the AFC East: Week 4 Recap
By Scout.com Staff
For the second time in four games, first-year starting quarterback J.P. Losman was benched in favor of veteran backup Kelly Holcomb. And for the second time in four games, questions are swirling around the locker room about whether to stay the course or make a permanent switch.
Losman, 7-of-15 for 75 yards, one interception and three sacks, was benched at the start of the fourth quarter of Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Saints.
Holcomb, however, could not provide the spark coach Mike Mularkey was looking for, going 3-of-6 for 28 yards. He was sacked by Saints defensive end Charles Grant with 34 seconds left and fumbled to end the Bills' last threat.
The loss dropped Buffalo to 1-3. A year ago, the Bills started 0-4 before rallying to win nine of their final 12 games, but that was with veteran Drew Bledsoe at the helm. Could Holcomb, a former starter in Cleveland and a nine-year veteran, do the same for Buffalo?
"You have to make a decision at some point," said veteran wide receiver Eric Moulds, who had no catches in the second half against a depleted Saints secondary. "Do you put J.P. in and let him learn, or do you put Kelly in as the starter and see what happens? Hopefully, they make that decision and make it easier on a lot of us."
Mularkey said Losman would remain the starter when the Bills host the Dolphins on Sunday, but the door has been cracked open for Mularkey to change his mind. General manager Tom Donahoe said a move to Holcomb would not be that bold with the team going so poorly.
"I'm not going to jump the gun right here," Mularkey said. "I'm not sure how we played offensive-line wise ... I haven't even considered that (starting Holcomb). J.P.'s the starter, and I'm going with J.P. Everybody understands that. Again, I was just trying to spark that up, get a change of pace."
During the Bills' three-game losing streak, Losman is 29-of-67 for 263 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions, nine sacks and passer ratings of 52.8, 33.8 and 34.0.
With Buffalo trailing just 13-7 heading into the fourth quarterback against the Saints, Losman would've liked the chance to finish what he started.
"No, I'm not happy," he said. "You're never happy when you get pulled. You take it personal. It's a tough decision Mike had to make. Again, he was looking for a spark. I do expect to start (vs. the Dolphins)."
Aaron Brooks passed for 172 yards and ran for 33 and a touchdown, sparking the inspired Saints to a 19-7 victory before 58,688 fans in their home opener at the Alamodome, their temporary home after Hurricane Katrina.
J.P. Losman took the opening drive 75 yards in 10 plays to a Willis McGahee 1-yard TD plunge, completing four of five passes for 52 yards. But Buffalo could not maintain that rate of success and fell to 1-3.
Losman threw an interception on an overthrown deep pass to Eric Moulds, which Jason Craft returned 39 yards, setting up Brooks' 4-yard touchdown run.
After Rian Lindell missed a 45-yard field goal, the Saints drove 43 yards to one of John Carney's four field goals to take a 13-7 halftime lead.
The Bills had just 77 yards of offense and four first downs in the second half. Saints running back Deuce McAllister ran 17 times for 102 yards in the second half, including runs of 10, 15, 12 and 26 yards on consecutive carries during one drive in the fourth quarter.
--RB Willis McGahee gained 84 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 1-yard leap against the Saints. But he was stopped twice on a critical fourth-quarter drive, once on third-and-1 and then on fourth-and-inches when CB Fred Thomas stopped him for a 2-yard loss on a blitz. McGahee dinged his left shoulder in the game, but it's not believed to be a serious injury.
--WR Eric Moulds caught just two passes for 14 yards in Sunday's loss to the Saints as Buffalo's offense continued to struggle.
--PK Rian Lindell missed a 45-yard field goal, his first miss of the season. He had been 9-for-9.
--KR Terrence McGee, who led the NFL with three returns for touchdowns last year, nearly got his first of the season when he took back the final kickoff of the first half 82 yards. He was tripped up and downed at the Saints 3-yard line as time expired. McGee juked a half-dozen Saints on the play before getting upended by CB Fred Thomas.
--DT Ron Edwards injured his shoulder in the first half against the Saints and did not return.
Dolphins coach Nick Saban is trying to see the positive side about his team's early-season penchant for penalties.
Miami entered its bye having committed 34 penalties for 295 yards, which was tied with Tampa Bay for the third-highest number of infractions committed by a team after the season's first three weeks. Oakland and New Orleans were tied for first with 36 penalties.
While not thrilled about such standing, Saban has praised his team for being able to overcome such problems more often than not in compiling a 2-1 record entering Sunday's game against Buffalo.
"We have shown an ability to bounce back and overcome adversity and there certainly was a lot," Saban said following his team's 27-24 victory over Carolina. "Some they created, some we created by errors or mental errors. We have to work on having better poise in making those kinds of judgments and decisions. That's something that we definitely want to improve on."
Trying to eliminate the penalties was one of the main focuses for Saban during Miami's bye week.
"We just have to continue to bring people's attention to these things and how it's their mental focus and balance," Saban said. "I think everybody needs to understand this. I am pleased with the way our guys have competed, played hard, played physical and been tough in every game that we've played. But now that decision-making and judgment has got to get back in balance and still be able to maintain that sense of urgency and intensity."
SECOND LOOK: GOOD NEWS
The Dolphins have exceeded media expectations with a 2-1 start, which has given Miami confidence heading into its bye week.
"Obviously, when you win two games out of three, you are going to have a positive energy," Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte said. "But there are a lot of things to build on. We had a lot of mistakes (against Carolina) and we have to look at that. We are going to grow from it."
The Dolphins also have managed to stay relatively healthy, with no starter missing a game this season. That stands in stark contrast to their AFC East brethren, who already have lost linebacker Takeo Spikes (Buffalo), quarterback Chad Pennington (New York Jets) and safety Rodney Harrison (New England) for the season.
"What we try to do is practice as safely as we can," Saban said. "We try to have the right kind of regimen in the off-season to build the kind of strength and conditioning that is going to hopefully minimize injuries. Some injuries are affected by that and some are not. I don't know if it is luck. You always feel fortunate if you can always stay healthy."
SECOND LOOK: BAD NEWS
The Dolphins have to shore their pass defense, which was ranked 19th in the NFL entering last weekend's games. The nickel cornerback spot is especially troublesome. Reggie Howard was demoted from the starting lineup before the Carolina game, then struggled in slot coverage against the Panthers as wide receiver Steve Smith caught 11 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns.
The Dolphins may give Kiwaukee Thomas a chance to supplant Howard in nickel packages. Thomas is a six-year veteran who played predominantly in a nickel role in his first five seasons with Jacksonville, which released him just before the start of the preseason.
Saban said the team will try to improve its nickel defense during the bye week both schematically and with its personnel. But he declined to elaborate on any potential changes that would be made.
"I can call Bill (Belichick) and tell him or maybe I should call Buffalo and tell them so they can know exactly what to expect and where to put their guys just like (Carolina) put (Smith) in this game," a sarcastic Saban said. "I'll do that upstairs and tell you about it."
--CB Kiwaukee Thomas has a chance to supplant Reggie Howard for playing time as Miami's nickel cornerback for Sunday's game against Buffalo. Thomas is a six-year veteran who was signed just before the start of the season after being released by Jacksonville.
--DE/OLB David Bowens is still trying to adjust to Miami's new defensive scheme. After logging 52 tackles and seven sacks as a starting end last season, Bowens has just one tackle in three games as a reserve.
--CB Will Poole said he was uncertain whether he will be activated off the physically unable to perform list later this season. Poole is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery stemming from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus suffered in an off-season practice.
--LB Jason Glenn leads Miami in special teams tackles with four through three games.
--WR Bryan Gilmore may be in line for more playing time on offense after a nice 12-yard reception against the Panthers.
The Jets may look to speed up Vinny Testaverde's conditioning this week in the event they have to call him in as their relief quarterback should Brooks Bollinger struggle for a second straight week.
While the Jets like Bollinger and envisioned him as a possible backup when they drafted him in 2003, they're fairly convinced he isn't ready yet. Being thrown into the starting role so quickly after starter Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler got hurt, Bollinger was put into a tough spot -- being asked to start while appearing in just his second NFL game.
Bollinger struggled against the Ravens last week while facing a constant blitz. He completed 12 of 24 passes for 149 yards, and the Jets managed just three points and 152 yards of offense.
"It's frustrating. I can't really put it into words. It's tough," Bollinger said. "I want to do well for these guys. I finally got an opportunity where I knew they were counting on me; it was my time to make a contribution and I didn't do enough for us to win."
The Jets signed Testaverde, who played with the Jets from 1998-2003, almost immediately after the injuries to Pennington and Fielder. His absorption of new coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's playbook and system isn't the problem; rather Testaverde needs to get closer to game shape, although at 41 he's in excellent physical condition.
The Jets would like to see what Bollinger is capable of, but starting 1-3 has put a serious crimp in their playoff chances. They can't afford to take much more time with Bollinger if he fails to produce.
The Jets managed just eight first downs and 152 yards of offense, and a paltry 37 yards on 20 offensive plays in the first half as they fell 13-3 at Baltimore.
Quarterback Brooks Bollinger completed 14 of 28 passes for 149 yards, but he couldn't lead the Jets to any points. The Jets' lone field goal came when linebacker Victor Hobson returned a Jamal Lewis fumble 43 yards to the 1. New York failed to get any closer on two runs by Curtis Martin and a sweep by Bollinger.
The Jets defense held Baltimore to just a pair of field goals in the first half, and the Ravens were 5-of-14 on third downs. Yet even with their struggles on offense, the Ravens essentially sealed the game in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lews.
--LT Jason Fabini was moved over to the right side to help compensate for his strained right knee. Starting RT Adrian Jones switched places with Fabini. The Jets allowed five sacks against the Ravens.
--RT Adrian Jones switched places with LT Jason Fabini to help Fabini deal with a strained right knee. The Jets allowed five sacks against the Ravens.
--RB Curtis Martin was hampered by a sore right leg in the second half against Baltimore, rushing for only 4 yards on five carries. He finished with just 30 yards on 13 carries.
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