Do you hear that sound? That’s the collective footsteps of the sports media as they slowly climb down off the New York Jets bandwagon and back on to the New England Patriots’. With last night’s MNF doubleheader the first week of the NFL season wound to a close and for the first real time fans got a legitimate glance at what the football landscape really looks like. Lets take a couple of minutes and look at the first week for the AFC East while we rank the division. I’ll be doing this every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
1.) New England Patriots- If you go by what teams did last season then the Patriots had the toughest challenge in week one. The Bengals swept the “vaunted” AFC North last season, beating the Ravens, Steelers and Browns twice along the way. The Bengals looked like anything but the defending AFC North champions after they ran into the Patriots though. There are no style points in the NFL but in the era of the 24-7 news cycle first impressions do still count. And the Patriots had this game neatly put away by halftime.
Wes Welker contributed two touchdowns just months after shredding the ligaments in his knee and the Patriots special teams and secondary also looked solid. Coming into this season the Patriots biggest questions were about their defensive unit. Don’t let Cincy’s late game passing numbers fool you either, New England certainly feels a lot more confident in their defense after watching them shut down a very talented Bengals offense in the first half of their game Sunday.
Before the season there were questions, was this the Jets division to lose and had the Patriots dynasty finally wound down. After one week the Patriots have announced they’re not going quietly and reminded fans who won the division last year. This one still runs through Foxboro.
2a.) Miami Dolphins- Miami played in a game that could be considered a bit misleading. Despite only winning by five points, the Bills never truly threatened to win the game. Miami’s defense played lights out, with the exception of a blown coverage on one play, and helped the team overcome some offensive miscues and a very blustery day. The win was anything but sexy, but considering the Dolphins haven’t opened the season with a win since 2003, most Dolfans will take it.
Coming into this season Miami faced questions throughout their defensive unit. How would Randy Starks play at the nose, who could play free safety and is there going to be enough of a pass rush to replace Joey Porter and Jason Taylor. All of those questions seemed to be answered favorably in the first week. CJ Spiller managed just 14 all-purpose yards on the day, Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake and Koa Misi all added sacks and Chris Clemons played like a baby Yeremiah Bell, flying all over the field and demonstrating great physicality. Even Jason Allen looked good, locking up Lee Evans and nearly creating a pick-six to seal the game. Granted, it was a Buffalo offense with no quarterback and lousy tackles. But you have to start somewhere and considering Buffalo beat the Dolphins at the end of last year, revenge doesn’t feel bad either.
Offensively the Dolphins struggled, Chad Henne never truly looked comfortable and needs more practice throwing into the wind. He had one pass to a wide open Brandon Marshall get batted down by the wind (leading to an under-throw and a drop) and another pass to an open Marshall got caught in the wind and sail. The rushing attack looked fine though, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combining for over 100 yards and a score. The Dolphins offense is still a work in progress, but the better indicator of where they truly are will come inside the Metrodome this weekend.
2b) New York Jets- The Baltimore Ravens are an excellent team, the Dolphins will find out how excellent in the middle of this season. But the Jets were given an extremely interesting lesson yesterday night as they opened their new stadium. The blueprint may not work. The Jets plans for success was to win with defense, a running game and have Mark Sanchez manage the offense and not turn the ball over. Mark Sanchez didn’t turn the ball over last night as he played an extremely conservative game from an offensive standpoint and… well the Jets lost.
Now, that’s not to diminish what the Jets did. There defense was on the field for nearly two-thirds of the game and held a very talented Baltimore Ravens offense to just one touchdown, 10 points total. This comes in spite of racking up 100 yards of penalties in just the first half on the way to 14 for 125 yards total. That means the Jets D gave up 125 yards, were on the field twice as long as the Ravens defense and still just gave up 10 points with a chance to win the game themselves on an Antonio Cromartie interception return that ended with him being tripped up around the 30. I’m not trying to fellate the Jets, I’m just saying don’t lose sight of the caliber of defense being played up there just because of a loss.
The reason for the loss though was the Jets offense. And anyone who felt a little bit upset about how the Dolphins opened the season can take one look at the ineffectual performance of Mark Sanchez and feel a bit better. Somehow New York averaged 5.5 yards per carry against the vaunted Baltimore defense, but with Sanchez throwing just 10-21 for a whopping 74 yards and no touchdowns, the Jets never really threatened offensively. How bad was the Jets offense? Sanchez completed just his sixth pass to finish the third quarter (that’s a whopping clip of two completions per quarter), the Jets converted just 1 of their 11 third down opportunities (the one conversion coming inside of two minutes in the 4th). And the always complimentary Jon Gruden was even becoming incensed by Sanchez’s unwillingness to throw down field and his propensity for dumping the ball off in the flats. The line of the game came as the Jets called their final timeout after converting their first 3rd down of the game, at their own 31 with 57 seconds left on the clock when Gruden muttered,
They just moved the ball ten yards and I’m exhausted.
The Jets are still a contender, but not with that offense. The question was posed on our forums yesterday if Miami could possibly beat a team like the Jets with an offensive output of 13 points… yeah, actually. That’s possible.
4.) Buffalo Bills- Steve Tasker said last season as the Bills finished off an upset over Miami, that in Buffalo there was no greater feeling than beating the Dolphins. I had no idea the Bills viewed the Fins like that, it’s almost flattering in a way because I’d put the Bills behind several teams that aren’t even in the AFC East on my most hated list. I guess when you beat a team every time you face them, twice a year, for an entire decade (the 70’s) it may stick with them for a little while though. On Sunday the Bills had a chance to start the season by beating the hated Dolphins, a chance to ring in the Chan Gailey era on a high note–that didn’t happen.
And really, despite the final score, the game was never really close. From the opening three-and-out to the final hapless attempt to mount a game-winning drive the Buffalo offense rarely looked in sync. Trent Edwards, despite being a Stanford man, has never looked like an NFL quarterback and that theme continued into Sunday when Edwards routinely looked flustered by the Dolphins pass rush and the Bills offense rarely threatened.
Defensively the Bills have a good core of players but their shift to a 3-4 will take another year when the team can finally upgrade their linebackers. Chances are it’s going to be another long season in Buffalo until the team can find a quarterback, improve its tackles and get an infusion of talent in their front seven.
Buffalo at Green Bay- This one shouldn’t be close… (Prediction: Packers 31-Bills 13)
New England at New York Jets- Patriots travel to the Giants new stadium to play the Jets (prediction Patriots 21-Jets 17)
Miami at Minnesota- A difficult road game for the Dolphins in Minneapolis (Prediction… coming Thursday)