AFC East: Week Fifteen Review

The Buffalo Bills blanked the Miami Dolphins a week after Miami did the same to the Patriots. The Dolphins didn't play Buffalo with the same intensity as they did against New England and it cost them any shot at the postseason. The Patriots walloped the Texans, while the Jets continued their playoff hopes by downing the Vikings

Division Report as of 12/19/06

Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

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

Looking Back At Week Fifteen: Win 21-0 vs Dolphins

The Bills are 5-2 since starting the season 2-5 under first-year coach Dick Jauron.

With a 7-7 record and two difficult games to play, the Bills remain a longshot to earn a playoff spot.

That doesn't mean a team that starts five rookies and pitched its first shutout over the rival Miami Dolphins since 1987 on Sunday isn't enjoying the ride and solidifying itself as a team to watch in 2007.

"I don't know what it looks like from the outside but we've always felt that we've been really, really close," said quarterback J.P. Losman, whose three touchdown passes lifted Buffalo past Miami 21-0 at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. "We lost close games that we thought we should've won. We've felt we've been a good team for a long time."

Now the Bills are showing it.

Buffalo's only losses since its bye week are by one point to Indianapolis and three points to San Diego, two teams that have locked up division championships. The Bills have won back-to-back games against the New York Jets and Dolphins to even their AFC East record at 3-3.

"The character that we've talked about all year, I believe, is there," Jauron said. "These are good guys. They play as a team more and more, and hopefully we can keep it going. We know it's just going to get harder, but I think they like the challenge."

The Bills can make things interesting in the wild-card race if they can win out.

They host the equally hot Tennessee Titans (7-7) this week, then play at AFC North Division champ Baltimore (11-3) on Dec. 31, a game that will have home-field advantage implications for the Ravens. Other teams must lose and they must win for the Bills to sneak in.

"I wish we had a better situation where we controlled our own destiny," linebacker London Fletcher said. "I'd feel better about our situation. But it is what it is. We'll just keep getting victories and see where it all falls out at the end of the year. Crazy things have happened in the past."

Shutting out Miami (6-8), which entered the game with the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense and victories in five of its last six games, was crazy onto itself.

Losman fired touchdown passes of 33 yards to Robert Royal, 27 yards to Josh Reed and 21 yards to Lee Evans for all the game's scoring. Losman was 13 of 19 for 200 yards and no interceptions. Two of his touchdowns were into the teeth of a stiff wind and rain.

Meanwhile, Buffalo's defense roughed up Joey Harrington into one of the worst passing performances on record.

Harrington was five of 17 for 20 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 0.00 rating. He was benched in the fourth quarter for Cleo Lemon, who had 98 yards passing and drove Miami to the Bills' 1-yard line in the closing seconds in a desperate attempt to snap Buffalo's shutout bid. But the Bills posted their third stop on fourth down when defensive end Ryan Denney swatted away a pass intended for Chris Chambers.

Chambers was held without a catch for the first time in 60 games with cornerback Nate Clements coming up with his ninth career interception against Miami.

"It was big, not just for the defense, but our whole team," Clements said of shutting out Miami, Buffalo's first shutout since a 31-0 win over New England in the 2003 season opener. "Having that big zero up there on the scoreboard is definitely good for us a team."

PLAYER NOTES
--QB J.P. Losman, who threw two TD passes against Miami, has three multi-TD games in a row for the first time in his career.
--RB Willis McGahee suffered a head/neck injury when slammed hard to the ground on his second carry of the game by Miami's Zach Thomas. After a brief spell on the bench, however, he was able to return and finished with 79 important yards on 28 carries.
--TE Robert Royal has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games. He drifted wide open to gobble in a career-long 33-yard scoring pass on Sunday from J.P. Losman.
--CB Nate Clements' interception in the third quarter that led to a TD was the ninth of his career against Miami. It was also the 23rd of his career, tying him for seventh place in Bills' history.
--LT Jason Peters, who was questionable all week with a bone bruise on his knee, was able to start and finish the game. His return was critical in helping contain DE Jason Taylor, who still managed a sack, forced fumble, and one pass defense.
--LB Keith Ellison recorded his first NFL interception, picking off a Joey Harrington pass.


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

Looking Back At Week Fifteen: Loss 0-21 vs Buffalo

Judging by Joey Harrington's performance in last Sunday's 21-0 loss to Buffalo, the New York Jets should be worried entering Monday night's game against the host Dolphins.

Yes, Harrington is coming off arguably the worst game of his five-year NFL career by completing just five of 17 passes for 20 yards with two interceptions against the Bills. But Harrington also has shown an impressive penchant for bouncing back after dreadful outings.

After a three-touchdown performance in a Thanksgiving Day victory over Detroit, Harrington had two interceptions converted into Jacksonville touchdowns in a 24-10 loss to the Jaguars. Harrington, though, then rebounded with an interception-free performance in a 21-0 shutout of New England before playing so poorly against Buffalo that he was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of backup Cleo Lemon.

"We were all just a little bit out of sync," Harrington said. "Coupled with the fact I didn't play well, that's going to do it right there."

Dolphins coach Nick Saban said after the game that there was no "quarterback controversy" and Harrington would start against the Jets.

"He told me he wanted to give Cleo a chance," Harrington said. "I wasn't playing well. Let's not pretend like it was a huge shock. We were down by 21 ... I understood where he was coming from."

Harrington's uneven play is reflective of a Dolphins team that was officially eliminated from playoff contention after losing to the Bills. Projected as a Super Bowl contender entering the preseason, the Dolphins (6-8) are now in the AFC East basement and Saban could be en route to his first losing season as a head coach on the college or NFL level.

"We've been doing this all year," Dolphins defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday said. "We're too inconsistent, too up and down."

The Jets (8-6) were one of the six teams to defeat Miami in the season's first seven games before the Dolphins rebounded with victories in five of their next seven contests. Harrington said he is proud of the fact the Dolphins weathered the tough times but that served as little consolation after such a lopsided defeat.

Said Harrington: "Will we be able to sit down in February after we're removed from it a little bit and say, 'You know what? We made a pretty good run at the end of the season.' Yeah. But you're also going to kick yourself for not playing this way all year long."

Harrington also said he doesn't expect a drop-off in Miami's play for the final two games even with the Dolphins set to miss the playoffs for a franchise-record fifth consecutive season.

"I don't need that dangling carrot of the playoffs right now to play with pride, to go out there and not lay down," Harrington said. "That's not what this team does. You saw that when we were 1-6. I guarantee you nobody in the locker room was thinking about the playoffs when we were 1-6. People were thinking about winning one game.

"This team plays because we have pride in what we do and we're led by a good group of guys, people who are committed to this team. I think you'll see that reflected in our play next week."

PLAYER NOTES
--DT Dan Wilkinson was declared inactive for the third time in seven games Sunday at Buffalo. Wilkinson injured his knee last week during practice and was limited in Friday's session.
--LG Jeno James missed his fifth consecutive start Sunday at Buffalo since having knee surgery in November. James, though, is participating in practice and could be ready to return next Monday against the New York Jets.
--LT Anthony Alabi received his first regular-season action at left tackle during Sunday's 21-0 loss at Buffalo when Damion McIntosh suffered an arm injury. Alabi was a 2005 fifth-round draft choice who was inactive his entire rookie season.
--LT Damion McIntosh injured his arm during the third quarter of Sunday's 21-0 loss to Buffalo and didn't return. Dolphins coach Nick Saban said x-rays on McIntosh's arm were negative but it's unknown whether he will be able to play next Monday against the New York Jets.
--WR Marty booker suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter of Sunday's 21-0 loss at Buffalo and didn't return. Booker didn't have a catch against the Bills.


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

Looking Back At Week Thirteen: Win 40-7 vs Texans

The Patriots got what they needed last Sunday afternoon with a convincing win over the visiting Texans at Gillette Stadium. True, it was just the 4-10 Houston squad under first-year coach Gary Kubiak and true it was the sort of game that playoff caliber teams are supposed to win. But it was also something Patriots players needed in terms of confidence to build on heading into a season-ending two game road trip.

While New England has generally been a team that's dominated in the later part of the season under Bill Belichick, that's not been the case in 2006. After going 2-2 in the November, including back-to-back losses to the Colts and Jets to start the month that marked the team's first losing streak in nearly four seasons, December didn't start off much better. The Patriots struggled to eek out a 28-21 victory over the Lions, one of the poorer sisters of the NFC North. A week later the team was in Miami getting dominated and shut out by the Dolphins 21-0.

Hosting Houston was the answer to the playmaking woes. A week after throwing for just 78 yards against Miami, Tom Brady completed an efficient 16-of-23 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the bounce-back win. Brady benefited from short fields all afternoon as the Patriots rolled to the 40-7 rout over Houston. And the New England defense held David Carr and the Texans in check most of the day, while forcing and taking advantage of four turnovers.

But what does the performance against the struggling Texans mean for the long run in New England? It means the team, one that spent last week defending its own 9-4 record and overall body of work, heads into the final two games of the season with a bit more confidence and breathing room building toward January. Long touchdown runs by Fred Taylor or Maurice Jones-Drew, or watching Vince Young carry Tennessee to victory to close out the year wouldn't squash any positive momentum New England picked up against the Texans. A convincing win over Houston is far better than the stinker the team laid the previous week in Dolphin Stadium or struggling to beat the Lions at home.

The days of Brady and Co. dominating all the way down the regular season stretch might be in the rear view mirror. But so are comparisons to the dynasty Patriots from 2003 and 2004. Right now the Patriots are a soon-to-be division winner in the mix for postseason play. Belichick and Brady matchup as well as any coaching-QB duo in the game. That's all that matters at this point in New England. The Patriots were in the same spot a year ago before blowing up in Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs. Could that happen again? Sure. Will it? Only time will tell. But at least the Patriots now have some positive momentum for the final two weeks, a confidence that's been lacking for most of the season.

"We sort of have something now to build on," linebacker and defensive captain Tedy Bruschi said. "What can you take away from a shut out loss in Miami? Not much. So now you have a game where all three units of your team you think performed well and so you go from there and you don't want to go backwards anymore."

PLAYER NOTES
--S Guss Scott was signed from the practice squad for the meeting with the Texans. Scott was a former New England draft pick who was cut this summer and actually spent time in Houston.
--RB Laurence Maroney missed his second straight game with torn rib cartilage. The rookie runner has been listed as questionable on the team's injury report with a back issue, but the rib injury could continue to keep him out of action in the coming weeks.
--TE Benjamin Watson missed his first game of the season with a left knee injury suffered in the previous week's loss in Miami.
--NT Vince Wilfork also missed his first game of the season, sitting out with a right ankle injury suffered in the loss to the Dolphins.
--S Rodney Harrison missed his fifth straight game as he continues to recover from a broken right shoulder blade. The veteran had been upgraded from out to doubtful on the team's injury report last week and returned to the practice field for the first time in a month and a half, but continues to be a ways away from returning to the game field with two weeks to play in the regular season.
--RB Kevin Faulk scored a pair of first-quarter touchdowns in the rout over the Texans - an 11-yard rushing score and a 43-yard screen pass for a touchdown. The pair of scores tied a single game career high for the versatile playmaker who now has 23 carries for 115 yards and one score on the season to go along with 41 receptions for 344 yards and two scores.
--CB Asante Samuel recorded his NFL-best eighth interception in the rout over Houston, picking off David Carr in the fourth quarter.


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

Looking Back At Week Fifteen: Win 26 - 13 vs Vikings

When Minnesota cashed in a Chad Pennington fumble with a quick 34-yard drive for a seven-point lead only 2:07 into the game, it appeared as if Pennington and the Jets were going to play another error-filled game, just as they did in the loss to Buffalo last week.

But Pennington smartly led the Jets on a 67-yard score-tying drive, and the Jets (8-6) never trailed again in their 26-13 victory over Minnesota (6-8) at the Metrodome. The win kept alive the playoff hopes of the Jets, although they still will likely need to win their remaining games, at Miami on Christmas and against Oakland in the regular-season finale on New Year's Eve, and also hope for some help from other teams.

Miami is coming off a 21-0 loss to Buffalo in which an ineffective Joey Harrington was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Cleo Lemon.

"I think this is a fun time of year to play football," coach Eric Mangini said with a grin. "Winning each game in December is important. ... We're excited about next week. I think that's going to be great as well."

Especially if Pennington keeps playing the way he did against the Vikes. He was 29-for-39 for a career-high 339 yards with one touchdown and one interception, despite not having the benefit of much of a running game. Although the Jets managed to eke out 68 yards on the ground, above Minnesota's per-game yield of 54.1, the Jets only had 2.3 yards per carry.

Pennington "made a lot of good decisions," Mangini said, "as he has throughout the course of the season."

Many of those decisions involved getting the ball to Laveranues Coles, who had 12 receptions for 144 yards and one touchdown. The 12 catches tied his career high, and none was more important than his 21-yard score on a third-and-8 play with 6:12 left in the second quarter, giving the Jets a 17-7 lead.

Cornerback Fred Smoot had decent coverage on Coles, but the crafty seventh-year veteran gave Smoot a very professional shove, which was undetected by the nearest official. Mike Nugent made four of four field goals to help the Jets open a 26-7 third-quarter advantage.

One week after being outsmarted numerous times by Buffalo coach Dick Jauron and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, Jets' offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer bounced back with an excellent game plan. He and Pennington exploited the Vikings with crossing routes underneath, and got Coles very involved after he didn't have a catch in the second half against the Bills.

"I give Brian a lot of credit for putting trust in me as a quarterback," Pennington said, "especially after last week."

"(Schottenheimer) went out of his way this week to find ways to put the ball in my hands," said Coles, who also noted that he saw a lot more single coverage than he has most of this season. Coles had five catches for 106 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown, in the Jets' victory over Miami earlier this season.

Minnesota only got as close as the final score, 26-13, when backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Mewelde Moore with 6:15 to go. Jackson replaced an ineffective Brad Johnson on the final play of the third quarter.

PLAYER NOTES
--RB Kevan Barlow was inactive for the third straight game, even though he has spent time in practice the last two weeks working on special teams.
--QB Patrick Ramsey was the second quarterback again, after being bumped to third-string the week before in favor of Kellen Clemens. The rookie Clemens again was listed as the third quarterback, for the 13th time in 14 games.
--WR Laveranues Coles had 12 catches for 144 yards and touchdown, but left the game in the fourth quarter after being sandwiched between two Vikings. He said he was hit in the back but also said he was "fine."
--WR-RB Brad Smith had only one touch, but his 19-yard first-quarter reception set up the Jets' first touchdown.
--CB Hank Poteat made his fourth straight start at the right corner spot, and seems entrenched in the role, although not much ever is certain under coach Eric Mangini.
--FB Stacy Tutt was moved from the practice squad to the active roster, and made his NFL debut against Minnesota. The rookie, a quarterback in college at Richmond, threw an excellent block for Cedric Houston on the latter's 6-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Reserve LB Ryan Riddle was waived to make room for Tutt.

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


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