates, who met with Saban on Tuesday. "I just think I need to think through things and Nick's got to look through everything. I think it's more a wait-and-see (situation). I need to get away for the next few days. That's the main thing. There's been a lot going on the last eight weeks. But the situation has got to be right for both of us."

Saban also wanted some time to make sure both he and Bates would be comfortable with a possible return.

"The decision is going to get made not what's best for anyone but this organization and how we can work together to help this organization," Saban said. "If that's not going to be the case, then it's something we really shouldn't do. But if it's something that can be done, I think it would benefit us to do that."

FREE-AGENT UPDATE:

Unrestricted free agents:

  • QB Jason Garrett (Late-season signing is likely to retire).
  • LB Morlon Greenwood (A solid starter who may draw too lucrative an offer elsewhere to stick with Miami, especially considering the Dolphins have drafted four linebackers in the past two years).
  • LS-TE Ed Perry (One of the NFL's most consistent long snappers, but his speed is a detriment).
  • SS Sammy Knight (Still a productive player but diminishing speed makes him a likely goner).
  • DT Bryan Robinson (Started 13 games because of injuries, but should primarily be a reserve at this point of his career).
  • QB Sage Rosenfels (Should get an opportunity to sign as a backup with Miami or another franchise after showing promise in Miami's season-finale against Baltimore).
  • CB Jimmy Wyrick (Reserve who finished second on the Dolphins in special teams tackles with 17).

Restricted free agents:

  • C Seth McKinney (A 16-game starter in 2003, but is unlikely to receive a lucrative contract tender from elsewhere).
  • DT Dario Romero (A valued member of Miami's defensive line rotation).

FEELING A DRAFT: With the No. 2 overall selection, the Dolphins can obviously address whatever Saban considers their top need. But while quarterback, left tackle and tailback will receive a long look, Bates believes the Dolphins actually need more help on the other side of the football because Miami's defense is aging. Miami fielded 10 players this season who will be at least 30 next season.

"I think this offense is close," Bates said. "There are some promising signs when you look over new quarterbacks the last seven games ... Nick and the offensive coaches when they come in may give you a better update and objective evaluation. But I've seen some real promise."

MEDICAL WATCH: C Seth McKinney and DE Jay Williams both underwent arthroscopic knee surgery following the season-finale against Baltimore. It doesn't appear Jason Taylor will need surgery on the right dislocated shoulder he suffered against the Ravens, but it's unknown whether he will be recovered in time to play Feb. 13 in the Pro Bowl.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS [ BILLS :: PATRIOTS :: DOLPHINS :: JETS ]

The Patriots are not the No. 1 seed and they are not the prohibitive favorite to capture an unprecedented third AFC championship in four years. The Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of 14 straight games and owners of a 15-1 record and the AFC's top seed, are the favorite to represent the AFC in Jacksonville. But that being the case, the Patriots have to be considered seed 1a as opposed to No. 2.

How can one bet against a Patriots team that will play host to a Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium, where it has won its last 17 regular season games and its last 19 overall? The Patriots are the most experienced playoff bunch in the conference, with 230 collective games of postseason play on their roster, 72 more than the next team, the Colts, who have 158 cumulative games of playoff experience. The Patriots have 37 players who have played in a Super Bowl and 21 who have played in two and there are a combined 57 championship rings in the New England locker room.

Coach Bill Belichick is 7-1 all-time in the playoffs, second only to Vince Lombardi in terms of success, and he has installed some of the most effective and heralded defensive game plans in history to slow some of the most prolific offenses, those of the 1990 Buffalo Bills, the 2001 St. Louis Rams and the 2003 Indianapolis Colts.

On the field, the Patriots are led by quarterback Tom Brady, who is 6-0 as a postseason starter and has thrown five touchdown passes against just two interceptions in those games while garnering two Super Bowl MVP awards. His mistake-free brand of football combined with his ability to make plays in the clutch is what gives the Patriots the edge this month.

In the team's four losses over the last two seasons, Brady has thrown seven touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. In the 28 wins over that time, he has thrown 44 touchdown passes with 13 interceptions.

So while there are many factors in the Patriots success of late, Brady's play, as one might expect, is the biggest factor. The team goes as he goes. That's why New England has to like its chances in the playoffs. When Brady doesn't turn the ball over, the Patriots win, and since he rarely plays mistake-ridden games, particularly in clutch situations, the Patriots have to be considered the team to beat even if the Steelers have earned the right to be called that.

Belichick, for his for part, dismisses history and past performance as a non-factor. While that's ridiculous in some ways, he has to approach it that way. Otherwise, he'd have his team believing that Peyton Manning can't win in Foxborough since he is 0-6 there since entering the league. He can't allow his team to rest on anything that happened in the past, and believe that past accomplishments will help it play better than the opponent on a given day.

"I don't think that has much to do with it," Belichick said. "We're 0-0 in the playoffs and whoever we play will be 1-0. It will be whoever plays better wins."

But experience and past postseason performance has to be some indicator to predict how a team or players might perform this time around. Those factors give New England an edge.

Then there is the Adam Vinatieri factor. The Patriots kicker has booted game-winning field goals in four of the team's six playoff wins in 2001 and 2003, including one each on both Super Bowls. What other kicker can boast of such postseason accomplishments?

On the downside, the Patriots are limping into the playoffs health-wise, which could ultimately be their undoing. Their best two defensive players - Ty Law and Richard Seymour - may quite likely be on the sideline for at least the first playoff game. In fact, there is a legitimate chance that neither plays in the Divisional round.

Law was nowhere to be seen Wednesday during the only open locker room period for the media this week. His chair was folded in his locker. But Seymour made an appearance and remained vague on his status for the playoffs.

"I was definitely out of the last game," he said, stating the obvious. "The situation is that if I'm healthy enough to go, I'll be out there with my football team. If I'm not, I won't."

Gee, thanks. That's the way it is in New England. The mystery will likely last until the Patriots announce their game-day inactives on Jan. 16. Belichick certainly won't offer anything beyond an injury report status and the players will fall in line and follow their coach's lead.

One has to believe that the Patriots' chances of advancing greatly diminish without Law and Seymour, yet that doesn't change the fact that Brady's performance has generally been tied to wins and losses over the past two years and the team's 31-4 overall record during that time is a solid indicator of how well he has played while perhaps not garnering the type of credit or headlines as the more heralded Manning. Perhaps Brady will need to elevate his game if those two key defenders are unavailable.

The week off should help most of the other banged up periods get the rest they need to suit up next week. The Patriots will, no doubt, be ready to go regardless of who plays and who doesn't. To think any differently after what they've accomplished even with key injuries over the last two years, would be foolish.

"You work hard to get to this point," Belichick said. "It's a great opportunity and you put everything you have into it. You can't depend on this happening again and it's an opportunity we need to take advantage of and maximize our performance. I expect we'll prepare like we have prepared all year, but with more urgency."

Injuries or not, the Patriots are in position to establish themselves as, dare we say it, the dynasty of this decade. But quick falls from the top are not uncommon as Tampa Bay found out after winning the Super Bowl and missing the playoffs each of the next two seasons.

The Patriots, under Belichick, have proven they don't need the best team on paper to win. They've won playoff games as favorites and as underdogs. They've won home and away, including in Pittsburgh. And they've won on the biggest stage - twice. That has to make them a favorite if not the favorite.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • Despite Scott Pioli's public statements several weeks ago that he will serve out his full contract as the Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel, a pact that runs through the 2006 NFL Draft, there are still reports out of Cleveland that the Browns would like to make a run at Pioli to become their general manager, although it appears Baltimore's Phil Savage is the frontrunner for the position.

    But the Patriots placed wording in Pioli's contract that made him a high ranking team official and any team wishing to speak with Pioli must first get permission from the Patriots, permission that isn't likely to be granted without some sort of compensation agreement in place.

    NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue put the clamps on such compensatory agreements involving coaches back when Tamp Bay paid a king's ransom to Oakland to bring Jon Gruden aboard. It would seem to be possible, then, that Tagliabue could offer a similar edict in the case of a personnel official like Pioli and prevent any swap agreement.

    There have been reports and speculation that because Pioli does not hold final decision-making powers with the Patriots that he would be free to leave for a GM job, but that is inaccurate, at least if his contract holds up to legal tests.

    It's also highly doubtful that Pioli would entertain offers this year after going out of his way to say he would remain with the Patriots through the end of his contract.

  • Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will interview with the Cleveland Browns this week for their vacant head coaching position.

  • The Patriots practiced in full pads Wednesday before leaving for a four-day weekend getaway to forget about football. The players return Monday and go through a full week of work before suiting up for their playoff opener at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 16.

    "It's good for us to get some time off as a football team," DL Richard Seymour said. "Physically we need it, but also for a mental edge, just getting away from football and coming back fresh. When you're around something for a while, things can get monotonous or you can get frustrated, but once you get away and regroup, it's good for you."

  • Speaking of Seymour, he was asked about the necessity of the hit that injured his knee. The injury occurred when Jets center Kevin Mawae threw a seemingly unnecessary block at Mike Vrabel, who was already on the ground at the time.

    "I'm not going to get caught up in his reasons for jumping down at Vrabel, it was an unfortunate thing that happened and I'm just thankful it's not worse than it is," Seymour said.

    Asked if those types of plays and hits are something that players need to watch for when playing against Mawae, Seymour said, "That tends to be the consensus, but I don't look at it that way. I don't look at it like he tried to jump down at my legs. I don't feel that way."

    Is Mawae a dirty player? "I'm not saying that at all," Seymour said.

  • The Patriots have had a playoff bye three other times in team history and have advanced to the Super Bowl all three times - 1996, 2001 and 2003. They also are 5-1 this season against the AFC playoff teams and 3-1 in games decided by seven points or less.

  • Patriots fans can contribute to the tsunami relief efforts in South Asia through the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. The team will distribute up to 200 playoff tickets as rewards for the most generous contributors. For each $1,000, the donor will receive a ticket for a seat in the lower bowl for the Jan. 16 game. Visit www.patriots.com for information.

BY THE NUMBERS: Plus-177 - the Patriots' total points differential in 2004 (437 for and 260 against), a mark that led the NFL and set a new franchise record, surpassing the plus-140 set in 1976.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Pretty well. I think he could play for anyone. He's not a system quarterback. I don't think you'd want him running the option, but he could play for anyone." - Bill Belichick when asked how quarterback Tom Brady would play if he was the Colts quarterback.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Patriots may be focused on the task at hand, but they have an eye on the future as well. It appears the club has reached an agreement with former Ravens quarterback Chris Redman, who will sign with the club when the season ends, according to published reports.

Redman worked out for the team last week and apparently threw well while coming off a torn labrum in his shoulder. He would likely take Jim Miller's roster spot heading into 2005. Miller has been an experienced insurance policy behind Tom Brady and Rohan Davey this season, but may not be in the future plans. Also, Redman could offer Davey a stiff challenge as the No. 2 quarterback since he is still young and has briefly been a starter in the league. Davey has proven little in his scant playing time or during his preseason stints.

Redman was drafted in the third round in 2000, three rounds ahead of Brady.

PLAYER NOTES

  • LB Matt Chatham, who has missed 11 games this season with a hamstring injury, including the last four, looks like he might be available for the playoff opener. Chatham was able to participate in some portions of practice Wednesday, although it's not known how much.
  • RB Kevin Faulk sat out some of practice as he continues to recover from a knee injury. He is one of the players who will greatly benefit from the bye week.
  • S Eugene Wilson continues to get some rest time to recover from a thigh injury that kept him out of action against the 49ers. Wilson will be expected to play next week after playing through the injury for most of the Jets game.
  • TE Daniel Graham continues to battle a rib injury that kept him out of the Dec. 12 Bengals game. He then played in Miami and against the Jets, albeit in pain, before resting in the season finale. He did not practice Wednesday.
  • S Dexter Reid, who has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, is on the road back to recovery. He did some work Wednesday while wearing a red no-contact jersey. The Patriots obviously felt all along that Reid had a chance to return since they did not place him on injured reserve. Whether or not he makes it back for the Divisional round remains to be seen, but he could be back for the AFC Championship if the Patriots advance.

NEW YORK JETS [ BILLS :: PATRIOTS :: DOLPHINS :: JETS ]

Saturday's AFC wild card playoff game between the New York Jets and the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium is the game that should have never happened. Both teams were well under .500 last season and expectations weren't abundantly high for either going into 2004.

When the two met in Week 2 - a 34-28 win by the Jets at San Diego - who would have thought it was a playoff preview?

The funny thing is, neither team is taking much from that first meeting. In fact, a majority of the players are throwing it out altogether.

"After we played them I thought we beat them up pretty good," safety Jon McGraw. "They bounced right back and showed not only were they a talented team but a team with character. You really have to treat this like we've never played them before."

The Chargers (12-4) started winning after that loss, buoyed by their sixth-ranked rushing attack (136.6 yards per game) and third-rated rushing defense (81.7 yards) - aspects that hid the fact that their pass defense was ranked 31st and their 29 sacks produced were third-lowest in the NFL.

"They're a lot more consistent now," running back LaMont Jordan said. "They're very quick; they fly to the ball. We have to get back to playing how we played the first five games of the season, with a kind of a swagger and playing faster than other teams. We have to get back to playing fast."

The Jets (10-6) certainly haven't had much swagger over the last month, losing three of their last four and reaching the postseason only because Buffalo lost to Pittsburgh on the final week of the season.

So that's why coach Herman Edwards has been ultra-positive this week. Games 1 though 16 are just a blur. It's all different now that they're in the postseason, their third trip in four years under Edwards.

"We actually played our last four games against four playoff teams. Three of them that won the division, and one other one got in as a wild card," Edwards said of the slate against Pittsburgh, Seattle, New England and St. Louis. "That's just kind of the way it went. It starts all over for us."

If the Jets are starting all over, it might be a way to finally get their offense going. They've scored just two offensive touchdowns in their last three losses and quarterback Chad Pennington has looked awkward at times, with a combination of his injured shoulder and poor footwork contributing to mediocre performances.

Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett has come under fire even more in the last month and it appears he'll lose his job after the season - barring an amazing postseason run by the Jets.

Pennington, however, has remained cool over the last few games, taking the bad showings and inconsistent play in stride.

"I'm just trying to shore up mental things and make sure that I play mentally sound," Pennington said. "We have to put the run and the pass together and make sure when we get in the red zone we aren't just kicking field goals, we're scoring touchdowns and taking the pressure off of our defense."

SERIES HISTORY: 30th meeting. Chargers lead series 17-11-1. The Jets have won the last two meetings, including a 34-28 win at San Diego in Week 2 this season. Yet the Jets say that game means little once you reach the playoffs. It's the third time the Jets will play San Diego twice in a season since 1968.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • Running back Curtis Martin admitted he set a goal of 1,700 yards this season, one he was so serious about that he made that number his security code to move around Weeb Ewbank Hall, where the Jets train.

    He fell three yards shy so he made sure to change it. Of course, after telling reporters his code, people were punching 1700 into just about every code box in the building. So he pretty much had to.

  • In case anyone still couldn't believe the New York Jets were in the playoffs, coach Herman Edwards, in an almost taunting fashion, held up a letter from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

    And what a special letter it was, one that only 12 teams get the privilege of receiving each season.

    So whether you accuse the Jets of backing in to the postseason or not being deserved of the opportunity, Edwards has that piece of paper to state his case.

    "They mean something," Edwards said. "All kidding aside they mean a lot to me because this is a big deal. It's a big deal in this league when you go to the playoffs."

  • The Jets confirmed this week that Syracuse University is interested in talking to defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson about its vacant head coaching position.

BY THE NUMBERS: 35 - Percentage of the Jets' yardage accounted for by RB Curtis Martin. His 1,942 yards from scrimmage were more than a third of the team's total of 5,619.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They've jelled together as a defense since we played them so I expect it to be harder and especially with the atmosphere being a playoff atmosphere, it will definitely be more intense." - Jets RB Curtis Martin on the Chargers' improvement since their meeting in Week 2.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Strong safety Reggie Tongue struggled Sunday was pulled by defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson in the second half in St. Louis and replaced by Oliver Celestin. There is no word on whether Tongue is losing his starting job this week, but with Jon McGraw likely to be on the field more to defend against San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, Tongue could be hitting the bench.

DE Bryan Thomas will keep starting at right end in place of John Abraham but the Jets are hopeful Abraham's sprained right knee will allow him to get in Saturday in a handful of plays. The Jets will use Abraham strictly on passing downs and he'll likely see some action on several third downs as a pure pass rusher.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

  • WR Wayne Chrebet was held out of practice Wednesday as a precaution because of a mild concussion. He is listed as probable but the Jets may not throw to Chrebet as much because of the injury. Rookie Jerricho Cotchery could be working more in the slot Saturday.

  • DE John Abraham practiced at full speed Wednesday but is still unsure if he will be able to play Saturday because of a sprained right knee that has caused him to miss the last four games. Abraham said he would play at 80 percent but admits he's worried about his contract situation and how further injury could require surgery just as he's about to enter the free agent market. Bryan Thomas will continue starting for Abraham.

  • SS Reggie Tongue practiced with the first team Wednesday, an indication that he will likely keep his starting job. But Tongue has played poorly in the last few games and the Jets will not hesitate to bench him early for Oliver Celestin like they did last Sunday against the Rams if Tongue falters.

  • LB Kenyatta Wright didn't practice Wednesday because of a sprained right foot. He's listed as questionable. Wright plays on special teams and backs up at MLB behind Jonathan Vilma and Sam Cowart, who may pick up some of his special team reps.

  • QB Chad Pennington threw well in practice Wednesday, possibly the best he has thrown since injuring his rotator cuff in Buffalo two months ago. While his arm is not 100 percent, a majority of his problems have been due to bad footwork. Because he doesn't have a strong arm to begin with, Pennington needs to make up for that lack of zip with better technique.

GAME PLAN: The Jets are mindful of how Drew Brees is much better at game management and they also know how suspect their secondary has been the last few weeks, particularly against good quarterbacks. Which means they'll to everything possible to increase their pass rush. With John Abraham probably available on a few plays, the Jets hope to get more pressure on Brees and disrupt his timing with TE Antonio Gates and WR Keenan McCardell.

The running game will continue to be the Jets' staple of their offense only San Diego has one of the best run defenses in the league. This means the Jets must do more in the air than just work off the play action passing, they'll have to take a few chances and may try some things early in order to take what has become a boisterous crowd out of the game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

  • Jets FS Jon McGraw, who has played well as a reserve since coming back from a groin injury, vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates, who has blossomed this year as one of the league's best receiving TEs. McGraw was assigned to Gates in Week 2 and the Jets held Gates to 39 yards on four catches - one of his lowest outputs of the season. McGraw is a ferocious tackler and may be one of the few members of the Jets secondary who can take Gates down alone. The Jets will double cover Gates on certain downs.
  • Jets RB Curtis Martin, coming off a career season, vs. Chargers LB Donnie Edwards, the team's leading tackler. Martin thrives on finding the hole immediately and running inside but the Chargers have a solid group of linebackers waiting for him, lead by Edwards. Martin isn't always successful changing direction and going the other way so if the offensive line can't open up holes quickly it could be a long night. LaMont Jordan will likely get a good share of the carries and just barrel through

INJURY IMPACT: DE John Abraham (sprained right knee) will likely be a game-time decision. Abraham seems hesitant but if he's limited to just a handful pf plays, he'll almost certainly be on the field Saturday. ... WR Wayne Chrebet (mild concussion) will be able to play Saturday but may have his time limited.

For more insider information on the AFC East Teams, (Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, New England Patriots), visit the NFL on SCOUT.com, or check out Patriots Insider.

URL: http://patriots.scout.com

Discuss the AFC East and the Patriots with other insiders in the Forums
URL: http://mb2.scout.com/bpatriotsinsider


Patriots Insider Top Stories