AFC East Spin cycle: Week Three

Kevin Fishbain
Pro Football Weekly
Bills release QB Fitzpatrick

The Bills survived losing their top offensive weapon in C.J. Spiller to win their second game in a row, but the Jets have a much bigger loss on their hands with CB Darrelle Revis' torn ACL. The Dolphins couldn’t hang on to a division game they could have won, and the Patriots let a key matchup with the Ravens slip away to fall below .500 for the first time since 2003.


What we learned: The defensive line is starting to come around. The group up front combined for four sacks and DE Mario Williams (1½ sacks) notched his first one as a Bill. The group harassed Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden and seems to be improving each week. On offense, Ryan Fitzpatrick had to throw it more than last week to make up for the loss of Spiller and he was efficient, making big third-down throws, including a nine-yard pass to rookie T.J. Graham on 3rd-and-9 to help set up the game-clinching touchdown.

What’s in store next: The Bills picked a bad time to host the Patriots, as New England is coming off back-to-back losses and likely have last year’s upset loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium fresh in their minds. It will be key for the Bills to get Fred Jackson back, with Spiller expected to be out for 1-2 weeks, otherwise they will be asking a lot of No. 3 RB Tashard Choice. It’s a “show me” game for the D-line and the young corners facing their stiffest test in the Patriots’ offense. Expect Bill Belichick's defense to do its best to confuse Fitzpatrick and try to force turnovers.

What the heck? Fans are starting to grumble about Chan Gailey’s use of the “Wildcat.” It’s clear that he wants to have it as an option, and we know that Brad Smith is capable of breaking off a big run, but Smith managed only two carries for six yards against Cleveland. What makes Smith a potent “Wildcat” player is that he can throw it if necessary, and maybe the Bills go deeper into the playbook against the Patriots. … Surprise! The Bills are the only team in the AFC East to win back-to-back games this season.


What we learned: On defense, the Dolphins boast one of the league’s elite run defenses, and it’s going to keep them in games. They held the Jets to 88 yards rushing on 33 carries (2.7-yard average). It is helping the Dolphins put teams in 3rd-and-longs (the Jets were 6-for-17 on third down). On offense, the Dolphins still committed to the run, even with Reggie Bush out, and are intent on taking advantage of their strength on the O-line to take the pressure off rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. This is not a team that can finish games, though, and the Dolphins had plenty of opportunities to finish off the Jets after leading much of the afternoon.

What’s in store next: The Dolphins get the undefeated Cardinals in Arizona next week. If the run defense remains stout, that will put the game into Kevin Kolb’s hands, which generally would be a good thing, though Kolb has played well in his two games. The test will be for the Dolphins’ offense to move the ball, as Arizona dominated the Eagles’ offense on Sunday, a week after a stellar performance against the Patriots.

What the heck? Rookie head coach Joe Philbin’s decision to ice Nick Folk right before his team blocked an overtime FG try will be discussed — Folk made good on his second attempt to win the game — but Philbin probably couldn’t help himself after Rex Ryan successfully iced Dan Carpenter only two minutes earlier. One head-scratcher is the Dolphins’ play calls late in regulation time with Tannehill. On a 1st-and-10 from the Jets’ 23 and two timeouts left, Tannehill missed a pass to TE Anthony Fasano on first down then attempted two deep balls to Brian Hartline, instead of some shorter passes to help set up a touchdown. Then, after a Hartline catch put the Dolphins in field-goal range in overtime, on 2nd-and-7, Tannehill again tried to hit Hartline deep, instead of being more dink-and-dunk to set up an easier field goal for Carpenter. It's a good sign to see Tannehill has the confidence to throw it deep in key situations, but those plays didn't seem like high-percentage options for the Dolphins, even with Jets All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis out of the game.


What we learned: The defense didn’t take quite the leap this season that some thought it would after two weeks of solid performances. Joe Flacco threw for 382 yards, Ray Rice ran for 101 and the Ravens gained 7.7 yards per play. CB Devin McCourty made a couple nice plays, but he also needed to make better plays on the ball — he could have had an interception or two. Chandler Jones may have been held on a play or two, but that doesn’t negate the fact the Pats had zero QB hits and zero sacks. On offense, the run game took a step back (2.3 yards per carry), though the passing game looked fine in its first full game without TE Aaron Hernandez. Tom Brady was surgical on the team’s end-of-half touchdown drive.

What’s in store next? The Patriots are in extremely unfamiliar territory at 1-2 with back-to-back losses, and they will be a motivated club heading into Buffalo, where they have nightmares of last year’s loss. The Patriots’ O-line will get tested by Mario Williams and company, but you can bet that Brady will come out throwing and trying to move the ball quickly and score often vs. Buffalo.

What the heck? Bill Belichick’s grab of a referee's arm at the end of the game will certainly cost him some money, but he probably doesn’t care. Belichick also didn’t seem to care much for the memo reportedly sent out to coaches to tone it down with the replacement officials. When arguably the game’s best coach is that upset, it’s the type of thing that might move things forward in negotiations with the locked-out officials. Seeing Belichick’s emotions makes you wonder if he had a chat with his boss, Robert Kraft, about trying to expedite this process. … Since it has been addressed here before, the Wes Welker-Julian Edelman playing-time battle took another spin on Sunday. Welker was on the field for 36 more snaps than Edelman and had eight catches for 142 yards.


What we learned: The offense is very much a work in progress, and the Week One outburst against the Bills continues to look like a fluke. The run game got completely bottled up, averaging 2.7 yards on 33 carries — Shonn Greene gained just 40 yards on 19 carries (2.1 avg.). Mark Sanchez was inaccurate all game long, and his receivers didn't help him with big drops, but he made some clutch throws late. The LaRon Landry signing paid dividends, as the veteran safety's pick-six tied the score at 10-10 early in the third quarter.

What’s in store next: Why was it so crucial for the Jets to get out of Miami with a win? Their next two games are tough, starting with San Francisco this weekend, followed by a visit from the Texans. We’ll see just how good the Jets can be without their best player, Revis (torn ACL), and if CB Kyle Wilson can be up to the task. The 49ers likely saw the Dolphins run with success and will try to do the same to wear down the Jets’ defense, which needs to play much better. The 49ers’ defense will take advantage of any Sanchez mistake, and the Niners’ front seven also won’t help the Jets’ rushing game get untracked.

What the heck? Second-year back Bilal Powell has completely taken the No. 2 back role from Joe McKnight, who had only one carry, but could he challenge Greene for the starting spot? Powell agained 45 yards on 10 carries (4.5 avg.) and he was the back during the Jets’ first drive of overtime. However, Greene got the call when the Jets set up for their game-winning field goal.

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