Looking Back At Week Eight: Bye
The tight end has long been an ignored position in Buffalo, and while the Bills' new coaching staff hinted that things would be different this season, they haven't been.
Through seven games, Buffalo's tight ends have combined for 11 catches for 99 yards and one TD. That's a better pace than a year ago when the output for 16 games was 25 catches for 169 yards and one score.
But only a tad better.
There was an encouraging sign in the Bills' 28-6 loss to New England before Buffalo broke for the bye. Tight end Robert Royal caught a season-high four passes for 36 yards, including a long of 21 yards when he made a twisting catch over the middle against strong safety Rodney Harrison.
"It just happened to be one of those games where the coaches called a few plays that were designed for me," said Royal, who at 6-foot-4, 257 pounds makes a fine target. "I was able to get open and make a few plays, but obviously not enough plays to make us win the ballgame."
Getting Royal, second-year man Kevin Everett and young veteran Ryan Neufeld more involved could solve some of Buffalo's problems on offense, particularly on third down, where Buffalo's 28.6 percent conversion rate (24 of 84) ranked 31st in the NFL at the bye.
Fifty-two times the Bills have faced a third-and-6 or more, and they converted it just seven times. Quarterback J.P. Losman was the 31st-ranked passer on third down with zero TDs and four interceptions.
After an encouraging first month of the season, Buffalo's offense has regressed. Buffalo ranked 30th in yards, 29th in passing, 23rd in rushing, 30th in sacks allowed, and 28th in points while falling to 2-5.
Throwing to the tight end with purpose, an obvious option for a young, struggling QB, just hasn't materialized with Losman.
Royal has nine catches for 94 yards, Everett just one catch for 1 yard, and Neufeld one catch for 4 yards and the group's only TD.
The Bills called Royal an underrated receiver when they signed him as a free agent from the Redskins. Everett, who starred at the University of Miami and was a third-round draft pick in 2005 before undergoing knee surgery, could stretch the field if given the chance.
Royal's big catch against Harrison should give coordinator Steve Fairchild confidence in him.
"I think they were playing Cover 2 and I was able to get past their linebackers and make a play," Royal said. "Whenever you catch the ball down the middle, you have to prepare yourself to get hit. Getting hit is part of the game."
Royal's positive attitude is serving his teammates well in the locker room. Last season, he was part of a Redskins team that was 5-6 but won its last five games to make the playoffs.
"We just have to continue to work hard," Royal said. "We are not that far away at all. I think we still have some growing pains to go through, obviously, with the new players and the new coaching staff. We are doing some things this year that are different than guys were used to who have been here. That isn't an excuse for not getting things done, but we just have to look at the tape and be critical of ourselves, and see some things that we need to start doing."
Like throwing to the tight ends?
--Veteran OG Chris Villarrial, never one to mince words, on Buffalo's offensive struggles: "It's like 'Groundhog Day.' It's all we talk about is not killing ourselves, and that's what we're doing. The players are frustrated, the fans are frustrated, the coaches are frustrated, it's just one of those things. It's not like we're out there trying to make mistakes, but they just keep on happening. It's the old analogy, we have to keep working hard and get the job done, no matter what it takes. We have to grow up. That's where we're at."
--Like all of Western New York, the Bills have been swept up in Buffalo Sabres fever. The city's NHL franchise got off to a record-tying 10-0 start before losing its first game Saturday. "I don't see us in direct competition with the Sabres," DE Ryan Denney, a big hockey fan from Colorado, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "We have great fans and they'll be loyal to us. But we also realize that if there's a better show in town, some people might lose interest in what we're doing and follow the hockey team. Hopefully we can turn this thing around and keep our fans who have been very good and loyal to us interested." The Bills have sold out 26 of 27 games despite not making the playoffs six consecutive years and starting this season 2-5.
--Rookie FS Ko Simpson, who hails from Rock Hill, S.C., is proud of the NFL talent his hometown has produced. "It's about 15 minutes from Charlotte," he said. "Just a regular small town. We've put out a couple of DBs. ... Jeff Burris. Chris Hope. Johnathan Joseph. Derek Ross. We've got Ben Watson." What's in the drinking water? "I don't know. We've got dudes at Florida and Tennessee, too, who are coming up," Simpson said.
--QB J.P. Losman's yards-per-passing-attempt average is vastly improved from a year ago. Last year, his mark was 5.87. This year, it is 6.67, another sign the third-year pro is progressing despite his recent spate of turnovers.
--RB Willis McGahee is on pace for 343 carries, which would top last season's workload (325). He has gone four games without a 100-yard day, and his per-carry average has dipped to 3.8.
--WR Andre Davis, who has yet to catch a pass, has just missed hooking up twice on fly routes with QB J.P. Losman. The speedy Davis is expected to be used more by the Bills, whose 29th-ranked passing game needs a spark.
--TE Robert Royal, caught a season-high four catches for 36 yards in a loss to New England last time out, could be emerging. The Bills are looking for ways to improve their shoddy third-down conversion rate.
--OG Tutan Reyes, who has lost his starting job at left guard, is nursing a shoulder problem that may have contributed to his struggles. His status for Sunday's game against the Packers will be updated Wednesday.
Looking Back At Week Eight: Bye
What was once one of the NFL's most anticipated match-ups in 2006 may not happen at the rate Daunte Culpepper is progressing in the ongoing rehabilitation of his surgically repaired right knee.
On Monday, Dolphins coach Nick Saban wouldn't completely dismiss the possibility of Culpepper being ready to return for a Nov. 19 game at Minnesota, which is the team that traded the quarterback to the Dolphins in the offseason after seven seasons with the Vikings. But all signs continue to point toward Culpepper remaining sidelined like he was for Monday's practice stemming from what Saban said was soreness caused by his rehabilitative program.
"I don't think the football part of it bothers him that much," Saban said. "I think it's the work that he does to try to strengthen it and some of the rehab that he's doing is making him a little bit sore. Then that soreness makes it a little harder for him to do all the stuff he needs to do in football.
"I think it's a work in progress to get him where he wants to be and we would like for him to be."
Culpepper, who declined comment Monday, was benched after struggling with both physical and mental errors through the season's first four games. Saban said Culpepper's physical problems stemmed from his discontinuation of his rehabilitative program once the preseason began.
Asked whether he anticipated Culpepper being ready to return for the Vikings game, Saban said, "I don't anticipate anything. I can't make a prediction on that.
"I don't think what game it is, regardless of how much somebody wants to do it or what their motivation is ... Physically we have to be right to make it happen. Whenever that timetable proves to be the way it needs to be, then that's when we'll make that decision."
--Coach Nick Saban said the Dolphins coaching staff took advantage of the bye week for some self-scouting after a disappointing 1-6 start.
"I don't think it's execution. I think it's consistency in execution," Saban said. "I think you can look at every game that we've played to this point and say, 'These guys could have won this game.' There are three, four or five plays in the game that make the difference. Regardless of what side of the ball or special teams it's on, we need to focus on making those plays positive for us."
--Saban said he received a surprise ice shower from Dolphins players on Monday in honor of his 55th birthday being on Tuesday.
"I didn't even know the players knew," said Saban, who was forced to change clothes before meeting with the media. "I said, 'My birthday is not until tomorrow.' They said, 'We aren't going to see you tomorrow.'"
--LG Jeno James (knee) didn't participate in Monday's practice and appears unlikely to start in Sunday's game at Chicago. James, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last Tuesday to remove loose debris, would be replaced by Joe Berger if unable to play.
--OLB Channing Crowder (foot) didn't participate in Monday's practice although the Dolphins are optimistic that he can play Sunday against Chicago. Crowder was injured Oct. 24 against Green Bay and hasn't practiced since.
--QB Daunte Culpepper (knee) didn't participate in team drills Monday and will likely be declared inactive Sunday against Chicago. Removed from the starting lineup in early October, Culpepper is still experiencing soreness stemming from rehabilitation drills, Dolphins coach Nick Saban said Monday.
--WR Marty Booker returned to practice Monday after missing two sessions last week with a finger injury. Booker is expected to start Sunday against Chicago.
--CB Travis Daniels (knee) practiced Monday while wearing a red injury jersey but may not be ready to play Sunday at Chicago. Daniels has started only two games this season because of ankle and knee injuries.
--LB Derrick Pope (hamstring) practiced Monday while wearing a red injury jersey. Pope, who returned from a four-game absence Oct. 24 against Green Bay, is one of Miami's key special teams contributors.
Looking Back At Week Eight: Win 31-7 at Minnesota
--QB Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes against the Vikings, tying his career high. Brady also threw four touchdown passes against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 22, 2002 and achieved the feat against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 11, 2001. The game against Minnesota marked the first time Brady has thrown for four touchdowns on the road.
--Brady threw for 257 yards in the first half, completing 17-of-25 passes. His 257 yards were his highest yardage total for any half in his career. His previous career high for a half was 226 yards, achieved in the second half of a 2005 divisional playoff game at Denver on Jan. 14, 2006.
--RB Heath Evans ran for a 35-yard gain in the fourth quarter, recording the longest rush of his career. Prior to that run, the longest rush of Evans' career was a 21-yard jaunt against Miami on Nov. 13, 2005.
--S Rodney Harrison intercepted Minnesota's Brad Johnson on the goal line in the first quarter to stop a Minnesota drive. The interception was Harrison's first of the season and the 32nd of his regular-season career. Since joining the Patriots prior to the 2003 season, Harrison now has recorded six interceptions in the regular-season and six in the playoffs for a grand total of 12 picks. Dating back to the beginning of the 2004 regular season, six of Harrison's last seven interceptions have come inside the opponents' 20-yard line, with five of the seven coming inside the 4-yard line.
--The Patriots opened the game with a seven-play, 86-yard touchdown drive, marking the second consecutive game in which the Patriots reached the end zone on their opening drive. Prior to last week against Buffalo, the Patriots had gone six straight regular-season games without scoring on their first drive.
--"Minnesota pressured us a lot. We felt like there wasn't much of an opportunity to run in there against all of those guys. They are all pretty good. They are hard to block as it is. When they put more in there than you can handle, it is just like beating your head against the wall. ... We felt like throwing the ball and spreading it out would be the best way to handle it. The amount of pressure they gave us kind of dictated the number of times we were in those various [spread passing] sets." - Bill Belichick on why the Patriots ditched the running game and went strictly to the pass for most of the game.
-- "I think so, and the fashion by which we won. We scored a lot of points and our defense didn't give up any points. We played well tonight, especially on a national stage. I think we showed people that we are for real and that we have a pretty good football team. We are 6-1 right now and we have Indianapolis next week, so we are going to go home and get some rest and play the best team in football next week." -- Rodney Harrison on the Patriots impressive victory in Minnesota.
Looking Back At Week Eight: Loss 20-13 at Cleveland
For a rookie NFL head coach, the first season is a series of firsts. Almost every situation is a new one, at least as the man in charge. And this week is no exception, as Eric Mangini will experience a bye week for the first time as the Jets' head coach.
He decided to work the first three days of the bye week before giving the players Thursday and Friday off for a four-day weekend before resuming preparations next Monday for their game at AFC East-leading New England on Nov. 12.
"We're going to work through Wednesday and get a couple of real good days here," Mangini said Monday, "and then I'm going to give the players some time off to get away a little bit and then we'll work again next week early in the week and then move to more of a regular schedule.
"Our focus as a staff is to go through segment-by-segment," Mangini added, "identify the core issues, put those into a package of adjustments and things we need to work on, present it to the players, show them the film, walk through the adjustments, practice the adjustments (and) correct the adjustments on tape. And then move on to the next segment, so we can really learn from the first eight games (and) also incorporate a little bit of what we will be doing in the following eight games and moving into next week."
The bye week will be especially important for the Jets because they will be making adjustments in offensive and defensive systems that they've only worked on since last May, when voluntary mini-camp began and the players began getting immersed in the new schemes of Mangini and his staff.
"It's always good to get the bye," Mangini said. "Everybody has that soreness, that lingering soreness from camp and the first eight games. (It will be good) to get some of that out, to go back and not be worried about game planning, but be able to take a step back and objectively look at all the different things we did and face it with a lot of honesty and put together a good plan moving forward."
For wide receiver Laveranues Coles, the bye will mean a chance to get healthy. A nagging calf injury has taken away some of his ability to get deep.
"I'm going to try and get out of the way as much as I can this week," Coles said, "and try and get some of these nicks a little bit better so I can come back full-speed."
The Jets also don't mind that their bye is coming exactly at the midpoint of the 2006 season.
"I think it's good," defensive end-linebacker Bryan Thomas said, "because you give your legs a chance to rest and you get to focus on a lot of things that you haven't focused on since training camp. ... (things) that you don't have enough time to take care of during the game weeks."
--RB Curtis Martin's status is still unclear. Martin hasn't played since Dec. 4, 2005 against New England, and hasn't practiced since spring mini-camp because of a lingering knee problem.
After the sixth game of the season, he was eligible to be activated from the physically unable to perform list, but was not activated. Coach Eric Mangini said the Jets will decide next Tuesday, the last day they can make such a decision, whether to return him to practice.
After he returns to practice, the Jets will have three weeks to determine if he is ready to play. If not, he will go on injured reserve and be ineligible to play the remainder of the season.
"If he's able to come back," coach Eric Mangini said Monday, "it would be better served for us to do that right at the edge of that window."
--K Mike Nugent's kickoff after his first field goal Sunday went out of bounds, giving Cleveland the ball at its own 40. The Browns took advantage of the short field to go 30 yards to a tying 47-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. The Jets never led again.
The wins at the time "really wasn't that bad," Mangini said. "We were trying to set up a specific coverage based off the kick, and Mike was trying to place it. I think he just caught it the wrong way."
P Ben Graham has a much stronger leg than Nugent, and Mangini was asked if he has thought about having Graham handle kickoffs.
"I've talked about developing different skill sets based off the strength of his leg," Mangini said. "That's a little bit of a weakness of his right now. Kickoffs could be something we could work on. He also has to learn how to throw the ball. We don't want to (experiment) too much in season because it could affect his punting, transitioning in and out. And he's done well with the punting side of it. But those are definitely things we would definitely talk about in the off-season and maybe get him functional throwing the ball."
Graham holds for field goals, and thus could be used for fakes if he could throw.
--Coach Eric Mangini refused to say Monday whether he thought the controversial call Sunday was the wrong one. The officials ruled that tight end Chris Baker was not forced out of bounds on what could have been a 24-yard touchdown catch that would have drawn the Jets to within one point, pending a PAT. Had a forceout been ruled, the catch would have been good.
"If I was the official, I would always rule for the Jets. Unfortunately, I can't," Mangini said. "He made the decision he made. That's the decision we have to respect and deal with."
Video of the play was submitted by the Jets to the NFL, although other than a possible apology, it won't change the result. Mangini did indicate that perhaps the league's competition committee should examine the call and the rule.
--CB-KR Justin Miller's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was his second of the season and third in his last nine games, counting a touchdown against Buffalo in the 2005 season finale. He had four returns for 161 yards in the game.
--WR-QB Brad Smith had a 7-yard run for a third down, but lost a total of 3 yards on two other rushes.
--WR-PR Tim Dwight had no receptions, but had four punt returns, as Detroit punted out of bounds once and for a touchback the other time.
--OL Trey Teague (ankle) was inactive for the eighth straight game. It turns out the Jets should have put him on the physically unable to perform list when the season began.
--CB Andre Dyson apparently injured his ankle against Cleveland, but there was no update about him from coach Eric Mangini on Monday.
--K Mike Nugent was 2-for-3 on FG attempts, converting from 27 and 47 yards and missing wide right from 52. Nugent is 0-for-3 from 50 yards or longer as a pro.