Around the AFC East: Week 10 Fallout
:: Dolphins :: Patriots
As expected, coach Mike Mularkey was non-committal when asked who will be his starting quarterback Sunday when the Bills travel to San Diego looking for their first road win.
Second-year pro J.P. Losman came off the bench against the Chiefs on Sunday when steady veteran Kelly Holcomb suffered a concussion, and he threw two touchdown passes to rally the Bills to a 14-3 victory. Losman, the club's 2004 first-round pick, flopped during Buffalo's 1-3 start and was benched in favor of Holcomb.
Mularkey said on Monday that he wanted to monitor Holcomb's health through Tuesday and study more tape of the Chargers with his coaches before making a decision on his starter.
If Holcomb is healthy and the coaches conclude Losman can't handle the things San Diego does defensively, Holcomb may get the nod.
But if Holcomb's practice repetitions are limited, it may become a moot point.
"We have to wait and see how (Holcomb) progresses each day, but how many reps he gets will have an impact on that decision, no question," Mularkey said.
During his news conference, though, Mularkey left little doubt his confidence level in Losman has multiplied tenfold after Sunday's performance.
Losman, who pressed too hard to make plays during September, according to his coaches, was focused and in command of the situation against the Chiefs.
While his completion percentage was a mere 47.9 in the four games he started, Losman hit nine of 16 passes (56 percent) against Kansas City, connecting with wide receiver Lee Evans on a pair of perfect touchdown plays covering 29 and 33 yards. The Bills entered the game with just seven pass plays of 20 yards or longer for the season, but Losman had four on the day.
Losman said he played "angry," angry that it took this long to show his real stuff, that it took a four-week benching to learn to relax and let the ball fly out of his hand as it can.
"(Coach) Mularkey always said I threw the best deep ball he's ever seen," Losman said. "But the first couple of games I didn't show that, and it was frustrating. He'd come up to me and say, 'Hey kid, what about that deep ball I've seen you throw? That's why I drafted you. What's going on?' So to put it all together (Sunday) was something special. Then again, it's two throws. There's a long season to go."
Losman likely benefited from having no pressure on him; that's the difference between being a backup vs. a starter.
"I'm sure there was some of that, but I talked to him during the week," Mularkey said. "I said, 'There's a chance I'd try and get you into the game. I'm not sure how yet, but a series here or a series there, and just be prepared to go.' Unfortunately, it wasn't under the circumstances I wanted, but it was good to see he responded. He was ready. He was really ready. We didn't change the offense, it was the same call sheets, the same game plan we had for Kelly. A couple of things we had missed calls, but that's a young quarterback. I thought he did well."
Losman got Evans, Buffalo's best deep threat, involved again. Evans had only one touchdown catch before Sunday, but he burned veteran Chiefs cornerback Eric Warfield twice. Both times the ball was right there.
"I think one of the things he has learned is that he has such a strong arm and at quarterback you don't always have to throw the ball as hard as you can," Evans said. "On that second pass that he threw, he threw it with a lot of touch. He threw it to a spot. I think that came with having a little bit of pocket poise and just trusting it and throwing it."
Veteran wide receiver Eric Moulds, who was catching a lot of passes for Holcomb but not for big yardage, would welcome Losman's return if he consistently can stretch defenses and keep Evans involved.
"The two big passes he threw to Lee, we've been calling for that for a long time, and J.P.'s a big-play quarterback," Moulds said. "It's big for me because teams have been playing a lot of Cover 4 against us, saying, 'Put two guys on me and let Lee beat us.' Once you can get Lee deep, I don't think anyone in this league can run with him one-on-one."
Losman said he's not holding his breath waiting for Mularkey to tap him on the shoulder and hand him the starting job back. But if he does, he doesn't plan on letting go of it again. He'll be more mature and not take anything for granted again.
"I would love to be the guy. I would love for them to say, 'All right, here we go, take us to where we want to go.' But until he does, I just have to prepare. It was good that I was able to come in this time and provide for the team."
--Buffalo's top-rated special teams flexed their muscles against Kansas City's Pro Bowl return specialist, Dante Hall, who averaged just 18.7 yards on three kickoff returns and 3.5 yards on four punt returns. Hall, who has 10 career touchdowns, never found a running lane and couldn't shake-and-bake anybody in the open field. "Our goal is to be No. 1 in kick coverage, and he was in our way," Bills linebacker Mario Haggan said. "We had to step up to the challenge."
On one punt coverage play late in the game, Sam Aiken nailed Hall for a 4-yard loss to bring the house down.
"Our kickers gave us a lot of help by kicking the ball high and deep, hanging it up and giving us time to cover," Aiken said. "People call him The Human Joystick for a good reason because he is fast and he has a way of making people miss. We had to tackle well and not go for the first move, and that's what we did."
--Offensive lineman Mike Williams is headed for the bench after his miserable debut at guard on Sunday. Williams, the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft who lost his starting right tackle job to Jason Peters, lasted just four series against the Chiefs at left guard. Those four series ended with a tipped pass, a botched flea-flicker, a sack on fourth down, and a sack/lost fumble when quarterback Kelly Holcomb suffered a concussion.
Williams, in the middle of all of the chaos, twice failed to pick up stunts.
With the Bills playing a road game next at San Diego, the prudent move is to keep Bennie Anderson as their left guard rather than hope Williams can adjust to crowd noise on top of everything else he's learning.
"Playing guard is very different from tackle," Williams said. "It's technical stuff, little footwork that you have to do ... Obviously, four days of playing guard, a position I never played in my life, I guess the coaches said, 'Well, we tried it.' I guess we'll go on from there."
Coach Mike Mularkey admitted trying Williams at guard was misguided and "not fair" to the player. He'd like to get Williams ready to start a game at guard again, but with only seven games left, in reality, the team is moving on.
--It was a chippy game with several after-the-whistle skirmishes, including one with two minutes left in the game that resulted in three players being ejected. At the root of much of the bad blood was a hit to the back by Bills linebacker London Fletcher on quarterback Trent Green during an interception return by Angelo Crowell in the second quarter. Fletcher was attempting to throw a block and hit Green in the back. That caused Chiefs guard Will Shields to shove Fletcher, drawing a personal-foul penalty.
More heated words were exchanged as the players walked through the tunnel.
"(The referees) said it was part of the play," Green said of Fletcher's hit on him. "They said the play was still going on. I didn't agree with it, but what are you going to do? They didn't call it."
Said Fletcher, who was in on 20 tackles and had a forced fumble after a sack: "It was a situation where they threw an interception and their quarterback tried to make a tackle. So once you try to make a tackle, you become a defender.
"I'm going to play within the rules of the game, and I went out and blocked him. Their guards took offense to it, which I would want our offensive linemen to come to the aid to our quarterback as well, except (Shields) happened to do his after the whistle had blown. He thought I did something dirty. I don't think I did."
--The Bills had three interceptions for the third time this season. They have 22 takeaways, the most after nine games since 1993 when they had 29 on way to finishing with 47. Also of note, the Bills beat the Chiefs with only nine first downs, their fewest in a winning cause since beating Baltimore 6-0 on Dec. 1, 1974.
The status of Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte for Sunday's game against Cleveland is in question because of an injured right index finger.
Dolphins coach Nick Frerotte said Frerotte experienced "a significant amount of swelling" overnight following a 25-of-47 passing performance in a 23-16 home loss to New England. Frerotte declined comment to the media Monday about the injury, which was sustained early in the second quarter when he was hit by Patriots linebacker Monty Beisel on a pass that fell incomplete.
"Anytime when you get that situation, we will have to assess it day-to-day," Saban said of Frerotte.
Frerotte threw 36 more passes after getting injured and finished with 360 yards, which is the highest total for a Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino passed for 393 in October 1999 against Indianapolis. There were public and media cries for Frerotte to get benched in favor of backup Sage Rosenfels entering the game, but the former played well enough to keep his starting position if healthy.
"Gus did a good job," Saban said. "I thought it was one of his better games. He is kind of the offensive player of the week for what he did. I don't care what anybody says, they are good defensive football team. They are a very good front-seven team. I know they have had their issues in the (secondary) and all that, but we made a lot of plays and good throws in this game."
Frerotte had five passes dropped. Four of them were by wide receiver Chris Chambers, who failed to scoop a low pass in the end zone on Miami's final offensive play that would have tied the score.
"Maybe we could have made some more plays with a little bit more consistency in catching the football and maybe even in the way we ran some routes and that type of thing and maybe a throw here or two there," Saban said. "Overall, it was a pretty good job."
--Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael will learn within the next two to three weeks whether he faces punishment from the NFL after being arrested in a second consecutive offseason.
McMichael pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing stemming from a summertime incident with his wife outside a Waffle House in Georgia. He was sentenced to three months probation and a $500 fine. Charges of battery and public drunkenness were dropped.
McMichael, who is Miami's second-leading receiver with 35 catches for 351 yards and four touchdowns, is subject to a fine or suspension under the NFL's code of conduct.
--Miami's dramatic improvement in the offensive line continued against New England, as the Dolphins didn't allow a sack in a second consecutive game for the first time since their first two contests in 1999. Even though four of the five starters remain the same from 2004, the Dolphins have allowed just 12 sacks overall as compared to 33 at this point last season
Brooks Bollinger will get another chance.
Jets coach Herm Edwards confirmed Monday that Bollinger would make his second straight start Sunday, despite his four-interception meltdown against Carolina.
"If he can manage the game like he did the first three quarters," Edwards said of Bollinger, "we'll be fine. Keep the game close, especially on the road, and you have a chance. You can't self-destruct at the end. That's how the score changed drastically all of a sudden."
Bollinger threw four second-half picks in a span of six attempts after not being intercepted in the first 92 passes of his NFL career. His unraveling began when he underthrew Laveranues Coles in the end zone, and a beaten Ken Lucas was able to recover and make a crucial interception. A touchdown there would've tied the score at 10.
"He didn't make some good decisions after that," Edwards said. "That's part of being a young quarterback. He didn't play up to his expectations. You don't foresee a guy throwing picks like that. It happens in the NFL."
Edwards isn't worried that Bollinger, who turns 26 this week, has lost confidence in himself. He has yet to throw a touchdown pass, or, for that matter, lead a touchdown drive, in his two starts.
"He's fine. He's disappointed," Edwards said. "I anticipate he'll come back Wednesday excited."
"I'm just going to keep firing," Bollinger said. "I learned some things from it. There's not a lot of margin for error when you're playing good defenses in this league and you see how quick things like that can happen. You've just got to eliminate" mistakes.
Edwards was encouraged by the Jets' running game. Curtis Martin averaged just a shade under 4 yards per carry against the Panthers, and rookie Cedric Houston had 53 yards on the ground. Obviously, an improved running game would put less of the burden on Bollinger's young shoulders.
"That's always a good thing when you can run it," Edwards said.
Now they just have to throw it a little bit better.
--Quarterback Jay Fiedler was in the Jets' locker room Monday, but he still won't be in pads this week. In fact, he doesn't know when he will be.
"I can't give you a time frame right now," Fiedler said when asked when he could return to the lineup. "All I can tell you is it's getting better. I'm not going to specify when I'm able to come back. Each week we're going to do a little bit more."
Fiedler sustained a right shoulder injury against Jacksonville on Sept. 25 in the same game in which starter Chad Pennington was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Fiedler hasn't played since.
"I want to be out there. I want to get back as fast as I can," Fiedler said. "But do it smartly. This is an injury (where) it's pretty much all or nothing. I have to be able to do everything with (the shoulder) and function as a quarterback or I can't. My body will tell me when I'm ready."
He said he isn't trying to prove anything to the Jets.
"That's not the motivation for coming back," Fiedler said. "That will take care of itself when the season is over. I'm a football player. It's what I do. It's what I am. I want to be out there playing and playing to the best of my ability and get some wins for this organization."
If he can return in December, he likely would get a chance to start, considering that neither Vinny Testaverde nor Brooks Bollinger has grabbed hold of the starting position.
--Justin McCareins had a pass go through his hands Sunday and ricochet to Chris Gamble for a Carolina interception. It was McCareins' team-leading seventh drop this season.
"He's probably lost some confidence," coach Herm Edwards said, "and guys do (that) when they don't play very well, when they don't play up to their expectation. But if you're going to be a pro, you've got to let it go. We'll throw him the ball, and we'll anticipate he's going to catch it."
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