AFC East: News and Notes for Week 6

Distressing was how Marv Levy described the Bills shellacking by the Bears last week. Will he have another description if the Bills lose to the lowly Lions? Meanwhile former Lion Joey Harrington looks to get back some of the mojo he had going last week against New England when he leads the Dolphins against the Jets. The Patriots meanwhile will enjoy a much-needed week off. AFC East News and Notes.

Division Report Week of 10/13/06

Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

    BUFFALO BILLS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy called last Sunday's 40-7 loss to the Chicago Bears "humiliating" and "distressing."

But it wasn't devastating.

From the front office on down, it's an upbeat Bills organization that's preparing for Sunday's game at Detroit, eager to show it knows how to get up off the canvas. In what amounts to the first real test of adversity for Levy's Bills under coach Dick Jauron, Buffalo (2-3) takes on a winless but dangerous Detroit (0-5) team at Ford Field.

"I'm distressed," Levy told The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle after Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears at Soldier Field. "But I also realize it's not a matter of lashing out, it's a matter of evaluating, going back to work, making the corrections we need to make, and being supportive of the coaching staff that, despite of what happened, I still have a high regard for."

Added Levy: "You've got to learn from a loss like this. This really tests a character of a team. Do they fold up or go back with more resolve?"

Every player on Buffalo's roster seems anxious to take out his frustration on the Lions.

Quarterback J.P. Losman threw three interceptions against Chicago and posted a season-low 35.8 rating. Wide receiver Peerless Price dropped a pass. Fullback Daimon Shelton committed a critical false start penalty. Punter Brian Moorman fumbled a snap to botch a fake play. Cornerback Terrence McGee was burned for a long pass, a touchdown and fumbled a kickoff.

The list of Bills players with egg on their face in the Windy City went on and on. And while a lot of people want to see how well Losman rebounds, it's not just him with something to prove.

"I think it's very important for this position (quarterback) but all positions, to bounce back," Losman said. "If a receiver drops a pass, he has to come back strong. Miss a block, come back strong. Quarterback misses a throw, he has to come back strong. It's every position. That determines good players from great players right on down the line. We have to get this win. This means everything, from proving we can win, proving we can bounce back from a bad loss. That's our goal this week."

After last week's debacle, the Bills said taking the Lions lightly won't be possible. On top of that, Detroit's a snake-bitten club yearning for its first win under rookie coach Rod Marinelli, and will be coming home to a supportive home crowd.

Well, supportive enough for a franchise that hasn't won an NFL title since 1957 and sports an NFL-worst 21-64 record since 2001. With the exception of a 34-7 loss at Chicago, the Lions, like Buffalo, have been in the rest of their games and have faced a very tough schedule.

Games against Seattle, Green Bay, St. Louis and Minnesota weren't decided until late in the fourth quarter or the final minutes. The Vikings clinched a 26-17 win last week by intercepting Lions QB Jon Kitna twice in the final 3:00, one that resulted in a 54-yard touchdown. But a 98-yard touchdown kickoff return by Eddie Drummond was nullified by penalty.

"This is no walk in the park," warned Bills guard Chris Villarrial, who as a member of the Bears used to play the Lions twice a season. "They are no pushover."

Jauron, the former Lions defensive back, defensive coordinator and interim head coach in 2005, said coaches typically find out more about a team's general character after a loss. The Bills have followed up every loss this season with a win.

"I think character is generally revealed more in adversity than it is when everything is going your way," he said. "I guess you learn a little bit more about them when we lose a game, but you don't want to learn that way. You'd like to make all your corrections off of victories and learn about them as you win, but we'll need to grow from this and move on and play better."

Notes:

--A lot of Bills want to forget about last week's 33-point loss to the Bears, but at least one, CB/KR Terrence McGee, plans on thinking about it all the time. "Personally, I want to use this as a motivator so it never happens again," said McGee, who was called for pass interference, was beaten for a 62-yard pass, an eight-yard touchdown and fumbled a kickoff to set up the Bears' final score.

--DT Larry Tripplett on getting back on track after last week's humiliating defeat: "That's definitely not us. It was a good test. We came across a good team at their place. Yeah, we didn't play well but I think everyone can take this and learn from it and the next time it will be a different result."

--Bills offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild played for Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz at San Diego Mesa Community College, then spent the past three seasons on Martz's St. Louis Rams staff as his coordinator. "Mike's a good friend and I owe a lot of what I have in football, as a player in college and a coach, to him," Fairchild said. "He's just gone out of his way to be good to me and I look forward to seeing him. But this isn't about me going against him." Fairchild's Bills' offense ranks 30th in the NFL after last week's humbling 40-7 loss to Chicago. Martz's unit ranks 17th (last in rushing) but also crumbled in a sea of mistakes in a 34-7 loss to the Bears.

--The game marks another homecoming for coach Dick Jauron, whose NFL career started in Detroit as a player in 1973. He was a fourth-round pick out of Yale who played 58 games for the Lions as a star defensive back and punt return specialist. He was the Lions defensive coordinator the past two seasons, and interim head coach for the final five games. The Lions, who last won a NFL title in 1957, are 21-64 over the past five seasons, the worst record in the league. Jauron heard the boos of Lions' fans and understands their pain. "They're like fans everywhere," he said. "We only have 32 of these franchises and every place the fans love their team, and when their team doesn't do well, they're not happy and they let them know it. Are they eager? Is that different from fans throughout our sport? That hasn't been my experience."

What They're Thinking:

With fake punts, field goals, onsides kicks and no hesitation to eschew punts on fourth down, the Bills coaching staff certainly can't be called shy. Unfortunately for the team, Dick Jauron's gambling hasn't produced the desired results.

Buffalo is one of six on fourth down attempts. A fake field goal and a fake punt were botched when holder/punter Brian Moorman failed to execute the call. And the team is one of two on executing onside kicks.

Is all of this wheeling and dealing a sign that the coaching staff feels it doesn't have a roster talented enough to compete heads up, and has to take chances?

"No necessarily," Jauron said.

When it comes to Moorman, one of the team's best athletes, the Bills like his potential to catch teams napping, or to at least get them thinking. In the past, Moorman has converted trick plays or broken plays by running or throwing for first downs.

"We know Brian is a tremendous athlete so we wanted to take advantage of it. We have it in every week and thought it was a good time for it," said Jauron of last week's fake punt attempt against Chicago that was foiled when Moorman fumbled a low snap from Mike Schneck.

Even though that play failed, Jauron saw a silver lining: It reminded future opponents that they better prepare for Moorman and any time opposing coaches have to work overtime is considered a good thing.

"It does affect people in how they prepare for us, unfortunately it didn't work (last week)," Jauron said. "When it doesn't go right, it's not a good call (but it doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad decision either). It's just the way it is."

 


    MIAMI DOLPHINS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

The Dolphins and Daunte Culpepper had to learn the hard way.

Because he desperately wanted to open the regular season as Miami's starter, Culpepper admitted Wednesday that he stopped some of the preseason rehabilitation drills that were designed to help him return from a major knee injury. Culpepper achieved his goal of playing in the opener against Pittsburgh but now finds himself replaced indefinitely by Joey Harrington entering Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

Dolphins coach Nick Saban said the team's medical and training staff have constructed a program designed to improve Culpepper's "explosive movement." Rather than participate in every facet of Wednesday's practice, Culpepper spent some of the session doing resistance and weight training as well as exercises aimed at bettering his lateral movement.

"When I got here, I was doing my rehab and going through the proper steps," said Culpepper, who was acquired in a March trade with Minnesota. "But when we started practicing as a team, I was feeling so good and everybody saw I was doing good, we didn't take the proper steps. That's my fault as much as anybody because my eagerness to be out there. It didn't turn out the way we wanted, so now we're taking the proper steps to get it right."

But Dolphins coach Nick Saban's inability to identify Culpepper's deficiencies earlier may ultimately cost Miami (1-4) a chance at the playoffs. Culpepper was sacked an NFL-high 21 times while Miami opened 1-3. Even more disturbing was a lack of the mobility that made Culpepper one of the NFL's most dangerous quarterbacks before tearing three knee ligaments last October in a game against Carolina.

Until four days before the Patriots game, Saban still planned to start Culpepper and even showered him with praise after an improved effort during a 17-15 loss at Houston.

"I thought he made good decisions." Saban said during an October 4 news conference. "Especially at the end of the game, he seemed to play extremely well and have good command over what was going on.

"He moved around better in the game. I think some of that's coming back for him and hopefully it will continue to improve each week."

Hours later, Saban made the decision to bench Culpepper because of unhappiness about how he performed in practice.

Two days later, Saban and Culpepper had an on-field argument that the latter tried to spin in a humorous way by saying the two were debating that weekend's University of Florida-Louisiana State University game.

Culpepper said he and Saban are "on the same page" and offered his support for Harrington, who looked surprisingly sharp in a 26-of-41 passing performance in last Sunday's 20-10 loss at New England.

"For as upset as you are, you need to be there for the team, and Daunte has done a great job of that," said Harrington, who was acquired in a May trade with Detroit as an insurance policy in case Culpepper needed additional recovery time.

"But he's a competitor and he's going to fight for that job. I wouldn't expect anything less of him."

Saban, though, would prefer Culpepper concentrate solely on getting well. In fact, Saban wouldn't rule out the possibility of Culpepper ultimately landing on injured reserve or the team signing another quarterback while his rehabilitation continues.

"He's a tremendous player," Saban said of Culpepper. "I think when he gets to be the Daunte of old, he's definitely going to be the quarterback around here of the future. That's why we brought him here."

Notes:

--New York Jets coach Eric Mangini shunned a chance to work for Miami's Nick Saban as Dolphins defensive coordinator, opting to instead accept a promotion (and pay raise) to become New England's defensive coordinator.

Saban instead hired Detroit's Richard Smith as defensive coordinator, although he essentially split those responsibilities with Will Muschamp. Smith (Houston Texans) and Muschamp (Auburn University) left for jobs elsewhere after Saban hired Dom Capers to head the defense early in the offseason.

--The Detroit Lions should be thrilled that Joey Harrington has replaced Daunte Culpepper in the starting lineup.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the Lions will receive a 2007 fifth-round draft choice from Miami if Harrington plays in 35 percent of the team's offensive snaps. Harrington is currently slated to cost the Dolphins a 2007 sixth-round pick stemming from a May trade that brought him from the Lions.

Harrington has played in 20.6 percent of Miami's offensive snaps after appearing for 63 plays against New England.

--Jets quarterbacks have thrown 101 consecutive passes against the Dolphins without an interception, which covers a span of four games. Conversely, the Jets have intercepted the Dolphins in five consecutive match-ups.

Miami quarterbacks also have completed only 47.8 percent of their passes (54 of 113) in their past three games against New York.

What They Were Thinking:

Lee Suggs' stay with the Dolphins was short lived, as Miami waived the running back Tuesday roughly six weeks after he was claimed off waivers from Cleveland.

Suggs became expendable when Sammy Morris returned from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's steroid and related substances policy. Suggs received limited playing time behind Ronnie Brown in a pass-heavy Dolphins offense, logging six carries for 26 yards and one catch for 13 yards.

Morris already made an impact in last Sunday's 20-10 loss to New England, receiving extensive playing time on special teams and as a third-down back.


 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

Looking Back At Week Two

The Patriots enter their bye week at 4-1 and atop the AFC East. New England hasn't played particularly well this year but its found a way to win close games. The team will embark on a two game rood trip following its off week that will take them to Buffalo and Minnesota.

While wearing a Tony LaRussa St. Louis Cardinals jersey, Bill Belichick talked to the media about the Patriots' week off.

"Today is one of my favorite days of the year, we have a little bit of extra time to get in and coach good, solid football," Belichick said on Tuesday. "It's not really a big game-planning day and you don't feel like it's a normal kind of rat race that you have on Wednesday when you're trying to get a lot of stuff ready and get a lot of things done. You feel like you can take a little more time, really be thorough, do a good job of explaining the points you're trying to get across, and really improve your football team today and tomorrow as we get ready for Buffalo."

Belichick was asked about sporting a St. Louis Cardinals jersey and said he just wanted to show support for manager Tony LaRussa, who will lead the Cardinals against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series for the right to play in the World Series.

"I'm a Tony LaRussa fan," Belichick said. "I was in training camp with him this year for a couple of days. It was a lot of fun. A great experience, I learned a lot. I don't know anything about baseball but just in terms of ... Tony is a great leader, manager and tactician. Just the way he handles the team. Sitting in the dugout with him down there, and watching him managing the game, it was pretty enlightening."

The team practiced on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. The players are off until Monday, a welcome reward for a job well done during the first month of the season.

"A bye week is so much more enjoyable when you have a win to think about," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "We're 4-1 and going into a bye. I know coach is giving us a break a little bit by giving us a few days off. It will be nice to just recoup."

The Patriots will get back to their regular routine on Monday, as they prepare for their trip to Buffalo. The Bills are currently 2-3 and play the Lions this Sunday. If they can defeat Detroit and get to .500, next week's matchup with the Patriots will be a big game in the AFC East.

Notes:

--After five weeks, Kevin Faulk leads the NFL with a 13.5-yard average on punt returns. The team struggled in this area last season but Faulk has given the return game a boost. His returns have help set the Patriots offense up in good field position, something that didn't happen very often in 2005.

--"The field is in terrible condition. I don't think anybody in this organization is happy about it, or thinks it's in good condition. We'll see what we can do about it. I can't tell you exactly what that is but that's the best I can do. We'll see what the options are and see what we can do. It's October, it's not like it's peak growing season." Coach Bill Belichick on the awful field conditions at Gillette Stadium.

--WR Chad Jackson started his first NFL game Sunday against the Dolphins. Even though he got the start, Jackson didn't record a reception for the fourth time in five games this season. The rookie said his lack of production has nothing to do with him struggling to pick up the Patriots offense. "I'm fine with the offense right now, I have no problems with it," he said. "They just keep adding on stuff and I keep picking it up. So if they keep doing it, I'll be fine with the offense."

--"No chance of that. You won't see me anywhere near that movie. I'd rather stick to comedy." Bill Belichick when asked if -- after his appearance on the TV show Rescue Me -- he would be making a cameo in the movie "The Game Plan" which is being shot at Gillette Stadium this week.

--Newly acquired wide receiver Jabar Gaffney had the media in stitches when he explained that his wife, Terin, was excited to hear Jabar will be playing with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

"It's going to be great," Gaffney said. "He's actually my wife's favorite quarterback.

"She just likes Brady. She's always liked him. I don't know if his looks got anything to do with it. It better be his playing."

Gaffney said one reason he's so excited to play for the Patriots is that the starting receivers aren't set in stone.

"That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here anyway, just for the passing game and playing with a guy like Tom Brady. I mean you have to love it."

Personnel Moves:

--P Danny Baugher was signed to the Patriots practice squad on Tuesday. Baugher, 22, was originally signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent on May 5, 2006 and was released by the Bengals on July 30.

--The Patriots worked out four players on Monday: TE Terry Jones, WR Chris Jones and DB's James Patrick and Ray Williams. Terry Jones has the most experience out of the four. He was a fifth-round draft choice of the Ravens in 2002. Jones spent the first three years of his career with Baltimore before playing for the 49ers last year.

--OT Nick Kaczur and OL Russ Hochstein were the lone players not present for the media-access portion of Wednesday's practice.

--Two former Patriots found new homes on Tuesday. Recently released CB Hank Poteat signed with the Jets, while the Vikings picked up WR Bethel Johnson.


 NEW YORK JETS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

The Jets' 41-0 loss at Jacksonville has provided them with the first test of faith of coach Eric Mangini's regime. The Jets (2-3) will have to bounce back against a division rival that's also quite hungry for a victory.

Miami (1-4) also is struggling, but maybe the Dolphins are the perfect opponent for a Jet team that needs a confidence boost after last week. Plus, the Jets have handled the Dolphins at Giants Stadium in recent years, winning seven of the last eight games played there.

The key will be forgetting about last week. Quarterback Chad Pennington wasn't able to do that until around 7 p.m. Tuesday evening, because that's when he received the game plan for Miami.

"I take losing hard," he said. "I take pride in what I do and I take pride in how our team performs, and that falls on the quarterback with his performance. When I don't perform well, I look at that analytically and criticize myself and take it very hard and see where I can get better and help our team win. I use Monday and Tuesday to look at that and learn from it. And now I've moved on to Miami, once I got the game plan. ... That's when we can change gears, so to speak."

"You try to look at the tape," rookie running back Leon Washington said, "and find the things that you need to do and improve on and help your team and try to find the reason why you got beat so bad."

Wide receiver Laveranues Coles was asked if he believes the players can put the blowout behind them.

"You can't really say," he said Wednesday. "We start today with practice. What I try to do is read guys' body language and see how guys are responding to our last loss. Some teams lose a game and go in the tank, some teams lose and come out fighting. It's a step-by-step process and our coaches let us know that every week we're going to prepare the same way, regardless of the outcome."

"It's over with for us," DE Bobby Hamilton said of the loss to the Jaguars. "It's the Miami Dolphins for us right now, and that's what we're getting ready for."

Pennington obviously will have to play better than he did against the Jaguars. He had easily his worst game of the season, throwing for only 71 yards with three interceptions. Better pass protection would help, as he was sacked four times against Jacksonville.

"After a week like last week versus Jacksonville," Pennington said, "it doesn't get any easier for our offense this week. You're playing against a defense that's only giving up 91 yards rushing. And even more impressive, they're only giving up 172 yards passing. They do an excellent job of playing good team defense. Everyone knows about Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas. But across the board they do an excellent job. They understand how to play defense and communicate really well and they've been very successful so far."

Notes:

--DB Derrick Strait is an ex-Jet. Again. Strait, who was traded to Cleveland during training camp and then returned when RB Lee Suggs failed his physical, was released. He was replaced by ex-Patriots CB Hank Poteat, whom the Jets cut in the preseason after a one-game audition. Poteat played two games and made three tackles with New England this season, and played in their win over Miami last week.

"I'm sure it's like Groundhog Day for him," coach Eric Mangini said, referring to the Bill Murray movie. "I think there will be some value there at that exposure."

--Mangini and WR Laveranues Coles spoke briefly on the practice field, but both said there's no need to clear the air. Coles was disappointed in his lack of use during the Jets' 41-0 loss to Jacksonville.

"We chat here and there," Mangini said. "I wasn't necessarily going to schedule a meeting. I don't have anything scheduled."

Coles said of Mangini, "He's our general. I don't ever go to the man. Let it lie where it may lie. He's our head coach, whatever decisions he makes, I live with them. It's as simple as that. Whatever he does, I say, 'yes sir,' and move on. ... I don't question anything that goes on. I may get frustrated about some things, I may not like some things, but I leave them where they are. I'm a pawn in a chess game. Whatever I'm told to do, that's what I'm going to do."

--Mangini was asked about reports that RB Curtis Martin could return to practice soon. The Jets have 21 days after the Miami game to activate him from the physically unable to perform list, or he will have to be placed on injured reserve.

"He and I have talked about that a little bit," Mangini said. "It's not something we're setting any timetable on. It's more of going through the process, seeing how it feels, getting into more football-specific activities. It could be as early as (next week) or it could be right down to the wire. The key thing for us to make sure that when it does happen, it's the best decision, it's the right time and he's completely ready."

Personnel News:

--WR-PR Tim Dwight (thigh) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. This has become the norm for Dwight, who is expected to be available Sunday.

--WR Laveranues Coles (calf) is listed as questionable and did not practice fully Wednesday. Like Dwight, that has become the norm for the physically tough Coles.

--RB Cedric Houston (knee) practiced on a limited basis at FB on Wednesday and is listed as questionable.

--RB Curtis Martin (knee) could return to practice soon. He will be eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list after this game.

Related: Bills Report | Jets Confidential | Dolphin Digest | Patriots Insider

 


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