Around the AFC EAST
Insiders Report for the Bills, Jets and Dolphins
Buffalo's surge to a possible playoff berth has rekindled memories of Buffalo's Super Bowl seasons, and it's not just the victories, nine and counting. It's the club's use of the no-huddle as part of its basic operating package.
In the early 1990s, the Bills rode to four AFC titles and quarterback Jim Kelly and coach Marv Levy wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of that fast-pace scheme that ran many an opponent into the ground.
At various times this season, coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Tom Clements have instructed quarterback Drew Bledsoe to go no-huddle and call his own plays when the offense was stagnating and needed a lift.
But on Sunday in San Francisco, the Bills used no-huddle for most of the second and third quarters and beat the overmatched 49ers 41-7 for their sixth consecutive victory. It is Buffalo's longest winning streak since winning eight in a row in 1990.
Against the 49ers, a team missing five starters on defense and incapable of guarding Bills wide receivers Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, Buffalo rang up 441 yards in offense, most in a regulation time road game since Dec. 23, 2000 when it gained 579 at Seattle.
"It's been kind of a spark for us in a number of games," said Bledsoe of the no-huddle offense.
"Coming into this game, I felt we'd use it more extensively. We felt we had good match-ups with our receivers and they would try and blitz us quite a bit. It limited that. It's something I'm comfortable with and I like doing. It's a weapon we can use and go forward with."
A no-huddle renaissance? It could happen.
On the second series against San Francisco, Buffalo switched to no-huddle mode after a 22-yard Shaud Williams run on third down put the ball at midfield. Bledsoe proceeded to hit passes of 11 yards to Moulds, 14 yards to Willis McGahee, 16 to Moulds again and nine yards to Josh Reed. McGahee then capped the nine-play, 80-yard drive with a four-yard run around end for a 7-0 Bills lead.
On his next possession, Bledsoe went strictly no-huddle and moved the Bills 47 yards in 10 plays to a Rian Lindell field goal for a 10-0 lead. Bledsoe connected on five consecutive passes at one point, hitting Moulds for gains of 11, 12 and five yards and Evans for seven yards and five yards.
On his next turn with the ball, Bledsoe connected with tight end Rod Trafford on a quick pass to convert a third-and-three, then two plays later found Evans alone on a quick out pattern for a six-yard TD and a 17-0 lead and the rout was on.
For the half, Bledsoe was a red-hot 16 of 25 for 138 yards. He tacked on 10 points in the third quarter then took a seat. Backup Shane Matthews then came in and went 2 of 4 for 44 yards, including a pretty 33-yard TD strike to Evans.
"We tried to take advantage of some of the situations they were in, and use our guys, which I thought we did a nice job with the no-huddle again," Mularkey said. "Our quarterbacks did an excellent job of putting them in right situations, basically them calling the plays. Every once in a while, we'll give them a thought but for the most part, they handle it extremely well. It was very crisp."
Mularkey, who thrives on creative thinking, said he'll use the no-huddle attack in the future full time if it's called for, especially after what his team showed him in San Francisco.
"The players are comfortable with it, and they're in shape for it," he said. "You have to be in very good condition to use it to the extent we did and not miss a beat, not have to huddle or stop the flow because of conditioning, and it's a credit to them."
The rookie Evans is certainly in shape and with his quickness and speed, seemed like a young Andre Reed turning 49ers defensive backs inside and out. Evans finished with eight catches for 92 yards and his two scores gave him a team rookie record nine on the year.
What does he like about no-huddle mode?
"Well, it helps you to pay attention to the defense and keep them off guard," he said. "They can't sit on certain things. They have to counter you and speed it up and hopefully they make a mistake and you can pop one.
"We have a pretty extensive (no-huddle) package, a lot of different formations and plays and Drew gets up there and runs the show. It's his show to run. I think we handled it pretty well."
- --Anyway you slice it, the Bills are on fire. During their six-game win
streak, they've outscored their opponents 228-89, which works out to an average
score of 38-15, for an average victory margin of 23 points. Yes, the competition
has been weak (only one club with a winning record), but the convincing way
Buffalo has beaten its opponents speaks volumes and doesn't shock coach Mike
Mularkey. "To the extent that we've (blown teams out maybe)," he
said. "All three phases have functioned at one time or another very well
and we've been effective. When all three do it together (offense, defense
and special teams), then you have games that may end up like this. You have
the potency of (lopsided) outcomes if you play and execute the plan."
- --Buffalo's 228 points during its six-game streak is a club record and never
has the team scored 30 or more this many games in a row. The old mark was
four games, which occurred twice (1975 and 1992). The Bills' season-high 441
yards against San Francisco was the most in a road game since gaining 468
in an overtime victory at Minnesota in 2002.
- --The Bills once lost 12 out of 14 road games under QB Drew Bledsoe. They've
now won four in a row on the road, longest such streak since 1966.
- --Rookie RB Shaud Williams continues to emerge as a solid relief worker
when Willis McGahee needs a rest. He gained 93 yards on 17 carries against
the 49ers, including runs of 22 yards to convert a key third down and 27 yards
for a touchdown. "Anytime a free agent comes in and contributes it's
a great deal," said Williams, who has 65 carries for 165 yards and two
TDs the past three games. "I'm just exited to be part of this turnaround
we've got going right now. I'm taking it all in and using it as a great learning
- --WR Lee Evans has a touchdown catch in five consecutive games, a rookie
record for the Bills. His nine TDs have smashed the previous rookie mark of
seven set by Elbert Dubenion way back in 1960, the first year of the franchise.
"It means a lot to me," Evans said. "I think it's a big compliment
to me and my teammates. It's been a long season and to progress each week
and make plays, to gain confidence from my teammates and the coaches, (I'm
proud). I just want to continue to make plays and help the team win, that's
the bottom line, but the record is big."
- --The 49ers were held to 189 yards in total offense, and 73 of that came
during a meaningless 14-play drive in garbage time against Buffalo's second
teamers. "We were trying to keep the shutout for the first-team defense,
which had played so well through three quarters, so it's kind of disappointing,"
said LB Josh Stamer, who had a nice interception. "We couldn't keep the
shutout going, but it was good experience for us." With four more takeaways,
the Bills have 26 during their six-game winning streak.
- --The Bills swept the NFC West, beating the Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks and 49ers by a combined score of 154-47. When the Bills played at San Francisco in GM Tom Donahoe's first season in Buffalo in 2001, they lost 35-0.
REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- It was Drew Bledsoe's best game since a victory a month ago at Miami as he confidently ran the no-huddle attack, taking a seat late in the third quarter after building a 27-0 lead. Expertly called his own plays at the line and found favorable match-ups involving wide receivers Eric Moulds and Lee Evans, who toyed with a 49ers defense missing five starters. Bledsoe was 16 of 25 in the first half and finished 21 of 32 for 172 yards with one touchdown, no turnovers and a healthy 89.6 rating. Backup Shane Matthews also did well in his first appearance for the Bills, hitting Evans on a pretty 33-yard TD strike down the right sideline. Moulds and Evans combined for 16 catches for 173 yards and Evans had two scores. Free agent TE Rod Trafford made a nice four-yard catch to convert a key third down that set up Evans' first touchdown. Pass protection was excellent against a variety of blitzes from the desperate 49ers. Bills did get a break on a clear sack/fumble by Bledsoe that was ruled and incomplete pass. The Bills went on to score a TD for a 17-0 lead.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Bills rushed for a season-best 226 yards. Willis McGahee wasn't supposed to play because of a bruised and hyper-extended right knee, but he showed his mettle not only starting but also producing his seventh 100-yard game and two more touchdowns, giving him 11 on the season. That tied Joe Cribbs' team-record for a Bill in his first year and McGahee also topped the 1,000 mark with a pretty scamper around left end for 21 yards to open the second half. His two short TD runs to the outside made the 49ers look silly. Rookie Shaud Williams gave McGahee some valuable rest, chipping in 93 yards and a pretty 27-yard TD run. McGahee did lose a fumble to stop one drive. As for the offensive line, this unit was on a mission and paved the way for a season-best 441 total yards by the Bills. LT Jonas Jennings was especially dominant, and sprung McGahee and Williams for their biggest runs. Line's conditioning was superb, allowing coaches to run the no-huddle.
PASS DEFENSE: A-plus -- San Francisco quarterbacks Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett were no match for the NFL's No. 3-ranked defense, combining for 9 of 20 passing for 109 yards, 0 TDs, three interceptions, three sacks and a 22.7 rating. Ugly. DE Aaron Schobel had a big game against LT Kwame Harris, applying steady pressure and factoring in on two of Buffalo's four takeaways. CB Kevin Thomas had a nice sack/forced fumble that Schobel recovered. DT Sam Adams also collected his fourth sack in the last three games while CB Nate Clements hauled in his team-leading fifth interception on a nice play to open the second half against wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. SS Lawyer Milloy got his second theft of the year, picking off Pickett in triple coverage and LB Josh Stamer had Buffalo's other pick. LB Jeff Posey had a roughing the passer penalty early, but it wasn't costly.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- LBs Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Posey made plays all over the field as the 49ers were held to 189 yards in total offense. Most of that came on a 73-yard TD drive in garbage time against Buffalo's second team. San Francisco finished with just 98 yards on the ground, led by Kevan Barlow's 72 yards on 15 carries and a TD. San Francisco got nothing out of backup Maurice Hicks who had 10 yards on 10 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Clements had a very good day returning punts, with returns of 21, 28 and 12 yards setting up three short scoring drives. Rian Lindell was perfect again on two short field goals. Brian Moorman failed to convert a questionable fake punt try, throwing on the run to Pierson Prioleau who dropped what would've been a tough catch. Coverage units were solid.
COACHING: A -- Coach Mike Mularkey and his assistants keep pushing all the right buttons as the Bills stretched their record to 9-2 since a 0-4 start. Running the no-huddle against an opponent lacking the talent on defense to counter a fast-paced attack paid big dividends and turned the game into an easier-than-expected rout. Blitzing San Francisco's young QBs also worked well, as Buffalo collected four more takeaways. Bills didn't need to run a fake punt leading 20-0, but coaches can be forgiven for making the game more interesting against yet another outclassed opponent. And the Bills thought the Cleveland Browns were bad.
Cleveland should feel fortunate that Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas didn't consider himself completely healthy for last Sunday's 10-7 Miami victory.
Playing for the first time since suffering a strained hamstring three games ago, Thomas finished with a game-best 18 tackles as the Dolphins (4-11) surrendered their lowest point total of the season.
"Zach was everywhere," Dolphins interim coach Jim Bates said. "It was a special performance. If you ever get a chance you ought to watch this tape, just watch No. 54. It was just incredible some of the plays he made. He was full-metal jacket. I mean the guy was unbelievable taking on these big linemen. I mean he was knocking them around. He came out feisty. Zach stood out."
It appears Thomas took out his anger at having his outstanding season derailed by injury on the Browns.
"He's a miserable, miserable player when he's not playing," Bates said. "His mentality, his whole personality ... I mean, he's rough to live with."
Thomas, though, didn't feel he played his best football of what was a Pro Bowl-caliber season before the hamstring injury.
"I was rusty, just being a little out of shape and dead-legged," Thomas said. "It was good to get back in the mix. I feel good, but I'm not quite there yet."
- --Interim coach Jim Bates said Monday that he will not discuss his future
with the Dolphins until after the season ends. Although Nick Saban was expected
to officially sign his new five-year coaching contract on Monday, there is
speculation that Bates may be asked to return as defensive coordinator.
Bates has received strong support from Dolphins players who want him back in 2005. Bates has so much respect among his players that defensive end Jason Taylor insisted he move to the front of the pack to lead the team onto the field for pre-game introductions.
"If we didn't have character in this locker room, and this isn't saying just a handful of guys, it's talking about the whole locker room, and to have their support, that's as rewarding as anything I can have," said Bates, who has a 3-3 record since replacing Dave Wannstedt nine games into the season. "I mean, you can get all the kudos and everything from the outside, but when you get it from within, that's the most satisfying thing. When I leave this (interim coaching) position, that will be something that I'll always carry with me as long as I live because this has been a very rewarding time in my life."
- -- Eddie Moore's reputation as an oft-injured player continued Monday when
Bates said the strong-side linebacker was out for the rest of the season because
of a calf/knee injury that may require surgery. Moore, a 2003 second-round
draft pick who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve because of
a foot injury, has missed the past two games after getting hurt Dec. 12 against
"We were hoping that we could get him back to get him some more game experience," said Bates, whose team promoted Moore to the starting lineup after Junior Seau suffered a season-ending pectoral injury Nov. 1 against the New York Jets. "He had done an excellent job for us and was growing in that position. But there's no way he'll be able to play this week."
- --SLB Brendon Ayanbadejo will make his third NFL start in Sunday's season-finale
at Baltimore. Ayanbadejo will replacing LB Eddie Moore, who is heading toward
injured reserve because of a calf/knee injury that may require surgery.
- --WR Marty Booker's status for Sunday's season-finale at Baltimore is in
question because of an ankle injury suffered in a 10-7 victory over Cleveland.
Booker caught four passes for 31 yards against the Browns.
- --WR Derrius Thompson will start Sunday's season-finale at Baltimore if
Marty Booker (ankle) can't play. Thompson now has a career-high four touchdown
catches this season after scoring in last Sunday's 10-7 victory over Cleveland.
- --DE Jay Williams' status for Sunday's season-finale at Baltimore is in question because of a knee injury suffered in a 10-7 victory over Cleveland. Williams finished with two tackles against the Browns.
REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS
PASS OFFENSE: B- -- QB A.J. Feeley, who has now thrown 95 consecutive passes without an interception, and WR Derrius Thompson have shown marked improvement since Jim Bates took over as interim coach six games ago. TE Randy McMichael also finished with a career-best nine receptions for 59 yards. But the Browns did take away Miami's deep passing game, allowing a long completion of just 18 yards.
RUN OFFENSE: B- -- The Dolphins didn't bust any big runs, but Sammy Morris (17 carries for 69 yards) and Travis Minor (6-30) were relatively effective. The offensive line received a boost when C Seth McKinney was able to play despite missing all of last week's practices because of a sore knee.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Fifty-eight of Luke McCown's 161 passing yards came on a first-quarter touchdown throw to WR Dennis Northcutt after a coverage bust in the secondary. CB Patrick Surtain and FS Arturo Freeman both logged interceptions, but the latter had his fumbled away following two ill-advised laterals. DE Jason Taylor was credited with nine tackles and one sack.
RUN DEFENSE: D -- The Dolphins allowed TB Lee Suggs to carry a whopping 38 times for 143 yards, although SS Sammy Knight did force him to lose a fumble near the goal-line in the second quarter. The interior of Miami's defensive line was exploited, as DTs Jeff Zgonina and Bryan Robinson combined for just four tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- K Olindo Mare's 51-yard game-winning field goal with seven seconds remaining is even more impressive when one considers that he missed a day of practice last week with a lingering calf injury. P Matt Turk had a lower-than-normal net average (30.6 yards) on his eight attempts.
COACHING: A -- This was one of the ugliest games of the season, but Bates deserves credit for keeping his team motivated and together amid all the talk about Nick Saban becoming the team's new head coach. Bates admits his game plan was conservative, but the score showed it worked.
Tom Brady made his coach look good just six days after making him look bad. Last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick watched his team blow an 11-point lead with 3:59 to go against a two-win Dolphins team thanks, in large part, to the worst throw of Brady's career, an interception that set up Miami's game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes. Belichick defended his quarterback last week, and Sunday in New York, Brady was on top of his game.
His 21-for-32, 264-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 23-7 win over the Jets seemed effortless at times and Belichick reiterated his feelings about his quarterback after the playoff-bye clinching win.
"Tom is one of our best and most consistent players," Belichick said. "We have tremendous confidence in Tom. There isn't anyone else I would want any more than him."
For his part, Brady put the poor four-interception performance behind him by picking apart a Jets defense that came prepared to stop Corey Dillon and blitz the quarterback from all angles.
"They were bringing some blitzes we hadn't seen," Brady said. "We got everything from those guys today."
Everything wasn't enough to stop Brady, who was determined to atone for his role in the Monday night loss.
"Everyone who knows me knows how tough this past week was for me," Brady said. "All week I didn't turn on the TV. I didn't go on the Internet. I didn't look at a newspaper. I just tried to concentrate on doing what I needed to do. I didn't want to keep beating myself up.
"But after all the problems we had last week, we eliminated our mistakes (against the Jets). We were able to make some adjustments. We felt coming in that we could throw efficiently and run it as well."
With his effort, Brady continued to show his resiliency and ability to bounce back. Monday night's loss in Miami marked the third time Brady threw four interceptions in a game. He is now 3-0 in the game after such efforts while completing 71-of-104 passes for 732 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Patriots have been to four Super Bowls and three of those trips came after earning a first-round bye, which is what New England did with its 23-7 win over the Jets Sunday. Last year, New England rode the top seed in the AFC to a world title while in 2001 it knocked off the Raiders at home and won the conference championship at Pittsburgh.
In 1996, the Patriots played host to and won a Divisional Playoff game over Pittsburgh before knocking off the upset-minded Jaguars at home in the AFC Championship game. In 1985, the Patriots' first trip to the Super Bowl, they became the first and only club to win three road playoff games on the way to the championship game.
But there is no doubt how important the week off is for a banged up team that hasn't had a rest since a Week 3 regular season bye.
"Coach told us if we win we get a bye," QB Tom Brady said. "He doesn't usually say stuff like that. This week, he let us know from the beginning what we were playing for."
"Sometimes you just have to tell them what it is," coach Bill Belichick explained, "and lay the cards on the table."
"It's huge for us," safety Rodney Harrison said. "We're banged up and we get to sit back and get some rest."
- --The Patriots' injury-riddled secondary has been picked apart of late,
but virtually dominated Chad Pennington and the Jets passing attack despite
playing without Ty Law and fill-in starter Randall Gay, who was left home
with the flu. Eugene Wilson started at cornerback while linebacker Don Davis
moved in at safety in the team's base defense. Wilson moved back to safety
in sub packages with Earthwind Moreland and Troy Brown playing the nickel
and dime spots.
"It's always difficult when you don't have your starters," Harrison said. "We were missing Ty Law and Tyrone Poole - guys that mean a lot to this team. But you have to adjust. You work with you have and keep fighting."
Pennington finished with 252 passing yards, but had only 93 through three quarters while he also chucked a pair of interceptions. He now has one TD pass and seven interceptions against New England in his last three starts.
- --The Patriots boarded their charter plane in Newark, N.J. Sunday night
only to be called back off the plane due to snowy conditions in New England
that closed the airports in Providence and Boston. The team instead endured
a seven-hour bus ride back to Foxborough, arriving back at Gillette Stadium
after 4 a.m.
- --WR David Givens hasn't been overly involved in the offense since Deion Branch returned from a knee injury, but he had two big catches Sunday vs.
the Jets, one for 35 yards and the other for 29. He now has 844 receiving
yards and will need a huge game this week vs. San Francisco to have his first
1,000-yard receiving season. "I thought David did as good job,"
Belichick said. "He went up for some tough catches. He blocked well on
some of those outside runs and I thought he played a good solid football game."
- --TE Daniel Graham had five touchdowns in the first four games of the season
but was shut out of the end zone over the next nine games. But he has found
his golden touch again with a touchdown in each of the last two games. He
now has a career-high seven touchdowns, the most by a Patriots tight end since
Christian Fauria had seven in 2002. Ben Coates had eight in 1997.
- --WR Kevin Kasper replaced Bethel Johnson and joined Patrick Pass as the
Patriots' primary kickoff returners. Later in the game when Pass was banged
up with an undisclosed injury, Deion Branch joined Kasper, who returned his
only attempt 21 yards.
- --WR/CB/PR Troy Brown gave the Patriots a spark just before halftime when
he returned a punt 23 yards into Jets territory to the New York 43 with 1:13
left. The Patriots drove to the Jets 11 before kicking a field goal with :07
left. It was the longest punt return of the season for the Patriots. "That
hasn't shown up this year and it was great to see that," Belichick said.
- --DL Richard Seymour's status remains a question mark. Asked about his Pro Bowl lineman on Monday, Belichick said, "It's too close after the game. We'll take a look and see where we are when we go out to practice Wednesday." The Patriots have endured more than their share of injuries over the last few years, but during both championship seasons, they seemed to get healthier down the stretch. This year, they seem to be getting more banged up as they head toward the playoffs.
REPORT CARD VS. JETS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Tom Brady was superb in leading the Patriots to their 13th win of the season. He shook off a four-interception performance to complete 21-of-32 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. The protection held up well against a blitz-heavy scheme with Brady being sacked only once and barely pressured. He used his backs and tight ends effectively, completing 12 of his 21 passes to that group. Deion Branch had a strong game with 7 receptions for 82 yards to lead the wideouts. Brady found him wide open for a touchdown and hit Daniel Graham down the middle for a score off a nifty play action fake.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Jets did an excellent of job of slowing Corey Dillon, who rushed 29 times for 89 yards in the game with a long run of 9 just yards. Patrick Pass chipped in with 4 carries for 17 yards. The score allowed New England to keep pounding away, which helped them utilize the play action game as well. Overall, New England ran 38 times for only 114 yards for a 3 yards per carry average and was stopped on a fourth-and-one situation late in the game. Dillon had 65 of his yards in the second half while establishing a single-season franchise rushing record. The Jets focus on stopping the run seemed to hurt them in pass defense.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- It's not bad enough that Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were out, but fill-in starter Randall Gay joined them on the sideline for the Jets game. It didn't matter. Using a combination of pressure and solid coverage, the Patriots dominated Chad Pennington and the Jets passing attack. Pennington was 9-for-15 for 93 yards through three quarters before padding his numbers in the fourth quarter while facing a large deficit. Tedy Bruschi intercepted him to thwart a Jets drive on the game's opening possession and Eugene Wilson's fourth interception of the season set up a fourth quarter Patriots touchdown. Pennington was sacked three times and looked confused when the Patriots were successful in disguising their coverages. He threw into coverage several times and was fortunate that only two passes were picked off.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Jets averaged 2.6 yards per carry while running 18 times for 46 yards. They were, of course, forced to abandon the run for much of the second half, but NFL leading rusher Curtis Martin carried 13 times for 33 yards as the Patriots focused their efforts on stopping the dynamic runner. Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson led the charge with 14 combined tackles, but Vince Wilfork and Willie McGinest showed up as well.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- The Patriots played a much better game in the kicking game this week. Troy Brown returned a punt 23 yards into Jets territory with 1:13 to go in the first half and helped up set up a field goal drive. The Patriots nearly tacked on another three on the ensuing kickoff -- a squib kick that deflected off the Jets and was recovered by Tully Banta-Cain with :01 left in the half. Adam Vinatieri, who hit three field goals on the day, missed the 50-yard attempt wide to the left for only his second miss of the season. The kickoff coverage team was solid and punter Josh Miller had two of his four punts downed inside the Jets 20.
COACHING: A-plus -- The Patriots coaches did a terrific job preparing their team to play a tough division opponent on the road after a short week and a devastating loss. Belichick called the team's effort in New York its most complete game of the season and it's hard to argue that point. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis did an excellent job calling the game against an unexpected blitz heavy approach by the Jets. He worked the seldom-used screen pass back into the offense and hit the over-aggressive Jets defense for some big gains. He also called more of the short passes to get the ball out of Tom Brady's hands to frustrate the pass rush. When the Patriots had the right protections called to handle the blitz, adjustments Brady can make at the line, they took some shots downfield and hit a couple of big plays against single coverage. Defensively, the Patriots played the wind and Pennington's less than ideal arm strength to play more aggressively in certain spots on one side of the field while rolling a safety toward the side where Pennington would be aided by the wind. They also broke Pennington's rhythm with coverage disguises that made him question his pre-snap reads. When forced to go to his second or third read, Pennington was throwing into coverages or checking down to the backs. With the team reeling from an ugly loss to Miami and the week broken up by Christmas, the Patriots coaches deserve credit for bringing out the club's best in a much-needed win.
Even if they lose at St. Louis this week, the Jets can still make the playoffs with a loss by either Denver or Buffalo. But the Jets want no part of that, they want to win it themselves rather than back in.
The Jets may already have had just a nominal chance of winning a playoff game on the road. Yet those chances would be even slimmer if the Jets went in coming off two straight losses.
"Basically it's a playoff game to us, that's what it really boils down to," coach Herman Edwards said. "You can't count on other teams losing. I don't believe in that. I think you have to win to get in and that's a good way to put it. If you win, you get in. If not, you go home."
The Jets are either convinced, or they keep trying to convince themselves, that they can be one of the league's elite. Edwards has done that by rationalizing the Jets' five losses this season as being against that same elite - two losses to 13-2 New England, one to 14-1 Pittsburgh and two more to Buffalo and Baltimore, both of which are over .500.
Yet that's the type of team, or even the same teams they'll be facing in that postseason, assuming the Jets get that far.
"We believe in ourselves," safety Jon McGraw said. "The problem has been being consistent with it. This team believes that we can play with anybody in the NFL and our challenge right now is being consistent with that level of play. We don't have any doubt that we can do it; it is just a matter of being able to do it at the right time."
That time will be Sunday, the last chance the Jets may have to rescue a season that started so promisingly but has since been tarnished.
- --The Jets honored Joe Klecko by retiring his jersey at halftime against
the Patriots. Klecko played for the Jets from 1977-87 and became the first
player to be named to the Pro Bowl at three different positions (defensive
end, nose tackle and defensive tackle). His 77.5 sacks with New York are second
on the team's career list and Klecko is only the third Jet to have his number
retired, joining Hall of Famers Joe Namath and Don Maynard.
- --The Jets couldn't get their offense on track because after the Patriots
stifled their ground game early, the Jets were forced to throw, especially
after falling behind. Chad Pennington dropped back to pass 39 times and the
Jets ran the ball a season-low 18 times. Their second lowest total of the
season came in the first game against New England with 27 carries.
"We definitely could have run the ball better," said Curtis Martin, who was held under 100 yards for the fourth straight time against the Patriots. "That would have helped the passing game."
- --DE John Abraham could be rushed into action against St. Louis this week.
The Jets have made little headway into their pass rush since Abraham went
out a few weeks ago with a sprained right knee. The Jets had planned to keep
Abraham on the sideline until the playoffs but he may begin practicing this
week. He will probably start as questionable.
- --LT Jason Fabini struggled against the Patriots by allowing one of three
sacks of Chad Pennington Sunday and he was also flagged twice. It was a black
mark on what has been a quietly outstanding season for the veteran.
- --SS Reggie Tongue sustained a mild concussion when he went helmet to helmet with Patriots RB Corey Dillon. He is expected to be okay to play this week but his play has been up and down all season, struggling one week and excelling the next.
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- The Jets dropped four balls, including one by fullback Jerald Sowell. More alarming were some of Chad Pennington's passes, overthrowing one moment and short-hopping the next. The Jets admit his shoulder isn't 100 percent but the cold may hampered his shoulder as well. Playing against a banged up secondary, why didn't the Jets go to their receivers more often? Of their seven catches in the first half, five went to the backs.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Curtis Martin totals 33 yards - his worst output of the season - and the Jets averaged 2.6 yards on a season low 18 carries. New York also couldn't break a run longer than five yards as the offensive line couldn't handle the Patriots' front seven.
PASS DEFENSE: D-plus -- The Jets blitzed Tom Brady all day but sacked him only once and gave up a number of big pass plays to boot. Safety Erik Coleman had 10 tackles but a really bad day, victimized on several of those big pass plays, including a touchdown.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Jets held Corey Dillon to just 24 yards in the first half but he wore them down with 65 yards on 19 second-half carries. It wasn't a good day for tackles Jason Ferguson and Dewayne Robertson, who combined for just five tackles and were fairly invisible.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- They screwed up a squib kick at the end of the first half that nearly gave the Patriots an extra field goal. Jerricho Cotchery was solid on kickoff returns with a 19.4-yard average.
COACHING: F -- This game was supposed to be a Herman Edwards specialty. The game of the Jets' lives. Only they came out flat and lifeless and Edwards let them know about it in a screaming rage after the game. Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett tried to get the best matchups and did that early on, only the Patriots defense was just too good.
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