The AFC East may look close, with three teams at 2-2 and a 1-3 Dolphins team that could be 3-1, but Week Four proved that the division favorite Patriots are still ahead of the class.
What we learned: The millions of dollars spent on the D-line and high draft picks used in the secondary could not result in achieving the goal of the Bills' organization — beating the Patriots. Adding Mario Williams and Mark Anderson could be seen simply as the Bills upgrading their pass rush and working to keep up with the league’s passing offenses, but also to find a way to finally slow down the team ahead of them in the AFC East. Instead, the Bills allowed 580 yards of offense — 247 on the ground — and 52 points. Dave Wannstedt’s defense simply is not where it needs to be, and the D-line combined for one sack against a Patriots O-line that has had its struggles. On offense, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s inconsistent, turnover-prone play came back to haunt the Bills on a day they could have pulled a big upset.
What’s in store next: The Bills head to the West Coast to face a 49ers team fresh off a 34-0 stomping of the Jets. The Niners’ run defense will prove to be difficult for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and their D-line will be a stiff test for a Bills O-line that had its problems against the Patriots, and could be without starting OLT Cordy Glenn. It’s not an ideal situation for a Bills team that will be looking to bounce back from Sunday’s poor second-half effort. Buffalo's run defense better figure things out quickly, as the 49ers ran with plenty of success against the Jets.
What the heck? The injury bug kept the Bills from a magical season last season, and it hasn’t done Buffalo any favors this season. Their top two playmakers, Jackson and Spiller, have been hurt. Their No. 2 receiver is on injured reserve (David Nelson). ORG Kraig Urbik left Sunday’s game, as did FS Jairus Byrd, arguably one of the top safeties, and certainly one of the most underrated in the league. And Glenn, who had impressed as a rookie blind-side tackle, also got hurt and could miss time. The football gods aren’t doing Buffalo any favors.
What we learned: Who said the Dolphins don’t have good receivers? Brian Hartline and Davone Bess combined for 376 receiving yards, and Hartline, who is in a contract year, hauled in a team-record 253 receiving yards, including an 80-yard touchdown catch. Ryan Tannehill and Miami’s passing offense got into rhythm, and he was productive, but still threw two costly interceptions. As good as the offense looked at times, it couldn’t finish, just like last week. On defense, we learned no one needs to worry about Cameron Wake, who entered Sunday with zero sacks and left with 4½. As good as the Dolphins’ pressure was throughout, though, the secondary seemed gassed on the Cardinals’ game-tying drive late in regulation.
What’s in store next: The Dolphins head to Cincinnati and face an aggressive Bengals defense. Miami’s offensive line kept Calais Campbell and the Cardinals’ defense at bay for the most part, and next up is Geno Atkins and Cincy’s front. The second-year combo of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green will be the next test for Dolphins CB Sean Smith, who had two interceptions on a Sunday in which he spent most of his time covering Larry Fitzgerald, but Smith was also in coverage for Arizona's game-tying score.
What the heck? For the second week in a row, the Dolphins are left wondering about the one that got away. For a team that entered 2012 as a bit of a laughing stock, having their lack of personnel broadcast to fans everywhere on “Hard Knocks,” the Dolphins really should be 3-1 right now, which would put them atop the AFC East. The passing game was on-point, and play-calling wasn’t as questionable as it was late in the loss to the Jets, but going for a pass on 2nd-and-8 with three minutes to go is the curious play of the week. Hindsight is 20-20, and the play call is worth mentioning because Tannehill fumbled and the Cards recovered near midfield, which gave them a short field to drive for the game-tying score. That seemed like a no-brainer situation to try to run the clock out.
What we learned: This offense can still be as potent as ever, and maybe we needed a reminder following back-to-back losses, such a rare occurrence for a Belichick-Brady team. Tom Brady marched the Patriots 90 yards in 3:07 for their first score, and things got difficult until the third quarter when the rushing offense dominated. We saw in Week One the potential of a new run game with Josh McDaniels in charge, and on Sunday, it returned, and a rookie broke out — Brandon Bolden, who has the build of a big back but burst between the tackles for big runs. On defense, the Patriots’ secondary will still have its doubters, though CB Devin McCourty made great plays on the ball for two interceptions.
What’s in store next: A rematch of last year’s divisional round in the playoffs, and a renewal of the great rivalry between Brady and Peyton Manning, as the Patriots face the Broncos. It has the makings of a shootout, and Manning will certainly do his best to pick apart the Patriots’ pass defense. Denver has done well against the run, but Houston and Atlanta moved the ball with ease against the Broncos, and the Patriots should be able to do so as well.
What the heck? CB Ras-I Dowling continues to struggle to get defensive snaps. In the spring, it appeared as though a healthy Dowling would be the spark the Patriots' secondary needed. Not only could he not beat out Kyle Arrington for a starting job, he has slipped behind CB Sterling Moore. He played in only five defensive snaps and four on special teams in Sunday's win.
What we learned: The Jets might be the worst 2-2 team in NFL history. Well, they certainly looked like it on Sunday. It was an embarrassing display for a Jets team that hasn’t come anywhere close to looking as good as it did in Week One. The offense couldn’t move the ball — Mark Sanchez threw for only 103 yards, the team rushed for only 45 yards. The run defense, a Rex Ryan staple, gave up 245 yards and a 5.6-yard rushing average, allowing eight different 49ers runners to have a gain of seven yards or more. To make things worse, WR Santonio Holmes, the offense’s top playmaker, looks like he will miss a significant amount of time with a foot injury, which happened to lead to a fumble-return touchdown. Simply put, it was a disastrous day for the Jets, getting shut out and shut down at home, no less.
What’s in store next: There is no reprieve for Gang Green, as the Jets have to face the AFC’s top team, the undefeated Texans. DE J.J. Watt is making a run at league MVP honors with his scintillating play for the Texans and he will give the Jets’ O-line fits. Houston’s defense is one of the best, they run the ball well and have a star receiver in Andre Johnson. The Jets’ offense is bad and the defense hasn’t stopped the run and is missing its top cover man. This is not a favorable matchup for the Jets.
What the heck? The Jets clearly are still trying to figure out how to involve Tim Tebow, and while they try to get that settled, they watched the 49ers use Colin Kaepernick to help beat them. Kaepernick had five carries for 50 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown run on third down. It was the type of play where you would expect to see Tebow if the Jets were in a similar situation — the Niners had moved downfield, then put in a running quarterback near the goal line for a crucial play. Rex Ryan maintained that Sanchez is his team's starting quarterback, but if Tebow is not going to help out on offense, what will his role be? The offense needs a spark, and Jets fans got to see another team benefit from the strategy.