AFC East: Week Sixteen Review

The Buffalo Bills lost a heartbreaker to the Tennessee Titans only to see their postseason hopes end an untimely death. The Jets managed to shut down the Dolphins offense to take a step closer to the playoffs while Miami lost any hope of a .500 season. The Patriots managed to use another week of solid play to clinch the AFC East.

Division Report as of 12/26/06

Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

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

Looking Back At Week Fifteen: Loss 29-30 vs Titans

Running back Willis McGahee gained 95 yards and scored a touchdown on 22 carries against Tennessee on Sunday. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

Still, the Bills coaching staff did not call his number nearly enough in Sunday's 30-29 loss to the Tennessee Titans that eliminated Buffalo from the playoff chase.

On two critical short third-down plays in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild elected to pass into the wind instead of hand McGahee the ball. Both pass attempts by J.P. Losman fell incomplete.

McGahee had just three carries in the fourth quarter when Buffalo had just 26 yards offense. In comparison, his former Bills rival, Travis Henry, carried the ball 10 times for 66 yards as the Titans scored 10 unanswered points to pull out the win.

"I'm just on the field, and if they call my number, I'm going to step up," said McGahee, electing not to stir the pot when the topic of Buffalo's play calling came up.

"I was just out there playing my game. I wasn't really trying to out-do Travis. We are on two different teams. Basically I just have to worry about trying to help my teammates out."

McGahee and the Bills (7-8) will wrap up their season at Baltimore on Sunday with a chance to get to .500 under first-year coach Dick Jauron. That would be a marked improvement over last season's 5-11 finish.

McGahee needs just 33 yards rushing to hit the 1,000-yard mark for a third consecutive season. He's at 967 yards on 248 carries. He missed two games with broken ribs.

Notes:

--QB J.P.Losman, who has 18 TD passes and 12 interceptions, needs just two scoring tosses against Baltimore to become the 15th player in Bills history with at least 20 TDs in a season. The last to achieve the feat was Drew Bledsoe who had 20 in 2004.
--RB Willis McGahee's 1-yard TD dive against Tennessee gave him six TDs on the year, one more than he scored a year ago. It was the 24th TD of his career, lifting him past Jim Braxton for eighth on the Bills career list. He can tie Jack Kemp with one more.
--WR Lee Evans' 75 catches is the 10th-best season in Bills history. Eric Moulds holds the record with 100 catches in 2002.
--WR Josh Reed's 52-yard catch to set up a field goal in Sunday's loss to Tennessee was a career-long. His previous long was 51 yards set against New England last season. He also had a 15-yard run from scrimmage, second longest of his career.
--WR Peerless Price caught seven passes in Sunday's loss to Tennessee, his most since a seven-catch game against Seattle while playing for Atlanta on Jan. 2, 2005.
--TE Robert Royal has recorded 13 first downs on his career-best 22 catches this season. He has caught a pass in six consecutive games.
--DE Aaron Schobel, who has a career-best 14 sacks and sacks in six consecutive games, raised his career mark to 60.5 sacks. If he gets two more in Sunday's season finale at Baltimore, he will pass Phil Hansen (61.5) for second place on Buffalo's career chart, behind Bruce Smith (171).
--PK Rian Lindell, whose five field goals and two extra points gave him a career-high 17 points against Tennessee, has 101 points for the year. It's the fourth 100-point season of his career and third with the Bills.
--P Brian Moorman has a shot at becoming the first punter in NFL history to finish an entire season with a 40.0 net average. With one game to go, he's at 39.52. The record is 39.9 by the Giants Mike Horan in 1993.


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

Looking Back At Week Sixteen: Loss 10-13 vs NY Jets

So much for Sammy Morris.

Although Morris filled in admirably for injured running back Ronnie Brown, the 2005 overall No. 2 pick showed why he was taken so high as he gashed the Jets' 24th-ranked run defense for 110 yards on 18 carries in his first game back since breaking his left hand during a Thanksgiving Day victory over the Lions.

Brown, running furiously and breaking tacklers along the way, gained more than 100 yards for the third time this season and second against the Jets. He has five 100-yard games in his first two seasons, the second most by a Dolphins second-year back behind Karim Abdul-Jabbar's six in 1996-97. "Sitting out three weeks was tough, not feeling of contributing to help my team out, especially on a Monday night game. It couldn't have come at a better time on Christmas Day," Brown said.

With the Indianapolis Colts' league-worst rushing defense on the horizon for Sunday, Brown has a chance for his first 1,000-yard season, despite missing 3 1/2 games. Brown needs 107 yards against a defense that has allowed a league-high 174.5 rushing yards per game and 20 rushing touchdowns.

"I think Ronnie Brown's presence today was a real asset to us in the running game," coach Nick Saban said after the game.

Still, Saban decided to kick the game-tying field goal with 2:09 to play instead of giving Brown the ball on a fourth-and-1 from the Jets' 7. Brown has converted 6 of 8 third-and-1 situations this season.

"I'm kind of bias in those situations, fourth-and-1, third-and-2, stuff like that," Brown said. "You can't really ask me. That's an unfair question."

On the Jets' first play on the next series, rookie tailback Leon Washington took Chad Pennington's little flip and zig-zagged past Dolphins defenders for a 64-yard gain to set up Mike Nugent's game-winning 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.

"I had confidence in our defense we could get them stopped," said Saban, explaining his strategy. "You need to take the points and take the tie, and that was a decision that wasn't really difficult to make at the time."

Notes:

-- DE Jason Taylor notched his 13.5 sack of the season and 106th of his career to tie former Dolphins DE Trace Armstrong for 17th place on the all-time sack list. "Every week in this league is an opportunity and responsibility to prove yourself, no matter who you are or what you have done. Obviously, we didn't prove it tonight," Taylor said.
-- TE Randy McMichael had five catches for 46 yards, including his second touchdown of the season, all coming in the second half with Cleo Lemon at quarterback. "He's been on the shelf for too long. I'm very happy for him because all the guys get to see what he does," McMichael said of Lemon.
-- CB Andre' Goodman sustained a left shoulder injury while tackling kicker Mike Nugent on the botched snap exchange. Goodman's shoulder was in a sling after the game and he will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. Travis Daniels will probably start for him Sunday against the Colts.
-- CB Eddie Jackson tore up his left knee on the wet turf while running by himself on punt coverage. Jackson will be evaluated Tuesday, but it appears to be a season-ending knee injury. Michael Lehan filled his void on special teams and dime coverage.
-- QB Cleo Lemon, who threw his first touchdown pass of his career, a 7-yarder to TE Randy McMichael, sparked the Dolphins to 10 fourth-quarter points which snapped a seven-quarter scoreless streak. -- WR Marcus Vick made his NFL debut, but he dropped the only pass thrown in his direction.
-- WR Marty Booker missed his second game of the season with a sprained ankle. It's highly unlikely he'll return for the season finale against the Colts. Wes Welker and Derek Hagan will fill in. -- SS Jason Allen was demoted again, this time Travares Tillman taking his spot in dime coverage. Tillman was bumped from the starting lineup by Yeremiah Bell in Game 8 against the Bears.


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

Looking Back At Week Sixteen: Win 24-217 vs Jaguars

A lot of good things have been coming together for the Patriots over the last few weeks.

The team has played its best back-to-back games of the season, including Sunday's 24-21 win in Jacksonville to clinch its fourth-straight AFC East title. Key contributors Rodney Harrison and rookie running back Laurence Maroney have returned from injury to get some late-season reps before heading into the postseason. And the Patriots have played their cleanest, most consistent games of the year when championship level teams are supposed to be coming together for a run at Super Bowl glory.

But lost in all the positives is yet another example of an unheralded, unknown player stepping in to make key plays for the Patriots, a story that's been spun endless times throughout the teams success in recent year. New player, new position - same New England story.

Second year Patriots defensive lineman Mike Wright isn't necessarily your prototypical 3-4, two-gap nose tackle. At a lean, muscular 6-4, 295 pounds the former undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati won't be confused for Ted Washington, or even Vince Wilfork, any time soon.

But what Wright might lack in overall girth, he makes up for in strength, speed and technique as he's helped fill in in the middle of the New England front in recent weeks with Wilfork sidelined nursing an ankle injury. Wright got his first career start on Dec. 17 in New England's blowout win over the Texans at Gillette. He finished the game with six tackles, including his first career sack. He followed that up last weekend with a start in New England's road win over the physical, ground-based Jaguars, finishing second on the team in victory with four tackles and a quarterback hit.

It's not a glamorous or flashy story, as things rarely are when you're talking about the nose tackle spot in a 3-4 front, but Wright has brought solid play to the field in recent weeks and allowed the Patriots to get on a successful run toward the playoffs without the centerpiece of their defensive front.

"At the beginning of the year I thought that my role would be more of an end backup, but I was ready for anything to happen like I was last year," said Wright, who earned a surprising roster spot coming out of training camp 2005. "But it's really no different to me than end. So it's kind of just a great opportunity just to get in there and show what I can do and help the team out. Any way I can get out there is what I'm going to do."

Over his first two seasons that's included plenty of special teams work, highlighted by kickoff coverage duties that are rather rare for a 300-pound defensive lineman, as well as ever-increasing action in reserve and sub roles at various spots along the defensive line. But with Wilfork's injury status unknown in recent weeks, Wright's been more focused on his nose tackle duties and preparation. He believes that improves his chances for success at the spot on Sundays.

"That's going to help out as opposed to just getting thrown out there when you are practicing at end maybe all week long with little to no reps at nose," Wright said. "It's definitely easier because now with Vince being unsure where he's at I'm more focused on nose. That's only going to help me with my preparation for the game."

While Wright admits his play over the two starts hasn't been perfect, the fact that no one in New England is lamenting Wilfork's absence says much about the nearly seamless swap of the two players.

"I did some good things and I did some things I normally don't do. I got out of my technique a couple times and you just can't do that," Wright said. "That's what I'm trying to improve on is to just stick to my game and stick to my keys and not get flustered in there. If I stick to that and focus on my hand placement and my leverage and being physical, I think I'll be fine."

And despite the fact that Wright's build, size and athleticism might seem to make him a prime candidate for a more penetrating defensive style, he says he actually prefers the read-based front in New England. Even if it does take time to learn and go against some of a player's natural instincts. Regardless of what he's bringing to the field, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is comfortable with Wright's play and effort. While there is the hope that Wilfork will return in the coming weeks for the team's postseason run, Wright's play has lessened the pressure for him to do so.

So while Wright will never be physically confused with Wilfork, who's developed into arguably one of the best nose tackles in the game this season, he's more than willing and seemingly capable of temporarily filing his shoes at one of the most important spots along the New England defensive front. Prototypical build for a nose or not, Wright's going to give everything he has to whatever role he's placed in on any given week.

"He plays hard and he's had a good, productive year," Belichick concluded. "He's really made a big jump from last season, starting in preseason and training camp, and then the opportunities he's had to play this year. He's been asked to do a lot of different things. He gets better out there every day. He's the kind of kid you love to coach."

Notes:

--QB Tom Brady's 22-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end David Thomas in the win over Jacksonville marked the quarterback's 11th different scoring target this season. Brady tied an NFL record by throwing touchdown passes to 12 different receivers last season.
--RB Laurence Maroney returned to action with a bang after missing two weeks with torn rib cartilage. The rookie led New England with 48 yards rushing on just seven carries, including a 27-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run that ended up being the difference in the road win. The scoring run was the longest Patriots rushing score of the year and longest since a Kevin Faulk 43-yard score in November 2002.
--TE David Thomas had a breakout day in his most extensive action as a pro against the Jags. The rookie had a team-high five catches for 83 yards, including a beautiful diving 22-yard score in the third quarter. Thomas also had 36-yard catch-and-run play earlier on the same scoring drive. The output, coming in place of an injured Benjamin Watson, early doubled Thomas' production on the season to 11 catches for 159 yards and one score.
--WR Reche Caldwell extended with team-lead receptions with four catches for just 15 yards in the win at Jacksonville. The first-year Patriot now has 57 receptions for 626 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
--WR Kelvin Kight registered his first career catch, a 9-yard grab, in the win over Jacksonville. The former rookie free agent out of Florida also recorded his first career NFL start and was one of 11 different Patriots to catch a pass in the victory.
--DL Jarvis Green closed to the door on the Jags with a strip-sack of David Garrard with Jacksonville looking for a scoring drive late in the three-point loss. Teammate Rodney Harrison recovered the fumble to close the door on the home team. Green now ranks second on the Patriots with a career-high 6.5 sacks, trailing only Rosevelt Colvin's 7.5 for the season.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain had a team-high five tackles in the win at Alltel Stadium. Banta-Cain, who also helped pressure Garrard on Green's game-clinching strip-sack, now has 37 tackles and 5.5 sacks for the year.
--DL Mike Wright got his second career start at Jacksonville, filling once again for injured nose tackle Vince Wilfork. The second year former undrafted free agent finished second on the team with four tackles against the Jags and now has 34 tackles, a sack, a forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for the season.
--PK Stephen Gostkowski missed his first kick in nearly two months, coming up wide left on a 49-yarder against Jacksonville. Earlier in the game the rookie hit from 48 yards. Gostkowski has now hit on 18-of-23 attempts this season.
--P Todd Sauerbrun struggled in his New England debut as the Patriots third punter of the season. The veteran addition had a 35.0-yard net and gross average against Jacksonville. The Patriots trio of punters -- Sauerbrun, Ken Walter (IR) and Josh Miller (IR) -- has now combined for a 40.8-yard average and 35.2-yard net on the season.
--WR Bam Childress was activated from the practice squad for the game in Jacksonville, becoming the sixth receiver on the active roster. Childress has spent the past two seasons on either New England's practice squad or active roster. He caught two passes for seven yards in the win at Alltel.


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

Looking Back At Week Sixteen: Win 13-10 vs Dolphins

Leon Washington made a major mistake. Fortunately for the Jets, it happened after Monday night's game against Miami.

Several times, Washington said the Dolphins were in a blitz when Washington beat them for a 64-yard reception on a screen pass, setting up Mike Nugent's game-winning 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the Jets' 13-10 victory.

Actually, a look at the replay revealed that the Dolphins didn't bring any extra pressure on the play, rushing only three down linemen. Theoretically, they shouldn't have been vulnerable to a screen on first-and-10 from the Jets' 20. But the quick burst from the 5-foot-7 Washington left several defenders in the dust, or waterlogged sod, in this case.

The first man he got past was defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina, with a nifty move that left Zgonina flailing at air. He then blazed past strong safety Yeremiah Bell and the chase was on. He weaved around free safety Renaldo Hill once, turning him around. Hill finally caught up with Washington and made an ankle tackle, dropping him at the 16.

"I run on instincts," Washington said. "The offensive line did a nice job and I did the rest from there."

"They didn't blitz. They were in coverage," Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said when asked if the Dolphins had blitzed. "By the time I turned around, I couldn't find (Washington). When I can't see him, that means he's way downfield."

The play was not a checkdown, but a designed call. It was a surprising one, too, because while the screen was a major part of the Jets' offense several years ago when current assistant coach Richie Anderson was in the backfield, it hadn't been used much by first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

"We hadn't completed a good screen play all year," said Washington. "It was a great call by coach Schottenheimer."

Washington "is always a step faster than most people when he's in space," Pennington said. "He's unbelievable when he's in space."

Washington had six rushes for 26 yards and four receptions for 108 yards. He had only three carries and no receptions the week before against Minnesota, when he played mostly on special teams. Coach Eric Mangini benched him for missing a blitz pickup on the Jets' second play from scrimmage, leading to a strip sack of Chad Pennington and a quick 7-0 lead for Minnesota.

But Washington was back in the mix in a big way against the Dolphins because Cedric Houston (strained calf) was inactive. And his play is a big reason why the Jets now control their destiny, needing only a win over downtrodden Oakland to clinch a playoff berth. Washington said, "We're going to treat this Oakland game like it's a playoff game."

Notes:

--P Ben Graham botched a snap for the second consecutive game. With K Mike Nugent, who has been nearly automatic since his opening-day debacle at Tennessee, lined up for a 34-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, Graham fumbled a perfect snap from James Dearth. Graham did get down the other three placements for Nugent without a hitch. Nugent has connected on his last 15 field-goal attempts and is 20-for-21 since opening day. But he didn't get a chance to attempt a 37-yarder against Minnesota last week. Dearth's snap was a bit high, and while Graham pulled the ball down the ball slipped out of his grasp as he tried to place it on the turf.
--S Rashad Washington got his first half-sack of the season when he and LB Eric Barton combined to drop Joey Harrington in the first quarter. Barton has 3.5 sacks this season.
--LB-DE Bryan Thomas got one sack, and now has a team-leading 8.5 in 2006. He had 6.5 sacks in his first four seasons with the Jets.
--WR Laveranues Coles started despite a back injury suffered against Minnesota the week before, but left the game in the second because of a cut on his chin after being leveled by LB Zach Thomas. Coles did return to the game.
--RB Derrick Blaylock was inactive for the ninth consecutive game against Miami.
--K Mike Nugent was 2-for-2 on field goals, connecting from 22 and 30 yards. He has converted his last 15 three-pointers and 20 of his last 21.
--KR-CB Justin Miller had only one kickoff return for 24 yards. He got more action as a cornerback than he has recently, after starter Andre Dyson left in the third quarter with a right leg injury.

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


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