PHOTO: Buffalo Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes is helped off the field late in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005. Spikes will miss the rest of the season with a torn right Achilles' tendon, the Bills announced Monday Sept. 26, 2005, a day after their 24-16 loss to the Falcons. (AP Photo/Dan Cappellazzo)
3 Recap: Around the AFC East
By Scout.com Staff
The Buffalo Bills' worst fears have been realized.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Takeo Spikes, the recognized heart and soul of their defense that has ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed for two years running, and last season led the league in takeaways, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles' tendon.
The team made the announcement Monday following Sunday's 24-16 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Buffalo is 1-2 and falling rapidly in the defensive rankings.
"It could be devastating," veteran free safety Troy Vincent said about the prospects of forging on without Spikes. "He's the pulse."
It's presumed that Spikes will undergo surgery and start his rehabilitation as soon as possible. Other NFL players have returned to the field after suffering Achilles' tendon injuries, but many were never the same player, such as former Bills Pro Bowl middle linebacker Sam Cowart.
After Spikes was injured with 33 seconds left in the half while blitzing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, he sat up, took off his helmet and slammed it to the ground as if realizing what his injury was.
Third-year pro Angelo Crowell will take Spikes' place on the weak side, but nobody on the team is fooling themselves into believing Spikes can be replaced.
The one-time Auburn University All-American and the 13th overall selection in the 1998 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, is arguably the best free agent signing in Bills' history. He made his first Pro Bowl in his first season in Buffalo in 2003, when he totaled 144 tackles. But he took his game to a new level last season, finishing with 111 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 14 passes defended, and 5 interceptions, two he returned for touchdowns.
"I know Takeo Spikes and what type of person he is," strong side linebacker Jeff Posey said. "The whole defense has to step up to fill his shoes. He's one of the team leaders and to lose a guy like that, it's hard to see. It's something you don't ever want to see. He brings so much to this team."
The Bills' defense has been run roughshod the past two Sundays, yielding 191 yards rushing in a 19-3 loss at Tampa Bay and 236 yards rushing in Sunday's loss to the Falcons. After Spikes left the game, the Falcons gained 185 yards on 22 carries, including a 59-yard by Warrick Dunn.
"Anyone that runs on us is shocking," Posey said.
One reason is injuries. The Bills played Sunday with middle linebacker London Fletcher playing with a bad hamstring, and strong safety Lawyer Milloy wearing a cast on his hand to protect a broken thumb.
Spikes' absence will make it that much tougher to turn things around heading into Sunday's game against New Orleans in San Antonio.
"We lost one of our leaders," Milloy said bluntly. "Takeo is a two-time Pro Bowler... it's hard. Speaking personally, I'm out there with one arm already, and now I lose someone I depend on. But it's the NFL. Everyone here is a professional, and we expect the person behind him -- and the person behind him -- to fill those shoes."
Spikes has played and started in 114 out of 115 games, never missing a game to an injury. The only game he missed was on Oct. 14, 2001 against Cleveland due to the death of his father, Jimmie.
--Third-year LB Angelo Crowell on replacing injured Takeo Spikes in the lineup the rest of the season: "That's what you prepare for. As a backup, you're just one play away. I was one play away, but I've prepared myself."
--RB Willis McGahee, who gained just 34 yards on 13 carries against Tampa Bay, responded to coach Mike Mularkey's criticism by gaining 140 yards on 27 carries and scoring on a strong eight-yard run against Atlanta. "I started moving the ball a little bit more, holes started opening, and I was hitting them," McGahee said. "I was happy to get my yards, but I was also mad that we lost."
--WR Eric Moulds, who caught three passes for 18 yards, expressed his frustration over the fact Buffalo did not attack Atlanta's banged-up secondary nearly enough. Moulds and Lee Evans ran fly routes on the first two plays, but QB J.P. Losman overthrew both receivers. Losman was off target on many other throws, and finished 10-of-23 for 75 gross yards. "There are corners out there playing who are not starters, and you have to go after them," Moulds said. "The coaching staff said that we should run the ball a little more, and I didn't want to second-guess what they wanted to do but, but at some point, we have to be able to take shots down field and make some plays."
--Sunday's game was an NFL oddity, pitting two head coaches born on the same day in the same year. Buffalo's Mike Mularkey and Atlanta's Jim Mora, Jr., share the same birthday (Nov. 19, 1961). The Mularkey-Mora birthday matching was the 12th such occurrence in the NFL since 1950. A 13th happens on Dec. 11 when Lovie Smith (5/8/58) and Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher (5/8/57) square off.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--QB J.P. Losman produced just two passing first downs in Sunday's loss to Atlanta. That's the fewest by the Bills since having two at New England in 1980. Losman's 36 net passing yardage was the lowest total for Buffalo since gaining 36 vs. Miami in 2000.
--RB Willis McGahee, who gained 140 yards against Atlanta, now has nine 100-yard games in 14 career NFL starts. Buffalo had been 8-0 when McGahee topped the century mark until Sunday's 24-16 loss.
--WR Josh Reed, working from the slot and not seeing any Cover 2 defenses, continues to be the struggling QB J.P. Losman's go-to guy. Reed caught two passes for a team-high 24 yards in Sunday's loss to Atlanta, giving him nine catches for 101 yards on the year.
--RT Mike Williams missed Sunday's game with a right ankle injury and his status for this week's game versus New Orleans is questionable. He continues to walk with a noticeable limp.
--SS Lawyer Milloy struggled to make plays against the Falcons while wearing a cast to protect a broken thumb. With depth behind him suspect (Coy Wire, Rashad Baker), Milloy will likely remain in the lineup and opponents are sure to come at him. The Bills will need more help from their linebackers in covering tight ends.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- First-year starter J.P. Losman continues to drown in his baptism to the NFL, and he's taking his receiving corps down with him. Losman, who struggled on the road at Tampa Bay, should've gotten on track at home, but continued to spray the ball all over the field while committing his first two turnovers (interception, fumble) and taking a season-high four sacks. Atlanta was without three defensive starters, and at one point was missing starting CBs DeAngelo Hall and Jason Webster. Buffalo attacked with several deep balls, including two bombs on its first two plays, but Losman overthrew Eric Moulds and Lee Evans each time. Buffalo trailed by eight points most of the fourth quarter, but Losman could never mount a serious comeback by going 2-of-6 for 10 yards with two sacks and two turnovers. He wound up throwing for 36 net yards. Evans and Moulds combined for just five catches for 25 yards, and TE Mark Campbell was ignored for yet another week. Protection was sporadic, but the line gave a gritty effort missing starting RT Mike Williams (ankle).
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- RB Willis McGahee responded to criticism from coach Mike Mularkey after his poor outing in Tampa Bay and finished with 140 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. He hit the holes much harder this week and ran more vertically. On a down note, Losman failed to pick up a fourth-and-one on a QB sneak with 5:01 left running over rookie RG Duke Preston, who was subbing for veteran Chris Villarrial, whom Mularkey said was tired. Losman did add five runs for 20 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Other than DE Chris Kelsay's interception of Michael Vick to start the second half and set up a field goal, there was little to cheer about here. Vick, playing at about 80 percent due to a sore hamstring, was his usual entertaining self, completing 15-of-27 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He hit third-string TE Dwayne Blakley for a nine-yard touchdown and Michael Jenkins, who was wide open in the end zone, for a 15-yard score. FS Troy Vincent and LB Angelo Crowell were flagged for two roughing the passer calls that fed Atlanta's first TD drive. SS Lawyer Milloy, playing with a cast to protect a broken thumb, was mostly ineffective, leaving LB Jeff Posey mismatched on Pro Bowl TE Alge Crumpler (three catches, 35 yards). Backup Falcons WR Brian Finneran, who stands 6-5, also enjoyed success against 5-8 CB Terrence McGee, hauling in four big catches for 57 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: F -- After giving up 191 yards to Tampa Bay a week earlier, the Bills gave up 236 on 36 carries (6.6 yards per rush) to the Falcons. Vick, whose 27-yard scramble to convert a third-and-10 play set up Atlanta's clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter, finished with nine runs for 64 yards. Few teams can contain Vick, but the Bills made it worse on themselves by also allowing running backs Warrick Dunn (15 for 97) and T.J. Duckett (12 for 75) to run wild. A 59-yard Dunn run led to a field goal before halftime, and Duckett dragged a one-armed Milloy into the end zone on a 12-yard TD burst. London Fletcher (hamstring) played hurt, but made 11 tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Rian Lindell (9-for-9) remained perfect by making field goals from 36, 41 and 30 yards. The punt coverage unit came up with a fumble recovery the offense did nothing with. Punter Brian Moorman had another short effort (37 yards) that gave Atlanta good field position to start its final TD drive.
COACHING: C-minus -- Starting the game with two long passes, then coming back with the run hard was a nice game plan. Unfortunately, red zone play calling was once again suspect, as Buffalo settled for two field goals on three trips inside the Falcons' 20. Tinkering with the offensive line (Preston for Villarrial) during the fourth quarter was dumbfounding. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements' unit has produced two TDs in three games. Defensively, coordinator Jerry Gray came after Vick hard with a lot of blitzing, but the strategy did not pay off as Vick consistently dodged the pressure and found open receivers against one-on-one coverage. If everyone was covered, Vick simply ran it -- and Buffalo's continued poor tackling resulted in 403 yards allowed. Unfortunately for Gray, bad is likely to turn worse without Spikes for the rest of the season.
The timing of Miami's bye week is something of a mixed blessing.
If the team played Sunday, the Dolphins would be riding a huge wave of momentum stemming from a gritty 27-24 victory over Carolina. Instead, the Dolphins will have a week to cool off before playing Oct. 9 at Buffalo.
But it can be argued that the Dolphins (2-1) could use the rest after a prolonged preseason stemming from having a fifth exhibition game.
"In terms of game plans and physically beyond that, you need to get a break somewhere along the way," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. "I have always kind of believed that. If it were perfect, we would play six games, have a bye week and play six more games and decide to take an extra day off or something. We have it after three weeks.
"But you could look at it the other way and say, 'We had five preseason games and we've had these three (regular-season) games.' You always want to give the players the right amount of time to recover. Whenever the bye week is, you want to make sure that you come out of that well-recovered but still being able to improve."
The time off will give linebacker Junior Seau (calf), strong safety Tebucky Jones (calf) and tailback Ronnie Brown (hamstring) a chance to rest. Jones and Brown should be available to play against the Bills, but Seau's status is more in question. Saban said he didn't know the results of Seau's MRI test at the time of his weekly day-after news conference.
Saban will hold practices Wednesday and Thursday before giving the players the weekend off. Saban said he will not begin installing a game plan for the Bills until next week and will instead focus on shoring some weaknesses as well as "work against things we have not seen that we will see in the near future."
-- Coach Nick Saban gave Player of the Week honors to 11 members of his 53-man roster after defeating the Panthers. That list included tailback Ronnie Brown and all six offensive linemen who played -- Damion McIntosh, Jeno James, Seth McKinney, Rex Hadnot, Vernon Carey and Stockar McDougle -- on offense, free safety Lance Schulters and middle linebacker Zach Thomas on offense, and kicker Olindo Mare and free safety Yeremiah Bell on special teams.
The offensive line kept quarterback Gus Frerotte from being sacked and paved the way for Brown's 132-yard performance. Schulters intercepted a Jake Delhomme pass to set up Mare's 32-yard game-winning field goal. Thomas had 17 tackles and Bell added two on special teams.
-- It wouldn't be surprising to see Eddie Jackson and Kiwaukee Thomas have a shot at wresting the nickel cornerback responsibilities from Reggie Howard, who is coming off his second consecutive poor performance. Howard, who lost his starting spot to rookie Travis Daniels before the Panthers game, struggled in coverage as Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith caught 11 passes for 170 yards and three touchdown passes.
Jackson and Thomas were both added to the roster after the NFL's final preseason releases.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--SLB Junior Seau underwent an MRI on Monday for the calf he injured in a 27-24 victory over Carolina, but Dolphins coach Nick Saban said he didn't have the results during his Monday news conference.
--SLB Donnie Spragan would move into the starting lineup if Junior Seau (calf) can't play October 9 against Buffalo.
--SS Tebucky Jones, who was forced out in the second quarter against Carolina because of a strained hamstring, is optimistic about starting at Buffalo.
--SS Travares Tillman, who had two tackles in the final 2 1/2 quarters against Carolina, will start against Buffalo if Tebucky Jones (hamstring) can't play.
--RB Ronnie Brown strained his hamstring against Carolina but coach Nick Saban expects him to start against Buffalo.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B- -- QB Gus Frerotte completed only 14 of 33 passes and was intercepted in the end zone in the fourth quarter. But Frerotte wasn't sacked, which is impressive against a team with standout defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, and did throw touchdown passes of 42 and 18 yards to WR Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMichael respectively.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Although he ripped off a 58-yard run over right guard, Ronnie Brown had most of his success running off tackle. Brown's 132-yard performance was the fourth-highest single-game rushing total for a rookie in franchise history, trailing only Troy Stradford (169 yards in 1987), Karim Abdul-Jabbar (152; 1996) and Leroy Harris (140; 1977).
PASS DEFENSE: C -- CBs Reggie Howard and Sam Madison were beaten repeatedly by Panthers WR Steve Smith, who caught 11 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. But QB Jake Delhomme was sacked four times and threw an interception that FS Lance Schulters returned 37 yards to set up Olindo Mare's game-winning field goal.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Dolphins have done an outstanding job against the run in their first three games, this time limiting Panthers RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster to a combined 59 yards on 25 carries. MLB Zach Thomas had a standout performance with a season-best 17 tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A- -- Dolphins S Travares Tillman recovered a Smith fumble on a punt return to set up Miami's second touchdown. Mare has now kicked 11 game-winning fourth-quarter/overtime field goals in his nine-year career. Dolphins WR Wes Welker had a pedestrian day as a returner, but P Donnie Jones had a great outing with a 41.8-yard net average and placement of three of six of his attempts inside Carolina's 20-yard line without a touchback.
COACHING: B+ -- Coach Nick Saban's decision to move Schulters into the starting lineup ahead of the less experienced Yeremiah Bell at the end of the preseason paid dividends and salvaged a poor performance by Miami's pass defense. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan devised an excellent game plan against Carolina's defense, although his unit did score just six second-half points.
With quarterback Chad Pennington reportedly out for the season with a torn rotator cuff, Brooks Bollinger will make his first career start Sunday. That's because top backup Jay Fiedler has his own shoulder injury.
"Yes, that's my gut feeling," coach Herman Edwards said of Bollinger starting. "That was my gut feeling last night."
Pennington was taken out of the game after getting his arm yanked while being sacked in the third quarter against the Jaguars. Coming in to replace him, Fiedler was knocked to the ground two series later while completing a pass to Justin McCareins, landing awkwardly and injuring his shoulder.
While the Jets had yet to officially release Pennington's MRI results Monday, he reportedly has torn his rotator cuff and will be in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday for a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews.
So for at least this week, Bollinger is the man. The team was reportedly set to work out several quarterbacks Tuesday, including free agents Doug Johnson and Jonathan Quinn.
"My goal is to go out and compete and find a way, whatever that may be, whatever it takes to win a football game for this team," said Bollinger, 25, who was picked in the sixth round by the Jets in 2003. "I hope its all perfect and I hope everything all works out exactly as we draw it on paper, but if that's not the case the goal is to have more points than them at the end of the game.
Bollinger's only action in a regular season game against Arizona last season in Week 12. With Pennington out because of his rotator cuff injury, Bollinger was the back to Quincy Carter, but he was called in on the third play of the game when Carter was knocked woozy by a tackle.
Bollinger completed 5-of-9 passes for 60 yards that game before Carter came back in, but he said that experience would offer him little when he goes against the Ravens Sunday.
"I think at the time it gave me some confidence and got my first snaps out of the way in the NFL," Bollinger said. "But it's nothing that's going to give me any added advantage on Sunday. It was a while ago and it helped me grow as a player. It just comes down to executing this week."
While Bollinger doesn't have a rocket arm -- neither did Pennington or Fiedler for that matter -- he is more mobile, something that gives the Jets another option on third downs.
--The Jets drafted Justin Miller with the second of two second round picks this year hoping that his blazing speed and dazzling moves would lead to big returns, great field position and maybe even a touchdown or two.
But Miller has one problem, catching the ball on punt returns. That deficiency bit the Jets in the butt Sunday when Miller muffed a catch late in the third quarter, resulting in Jacksonville getting the ball at the Jets 16 and leading to a touchdown that put the Jaguars up 20-14.
"It was just a lack of concentration," said Miller, who averaged minus-1 yards on three punt returns. "I've got to catch the ball."
Miller did, however, average 25 yards on three kickoff returns.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Wayne Chrebet thought he had a game winning catch with just over a minute left when he cradled a 7-yard throw from Chad Pennington in the back of the end zone. But the play was challenged by the Jaguars and was reversed, not because his feet weren't in bounds - Chrebet did a great job with that - but he didn't have possession as he fell out of bounds.
"I was trying to trap it against my body and worrying about getting my feet down," Chrebet said. "(The defender) got his hand in there and made a good play, but there's no doubt in my mind I've got to make that play."
--LT Jason Fabini has a strained MCL in his right knee but the Jets are fitting him with a brace to see if he can play with it. If Fabini can't practice this week, the Jets will move Adrian Jones from right to left and play Scott Gragg at RT.
--QB Brooks Bollinger will be the starter this week with Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler out with shoulder injuries. Bollinger has been the third quarterback since he was drafted in 2003 but got into a game last year in Arizona when Pennington and Quincy Carter got hurt, completing 5-of-9 passes for 60 yards.
--QB Jay Fiedler is likely out this week and for the next several weeks with a shoulder injury, the extent of which won't be known until Tuesday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Both Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler went down with shoulder injuries and neither one was doing much before getting hurt. Pennington, who came back into the game when Fiedler came out, was experiencing pain throughout and threw for just 76 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times as the Jets had to move around their tackles in the second half when left tackle Jason Fabini hurt his knee.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The Jets couldn't get any yardage outside so they just kept pounding and pounding inside against the Jaguars defensive tackles. That worked better but Curtis Martin totaled just 67 yards on 18 carries, playing with a bad knee. But where was Derrick Blaylock? Expected to get more of the workload with Martin hurt, Blaylock had just three carries for 6 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- David Barrett got burned for the game-winning score in overtime but the Jets did a good job of harassing Byron Leftwich, sacking him twice and keeping big plays to a minimum -- except the TD that broke their back. John Abraham forced a fumble when he sacked Leftwich, with nose tackle James Reed returning it 33 yards for the score.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Fred Taylor managed 98 yards rushing but had to carry the ball 37 times to get it, bottling him up inside all game. Reed and Bryan looked particularly strong controlling the middle and keeping Taylor from beating them
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- Mike Nugent kicked a pair of field goals and Ben Graham had another amazing day punting (48.6-yard average on seven kicks). But Justin Miller muffed a punt return late in the third quarter that led to a Jaguars touchdown and forcing the Jets to play catch up for the final quarter.
COACHING: C -- Herman Edwards can't motivate a team without a quarterback, which is what the Jets were for most of the game. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger did the best he could to adjust but the Jaguars knew the Jets were going to run most of the time and weren't throwing deep.
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