Updated Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 1:09 p.m. ET
The Patriots and Dolphins both looked strong in their respective wins over 2011 AFC playoff teams, while the Bills are reeling after a historic loss to the 49ers, and the Jets couldn't escape with a win vs. the undefeated Texans.
What we learned: This team still has plenty of fight. After a week of hearing how overmatched they were heading into Monday night against the Texans, Gang Green had a spirited showing in a six-point loss, and they certainly had their chances. Keep in mind, this was a Jets team without its top three pass catchers (Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Dustin Keller) and starting NT Sione Po’uha. The defense had a great second half (held the Texans to 57 rushing yards on 22 carries), which made up for a first half of getting gashed by the run, and the special-teams unit had a key play on Joe McKnight’s touchdown return. The Jets pulled out all the stops, but got too gimmicky at times on offense. Personnel issues with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow and a group of new receivers cost the Jets a pair of timeouts in the second half, and possibly a touchdown in the fourth quarter when they settled for a field goal after swapping QBs again.
What’s in store next: The Jets host a Colts team coming off an exceptional come-from-behind upset win over the Packers. Playing with heavy hearts as their head coach, Chuck Pagano, receives treatment for Leukemia, the Colts rallied behind a career day by Reggie Wayne. It’s certainly an easier game than the Texans, and a game the Jets should win. The O-line for the most part handled the Texans well on Monday night and will have to be up to the task of slowing down Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Maybe this could be a game the Jets finally get the run game going, as the Colts are 25th against the run this season.
What the heck? Mark Sanchez, like most quarterbacks, plays well in a rhythm. You got a glimpse of that at the end of the first half, when he moved the Jets downfield before J.J. Watt deflected a pass that got picked off. When you have a QB with accuracy and consistency issues like Sanchez, a rhythm can be so crucial. So when Sanchez threw two long passes to get the Jets deep in Texans territory at the start of the fourth quarter, it was curious that Tony Sparano then sent the Tebow package on the field. The bigger head scratcher was the fact that Tebow gained 13 yards on his first play, setting up a 1st-and-goal, then was stopped for no gain, and then was removed for Sanchez. Whatever rhythm Sanchez had was lost when he had to sit for those two plays (he threw two incomplete passes and the Jets settled for a field goal), and at that point, why not stick with Tebow? Sparano seems to still be figuring out the best balance with the two quarterbacks, and for a struggling offense, that’s not helping.
What we learned: Remember all that talk about the Bills being a wild-card team and finally getting over the hump? It’s fading, and fading fast. Coming off a second-half collapse vs. the Patriots and having to go cross-country to play a strong, deep 49ers team, the bar was already set low for Buffalo, which was playing without two O-line starters, but Sunday was an absolute low point for the season. The defense remains the team’s biggest disappointment, and while last week they couldn’t stop the run, this week it was the big play. Not many people consider the Niners' offense explosive, but you wouldn’t have thought that on Sunday. They gained a franchise-record 621 yards of offense, had four plays go for 30 yards or more and Alex Smith looked like an MVP candidate, not a game-manager-type quarterback. The Bills’ offense made it to the red zone twice, getting one field goal and having the other drive end in yet another Ryan Fitzpatrick interception.
What’s in store next: The Bills stay in the west and will play the Cardinals on Sunday. Chan Gailey decided to keep his team out there in between games, and maybe the experience is what they need to get back on track. Arizona is coming off a bad loss to the Rams on Thursday night in which their O-line crumbled, allowing nine sacks. If the Bills’ D-line wants to show something, this would be the week to do so. Arizona has a solid defense that could cause problems, especially up front if the Bills remain without OLT Cordy Glenn and ORG Kraig Urbik.
What the heck? One of the biggest problems in Fitzpatrick’s game is the deep ball. He simply doesn’t have the arm strength to consistently hit receivers deep down the sideline, which makes you scratch your head when you look back at his interception. Down 24-3, the Bills’ offense finally got a spark from Brad Smith, who ran 35 yards out of the “Wildcat.” On 1st-and-10 from the 49ers’ 20-yard line looking to cut the lead to 24-10, Fitzpatrick decides to go for it all, throwing deep for Donald Jones. Jones had his man beaten, and a pass to the back of the endzone would have been a score, but Fitzpatrick, as he has done many times before, underthrew Jones into the wind and was picked off, ending the drive. With points at a premium, the Bills certainly wanted to score quickly, but such a low-percentage play, especially for Fitzpatrick, didn’t get the job done. Another oddity — Fred Jackson was on the field for 21 of 46 snaps. Granted, the 49ers’ run defense wasn’t going to allow much, but you’d think the Bills’ top offensive weapon would be out there more because of his versatility.
What we learned: When Miami plays generally mistake-free ball on offense, its defense will give them a chance to win, and they finally sealed one on Sunday. The Dolphins had let back-to-back games slip away, but an interception by S Reshad Jones was the dagger in an impressive win for the Dolphins over the Bengals, a playoff team from last year. Ryan Tannehill had his best completion percentage and passer rating of the season and made a couple clutch throws to make up for an ineffective rushing attack. The pass rush and run defense continued to play strong, DT Randy Starks continued an exceptional contract year with an interception and while the Dolphins gave the Bengals a couple opportunities, they didn’t let this one get away.
What’s in store next: The Dolphins have a very legitimate shot to get to .500 facing the Rams in Week Six. St. Louis’ offense is far from imposing, and the Dolphins will force Sam Bradford to beat them. The Rams’ defense, though, put on quite the display last Thursday against Arizona, which will put pressure on Miami’s O-line, especially rookie ORT Jonathan Martin, who could be a target. It’d be a good game to establish the run and screen game to keep the Rams’ defenders from pinning their ears back.
What the heck? Another close game, another strange play call. The Dolphins should feel fortunate to be bailed out by a pass-interference call, because the clock management was questionable down the stretch. Facing a 2nd-and-9 with 2:55 to go, the Dolphins attempted a pass, and it fell incomplete, stopping the clock — the Bengals had one timeout left at the time. Granted, the Dolphins could do nothing on the ground, but you’d think Miami would want to take advantage of the clock. A few plays later, after the penalty gave them a first down, second-year FB Charles Clay ran out-of-bounds, giving the Bengals 30 extra seconds. The Dolphins’ big play on defense helped save Clay. ... Facing a 4th-and-1 in the second quarter, the Dolphins went to FB Jorvorskie Lane, who has been a pleasant surprise this season, but the play had Lane go behind ORT Jonathan Martin and ORG Richie Incognito, not the middle and Mike Pouncey or the strong left side. The Bengals stopped Lane and turned Miami over on downs.
What we learned: The Pats continue to be balanced and are not afraid to out-physical opponents with a strong rushing attack. They ran the ball 54 times for 251 yards, using an up-tempo offense that had a solid balance with the pass when needed. The efficient offense looked like a well-oiled, typical Patriots machine at times, but what made it different was that it had prolonged drives to keep Peyton Manning off the field. The Broncos could not contain Wes Welker, and Stevan Ridley showed his ability to bounce outside and churn yards in between the tackles. The defensive front seven had another solid game, led by DE Rob Ninkovich, who forced two fumbles and has been very effective since a so-so outing in Week Three, but the secondary has room for improvement. A couple penalties and poor coverage on the ball led to big plays for the Broncos.
What’s in store next: New England travels to the West Coast for a tough matchup against the Seahawks. Seattle doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up in a shootout, but they already showed once this season — on a big stage — that their defense can be a force against high-octane offenses. The Patriots’ O-line will have to be on its game against Chris Clemons and the Seahawks’ front, and Tom Brady will have to be aware of the young, physical, ball-hawking defensive backs.
What the heck? The Patriots have to hope for more consistency from CB Devin McCourty when the ball is in the air. He has been in the right spot and had solid coverage all year, but he didn’t make the plays on the ball Sunday that he did last week when he had two picks, and it can become a problem when those misplays by McCourty turn into big plays for the offense. Bill Belichick got defensive of McCourty last week, and he’s still the team’s top corner, but he was flagged for pass interference in the endzone that led to a touchdown and couldn’t come back to defend an underthrown ball by Peyton Manning on the Broncos’ final drive.