Belichick explains why he sat Dobson

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Before each game, the New England Patriots -- like every NFL team -- set seven players as inactive. And the surprise inactive this week was wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

With the Patriots' receiving corps struggling to gain any rhythm with quarterback Tom Brady outside of wide receiver Julian Edelman, Dobson was thought to be a player Brady could rely on, specifically as a deep threat.

Last week against Minnesota, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive and this week it was Dobson. Coach Bill Belichick explained the factors involved with making the decision to sit a player like Dobson.

“We just try to take everything into consideration when we go with our final 46-man active roster,” Belichick said during a conference call on Monday. “The game plan, the matchups, the different roles in the kicking game and sometimes how that affects other positions.”

Thompkins ended up playing 38 of 73 offensive snaps and might have presented a better matchup in Belichick’s eyes against Oakland. Meanwhile, wide receiver Brandon LaFell played 41 of 73 snaps on offense. LaFell also plays on special teams units, which heightens his value over a player like Dobson, who only contributes on offense.


Should Aaron Dobson been active Sunday vs. the Raiders?


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Dobson's recovery from offseason foot surgery could be holding him back, though he did play 31 of 67 offensive snaps in the Patriots’ win against Minnesota in Week 2.

Dobson, a second-round draft pick (59th overall) out of Marshall, is in his second season and recorded 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season. As a second-round pick, Dobson is seen as having high upside with his long frame at 6-foot-3 and the ability to be a vertical receiver for Brady -- something Brady and the offense lack right now.

Belichick said he would like to have everyone on the 53-man roster active on game day, but lines have to be drawn somewhere -- even on players like Dobson.

“So, in the end if we can more than 46 players active, then we would have had several of the guys that were deactivated in the game,” Belichick said. “And there is a good chance that several of them would have played, but we just have the combination of all the things I just mentioned and try to make a decision that we feel was best for the team relative to the 46 guys that are there. And again, that is a function of multiple things.”

Manuel's 8.4 QBR is NFL's worst in Week 3

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Watching Monday's morning's 9 a.m. live "SportsCenter," this note from host Hannah Storm caught our attention at the top of the program:

Yesterday was a huge day for quarterbacks throughout the NFL. Qualified quarterbacks combined to average a QBR of 71. That's the highest in a single week since ESPN began tracking that stat back in 2006.

Total QBR, an advanced statistic developed by ESPN, falls on a scale of 0 to 100 and uses historical and situational data to evaluate quarterbacks.

With such a successful weekend for quarterbacks around the NFL, it also caught our eye that Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel currently has the lowest Total QBR in Week 3, prior to Monday Night Football.

In fact, Manuel's 8.4 Total QBR in Sunday's 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers is the second-lowest Total QBR in any game this season. Only Chad Henne's 4.1 Total QBR in Week 2 was worse.

Further, Manuel's 8.4 Total QBR was the second-lowest of his career. In a Week 14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, Manuel posted a 3.8 Total QBR.

In three games this season, Manuel has a 31.1 Total QBR. Only Minnesota's Matt Cassel, Miami's Ryan Tannehill and Henne have lower Total QBRs.
Few rookies in the NFL will be scrutinized more this season than Sammy Watkins, whom the Buffalo Bills traded their 2015 first-round selection to acquire in May.

So while a play in the final minutes of Sunday's 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers wouldn't normally attract attention for most players, it's notable what Watkins did on a second-and-7 late in the fourth quarter.

As quarterback EJ Manuel fired an accurate pass downfield, Watkins looked to avoid contact from oncoming defenders by pulling up on his route. The pass fell incomplete, one of six incompletions on eight targets Sunday to Watkins.

"I just took off a play," Watkins said after the game. "That was on me. I didn't finish the play."

Watkins made reference to "finishing" in a tweet after the game:

The play where Watkins stopped on his route came with two minutes remaining in the game, when the Bills were down by two touchdowns. The game wasn't over, but close to it. So while Watkins denied that his "nagging" rib injury played a role in the decision to let up on the play, there would be some logic to protecting his body in that situation.

On Twitter after the game, we asked Bills' fans for their opinion on the play. Here is a sampling of the responses:


W2W4: Bears vs. Jets

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
The New York Jets have a better team than last year (we think), but there was one admirable quality they wouldn't mind borrowing from that 2013 group: its resilience. Those Jets were 6-2 after losses, demonstrating a bounce-back ability that could be attributed to Rex Ryan and the team's character. But that was then.

After a week of TimeoutGate and fallout from the meltdown in Green Bay, the 2014 Jets will tell us in Week 3 how they handle adversity. They face the Chicago Bears (1-1) at MetLife Stadium, a matchup on paper that bears a striking resemblance to last week's game against the Green Bay Packers. In other words, it's the strong men versus the trapeze artists under the big top of ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

This is the first of two Monday night home games for the Jets (1-1), the only team to have that distinction. Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. The top storylines:

1. All eyes on Marty: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was on fire for the first three drives in Green Bay, but no one will remember that because of the timeout fiasco. Mornhinweg, Ryan & Co. need to clean up the sideline operation because it was costly and embarrassing to the franchise. You can bet Mornhinweg will get extra face time in this game, with a prime-time audience looking for another glitch. Ryan said he didn't change anything about how he communicates with Mornhinweg and the offensive coaches during the game. So, basically, he's hoping the perfect storm doesn't strike twice in eight days. Maybe the ESPN folks could start a "Where's Sheldon?" graphic when the defense is on the sideline.

2. The Marshall plan: After surrendering a 209-yard receiving day to Jordy Nelson, the Jets face another elite receiver in Brandon Marshall. The good news is Marshall (ankle) missed a lot of practice time and still isn't 100 percent. The bad news is he's still Brandon Marshall, and he'll be a tough cover for the Jets because he's deployed all over the field. Five of his 13 receptions have come from the slot, including three of his four touchdowns. How do the Jets handle that? Kyle Wilson? Come on, that would be a mismatch. Ryan has to cook up a creative plan for his secondary, especially now with Dee Milliner (ankle, quad) unlikely to play. Antonio Allen could see a lot of Marshall (6-foot-4) because he's their only corner with the size (6-foot-1) and aggressiveness to compete with his skill set. The Bears also have Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3), giving them a couple of "NBA small forwards," according to defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman.

3. Steal the ball: The Jets desperately need to force turnovers. They have only one takeaway in two games, and they had nothing to do with it (a botched snap by the Packers). Their goal is to force Jay Cutler into his old "gunslinger mentality," as Thurman called it. The old Cutler took chances because of his big arm, holding the ball and trying to force it into tight windows. Cutler has 114 interceptions in 106 games, so you know he's prone to picks. Bears coach Marc Trestman has turned Cutler into a dink-and-dunk passer, so it could be hard for the Jets to get to him and cause mistakes. But, wait: Center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson, the ex-Jet, are out with injuries. Look for Ryan to unleash A-gap blitzes and interior stunts to exploit the replacements.

4. Monsters of the Midway? Ha! Make no mistake, these aren't your Buddy Ryan Bears on defense. They've allowed 5.4 yards per carry over the last 18 games, practically inviting the Jets to do what they do best -- pound the rock. They own the league's top-ranked rushing attack, although there were some hiccups last week, especially with guards Brian Winters and Willie Colon. They need to get that cleaned up because they will see a lot of eight-man fronts, especially if wide receiver Eric Decker (hamstring) doesn't play. Know this: The Bears have struggled with the read-option. The Jets usually run it a handful of times per game, but look for that number to increase.

5. Play 60 minutes: The Jets were outstanding for 20 minutes last week, but they went cold, self-destructed and blew an 18-point lead. They can't do that against the Bears, who proved last week they have no quit in them -- outscoring the San Francisco 49ers 21-0 in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Bears have the second-highest point differential (plus-25) in the second half. The Jets are minus-10.

6. Tone Time: Santonio Holmes returns to his old haunt, looking to haunt the Jets. They'll never hear the end of it if he does.

Patriots' offensive snaps: Wright's role

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at snaps played by New England Patriots players on offense in Sunday's 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders (includes penalties but not final kneel-downs):

Michael Hoomanawanui -- 44 of 73
Rob Gronkowski -- 42 of 73
Cameron Fleming -- 12 of 73
Tim Wright -- 5 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Outside of Gronkowski, the Patriots aren't getting much out of this position from a pass-catching perspective and that is part of why the overall attack is so limited. If Wright is only going to play five snaps, one could make the case that roster spot could be devoted to someone else in search of a spark (Aaron Dobson?). The more likely solution in the weeks to come is to increase Wright's role as he gains more comfort in the offense (and Gronkowski becomes more comfortable blocking-wise) as he is one of the best in-house options to help balance some things out. But it's hard to do it with such limited opportunities.

Julian Edelman -- 71 of 73
Brandon LaFell -- 41 of 73
Kenbrell Thompkins -- 38 of 73
Danny Amendola -- 28 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: The only plays Edelman wasn't on the field were in a 2-WR package on the third drive (7:51 remaining, second quarter) in the jumbo goal-line package (13:53 remaining, fourth quarter) as he is the team's clear-cut No. 1 option and playing that way. ... LaFell and Thompkins were essentially rotated as the No. 2 receiver, while Amendola wasn't on the field in every three-receiver set as he had been through the first two weeks of the season, which reflects how the club is tinkering with different combinations and Amendola's role is continuing to be diminished a bit. ... Hard to believe 2013 second-round draft choice Dobson (healthy scratch) can't crack this group, which raises the question, "Why do the Patriots have such struggles drafting and developing at this position?"

Stevan Ridley -- 39 of 73
Shane Vereen -- 30 of 73
Brandon Bolden -- 7 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Ridley is running hard and has earned increased repetitions after playing just 22 snaps in the opener. He's played the most snaps among backs the last two weeks (37 and 39). Bolden's primary value comes on special teams, but he's not providing much spark on offense.

James Develin -- 8 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Quiet game for the bulldozing lead-blocker, as two-back sets weren't a big part of the plan.

LG Marcus Cannon -- 73 of 73
LT Nate Solder -- 73 of 73
RT Sebastian Vollmer -- 73 of 73
C/RG Dan Connolly -- 73 of 73
RG Jordan Devey -- 58 of 73
C Bryan Stork -- 15 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Tough day for this group overall. It will be interesting to see if Stork's presence for the final two drives was because of an injury to Devey, or if it was more performance-based.
videoMIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline was trending on Twitter in the third quarter of their 34-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs for the wrong reasons.

Following an important touchdown catch that cut the deficit to 14-10, Hartline celebrated with a golf putt as teammates Mike Wallace, Ryan Tannehill, Dallas Thomas and others joined in. Group celebrations result in a 15-yard penalty.

That helped set up a score by the Chiefs on the ensuing drive where Kansas City took a 21-10 lead. Miami was never able to get much closer and fell to 1-2 on the season.

“It is what it is; I will learn from it and I made a mistake,” Hartline said afterwards. “Hopefully my teammates will forgive me.”

Hartline said the touchdown celebration was unplanned and he was surprised it became a group thing. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, as expected, wasn’t happy about it.

“I can’t make any excuse, I’m disappointed -- very disappointed ,” Philbin said. “It’s uncharacteristic of us. I don’t think we’ve had one. It’s a poor reflection of me. It’s not good.”

Hartline didn’t want his head coach taking blame and reiterated it was his mistake.

“Nah, that’s silly,” Hartline said. “I think he’s just taking blame for something nothing he had no part of. I had a misunderstanding. I didn’t think I was putting myself in a compromising position, [but] I did.”

Had the Dolphins won the game one 15-yard penalty wouldn’t be in the spotlight. But the Dolphins are struggling mightily during this two-game losing streak -- losing both by 19 points each -- where mistakes like these often are highlighted.

Offensive malaise continues for Miami

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- There was a lot of hype and hoopla surrounding the Miami Dolphins' new-look offense this offseason.

First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who came from the Chip Kelly school of offense, was expected to bring an innovative style to Miami that was up-tempo and able to quickly put points on the board. Even Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said in training camp that he viewed 25 points per game -- or 400 points in a season -- as a successful bar for his team.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeProtecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was again an issue for Miami in Sunday's loss to the Chiefs.
But after three games, the Dolphins’ new offense is mostly firing blanks. As a result, Miami (1-2) suffered a 34-15 blowout loss at home to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs (1-2).

The Dolphins have averaged just 12.5 points per game in the past two weeks. The "new look" is showing some of the same old mistakes that were made previously under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

Many people in Miami have their jobs on the line this season, and the Dolphins can't win many games with the offense unable to consistently move the football.

Why is the offense struggling? There are myriad reasons. Here are a few worth noting:

  • Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not making the proper strides in Year 3. Lazor is asking a lot of Tannehill, and so far he’s proving to be unable to carry the team. Tannehill currently has a career-low completion percentage of 56.5 percent in three games. His passer rating of 74.1 also is a career low. The Dolphins can only go as far as Tannehill can lead them, and so far it’s not looking promising. "It's still early in the season, so I have confidence that we can get this thing turned around," Tannehill said. "But it has to happen now. I said that last week and we didn't get it done."
  • There have been questionable play calling by Lazor and poor clock management by Philbin. On Sunday, the Dolphins called passes on second-and-1 and third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, which resulted in an incomplete deep pass to Mike Wallace and a quarterback sack. Miami had the running game going -- Lamar Miller rushed for 108 yards -- and went away from it at a curious time. The game went downhill from there.
  • The offense has been unable to sustain scoring drives. The Dolphins' longest touchdown drive was for 19 yards, which followed a Chiefs turnover. In fact, 12 of Miami's 15 points were set up by the defense and special teams. Defensive tackle Jared Odrick forced a fumble on Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith to set up a short touchdown. Miami's defense also got a safety and rookie Jarvis Landry returned a kick 75 yards to set up a field goal.
  • The Dolphins had three drops in the first quarter, which killed any momentum in the first half.
  • Pass protection, which was the offense's biggest issue last season, remains a problem. The Dolphins allowed four quarterback sacks for the second week in a row. Tannehill has been sacked nine times in three games.

There are no easy fixes. Leaks are springing up in various areas and Philbin said "everything" is on the table in terms of making improvements.

The good news is Miami will play another winless team, the Oakland Raiders. The game will be played in London, where the Dolphins hope to find their identity.

"We have to determine what we're going to do," Philbin said. "We have to go back to work. We gotta go across the Atlantic Ocean and we have to play better."
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 34-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:
  • Wake
    Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake described the loss as "unacceptable." Wake added that he doesn’t believe panic will set in with Miami (1-2). But the Dolphins must turn things around quickly.
  • Overall, it was a somber mood in Miami’s locker room, as expected. It was as quiet a locker room as it has been all season, and many players left quickly.
  • Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin admitted the offense isn't playing well and "everything" will be considered. Miami is averaging 12.5 points per game on offense the past two weeks. A lot must improve.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were one of the NFL's surprises of the first two weeks, riding a stingy defense and a ball-control offense to a 2-0 record and first place in the AFC East.

That formula for success took a hit Sunday when the San Diego Chargers broke open an early lead over Buffalo and didn't look back. Suddenly forced to play from behind, EJ Manuel and the offense couldn't respond as the Bills lost 22-10.

Leading for all but 4½ minutes of the first two games, this was a Bills team that minimized its mistakes and relied on its running game, defense and special teams to win. That Manuel had just 48 pass attempts through Week 2, the second-fewest in the league, helped cover up deficiencies in the passing game.

Those issues were forced to the surface on Sunday as Buffalo was unable to rally from a 10-point halftime deficit. Manuel finished 23-of-39 for 238 yards but could lead only one touchdown drive.

It was hardly all on Manuel. The offensive line broke down as the game wore on and the running game, outside of a 17-yard run by Fred Jackson, was stagnant. Dynamic rookie Sammy Watkins, who had just two receptions, admitted that he "didn't finish" a route on one of Manuel's late-game incompletions.

"I thought [Manuel] made some plays today; obviously, with his feet he was able to extend some things," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "We need everyone to make plays. We've got to protect, we've got to make the catches, we've got to sit in zone, instead of keeping running. There are a lot of things that we can learn from this game."

It was the Buffalo defense that struggled early. Malcom Floyd weaved his way past a teammate's pick for a 49-yard gain on San Diego's second play from scrimmage, leading to a 3-yard Eddie Royal touchdown catch. The Chargers then controlled the clock for nearly 10 minutes in the second quarter, adding two field goals before widening their lead to 20-3 with another Royal touchdown in the third quarter.

"They got a couple of big plays on us, but it was just ourselves making mistakes," Bills linebacker Preston Brown said. "It wasn't anything that they did scheme-wise, it was just bad communication, and they were able to get the big play down the field."

It could've been worse for Buffalo. San Diego failed to score on two red zone trips in the second quarter, squandering opportunities to bust the game wide open.

After the Chargers took a 20-3 lead in the third quarter, the Bills shifted into pass-first mode, dinking and dunking down the field on an 11-play, 67-yard drive. The strategy worked, with the drive ending on Jackson's 11-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown -- but that was the last hurrah for the Bills' offense.

An incompletion to Robert Woods and a sack ended the Bills' first drive of the fourth quarter. Manuel pushed past midfield on his next drive but couldn't connect with Sammy Watkins on fourth-and-3, endinf that series. Manuel was sacked to end his third possession of the quarter and later sealed the Chargers' victory with an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone for a safety.

Marrone was asked after the game if his offense was built to play from behind.

"The definition of 'behind' is an interesting thing. ... [If] you get down three scores, I think that gets tough when they're rushing three and dropping eight or they're coming at you and mixing things up pretty good," Marrone said. "[But] do we have the players to play from behind? Absolutely."

Whatever the case, it was exactly the situation the Bills needed to avoid. The Bills had the right equation for success in their first two games, but San Diego exposed one of Buffalo's weaknesses Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 34-15 loss at Sun Life Stadium:

What it means: The Dolphins (1-2) are in the middle of a two-game losing streak and lost to a previously winless Chiefs (1-2) team. Miami’s offense is struggling. The Dolphins are averaging just 12.5 points per game the past two weeks. There are major questions brewing on that side of the ball. Miami’s defense also didn’t play its best game and suffered from missed tackles and blown assignments.

Stock watch: Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins' stock is on the rise. In his second career start, Jenkins recorded 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Jenkins also was credited for a safety in the third quarter. Jenkins led the Dolphins with 14 tackles in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills. With the way Jenkins has played since replacing the injured Dannell Ellerbe (hip) in the starting lineup, the Dolphins might be on to something.

Slow starters: The Dolphins have an ugly, recurring trend of slow starts. Miami trailed the Chiefs 14-3 at intermission and gave a winless team confidence on the road early. The Dolphins have been badly outplayed in the first half this season and trailed at intermission in all three games. Miami has been outscored 43-13 in first and second quarters this season.

Game ball: Dolphins starting running back Lamar Miller took the reins for the injured Knowshon Moreno and ran well for Miami. Miller rushed for 108 yards on 14 carries. It was Miller’s first 100-yard game since Oct. 31, 2013.

What’s next: The Dolphins will have their longest road trip of the season in Week 4. Miami will travel to London to play the winless Oakland Raiders (0-3). Oakland lost to the New England Patriots 16-9 in Week 3.

Third-down stat interests Edelman

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders:

Edelman -- first on the field and last to leave: Receiver Julian Edelman was the first player on the field before the game -- catching one-handed passes some three-plus hours before kickoff -- and he was the last player to depart the locker room after the game. Talk about a long day of work. "Sometimes you've got to grind them out," Edelman said after flipping through an official gamebook while searching for the offense's third-down percentage (9-of-18). "A pretty loss is [worse] than an ugly win. You know how it goes."

Wilfork Island picks up momentum: With defensive tackle Vince Wilfork coming up with the big interception to seal the game, safety Devin McCourty had a little fun after the game. Asked to comment on the play, he cracked, "Wilfork Island?"

Ryan's interference penalty in focus: Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed to give cornerback Logan Ryan a pass for his pass-interference penalty late in the fourth quarter that positioned the Raiders for a game-tying score. "I don't know about that one," he said. Later, Ryan discussed how he put the play behind him to help the defense close out the game. "I have a right to the ball also," he said before noting he was interested in seeing on film whether it was a penalty.

Rookie Stork delivers as late-game sub

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots’ offensive line took a major step back in Sunday’s 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders, a performance that none of the players were thrilled about. The lone bright spot was rookie center Bryan Stork, who entered for the second straight week late in the game.

Stork, who stands 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, was selected by the Patriots in the fourth round (105th overall) out of Florida State. Stork, a team captain for the Seminoles, won a national championship, anchoring Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston’s offensive line. Stork also won the Rimington Award, given to college football’s top center and was a consensus All-American in his senior season.

Captain Dan Connolly likes the hard work that Stork has put in to reach this point in his young career.

“I think he has done a good job,” Connolly said. “He works hard and like last week, today he was called upon and did well. He was ready to go.”

Stork carries a no-nonsense, ready at a moment’s notice mentality. And that moment could come sooner rather than later.

For the second straight week, Stork entered the game in the fourth quarter (he had 12 snaps against Minnesota). But Sunday’s substitution against the Raiders was a little different.

Stork took over at center, with Connolly shifting to right guard to replace Jordan Devey, in a close game where the Patriots felt a switch was necessary.

“We just felt like we kind of needed to do it at that point,” coach Bill Belichick said of the move.

Devey let up a sack and had a holding penalty called on him on consecutive plays in the third quarter.

“When I’m in, I’m in. When I’m not, I’m not,” Devey said about being replaced. “Each of us has a role and if I am in, I know what my role is. If I’m out, I know what my role is. I was ready to go back in whenever they needed me.”

By the fourth quarter, it was Stork’s opportunity to help his team. Stork went on to play 15 snaps (including penalties, not including kneel-downs).

Left tackle Nate Solder praised Stork’s ability to jump into the game and have an impact.

“He’s awesome. He moved right in there, no problem making the calls and getting the ball snapped,” Solder said. “From my perspective, everything went smoothly.”

Stork missed a significant portion of training camp, which is difficult on a rookie, but he has made up the time. Before his injury during camp, Stork projected as a potential starting center.

With the offensive line’s struggles and the team’s confidence to put him into the game, Stork could be the center of the future, allowing the Patriots to play an offensive line (from left to right) of Solder, Marcus Cannon, Stork, Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer.

Marrone: Rotation led to Graham sitting

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers:
  • One of the game's more curious decisions was the Bills' choice to start Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore -- and not Corey Graham -- at cornerback. Graham, who has arguably been the Bills' best cornerback this season, emphasized in the locker room that he "hasn't earned anything" but admitted, "I'll be standing here lying if I said I didn't want to start." Coach Doug Marrone said the Bills "rotate guys in" at cornerback that led to Graham starting the game on the bench. McKelvin, who allowed a 49-yard Malcom Floyd catch and committed a 31-yard defensive pass interference penalty, wasn't in the locker room by the time reporters entered.
  • Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was blunt when speaking about the offense's struggles. "We sucked on third downs," Watkins said. While third downs were a problem, the Bills (43 percent) actually fared better than the Chargers (38 percent) and performed better than their average through their first two games (33.3 percent).
  • The Bills exited Sunday's game with three official injuries: left guard Chris Williams (back), wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee), and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle). Not on that list was cornerback Nickell Robey, who was replaced by Ron Brooks later in the game. Brooks called the move a coach's decision and said Robey's health was fine.

Tom Brady: Red zone offense a downer

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady credited the Oakland Raiders defense after Sunday's closer-than-anticipated 16-9 victory, but at the same time lamented missed opportunities for the offense.

"It was a tough win," Brady said after going 24-of-37 for 234 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. "That’s a good defensive group. They’ve got a lot of experienced players who have played a lot of football, won a lot of games and won championships, so it was going to be a dogfight. We need to do a better job getting the ball in the end zone. We settled for field goals down there on the 1-yard line and then another play at the half where we had opportunities. We just have to be able to ultimately score more points because if we don’t, we’re going to get beat. That’s what it came down to."

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports"We left some chances on the field and certainly scoring opportunities," Tom Brady said. "Thatýs something we're going to have to obviously get a lot better at, so we'll keep working at it."
The Patriots scored one touchdown in four red zone trips.

"We left some chances on the field and certainly scoring opportunities," Brady said. "That’s something we’re going to have to obviously get a lot better at, so we’ll keep working at it."

A few other soundbites from Brady:

Vince Wilfork's game-sealing interception: "That was awesome. They scored and I thought we were going out there for a two-minute drill and they said ‘No, there was holding,’ and then on the next play, Vince -- he has three career interceptions, so he’s getting up there. That’s pretty cool. Great play."

The need for improvements: "I don’t think anything is perfect out there. There are some teams that are playing really well already. We’re not really doing that offensively yet. Defensively we played great but it’s a team sport. We’ve got to handle our business and do our job, whether it’s situationally, whether it’s scoring when we need to score. Not turning the ball over has been good -- I think we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve just got to score more points. Especially getting down to the red area and having opportunities to score and not being able to do it."

Pinpointing reasons for red zone struggles: "I think each play is different. We’re not really fair-catching them in the end zone. It’s tight throws, tight windows. We’ve got to throw it and make the play. It’s not going to be easy for us. I don’t think any team plays us and we get -- you know, we get their best. We’ve got to play a lot better and we’re capable of it, so we just have to go and practice and try to do it. It starts there."

Hope for better results in the future: "I think we’ve always gotten better as the season has gone on and as players, gained more experience in what we’re doing. We’ve got some new players. We’ve got different things that are happening. We’re all trying to get used to one another and used to the things we’re doing and trying to understand the things you’re good at. And then ultimately as the season goes, you work on the things that haven’t been going well and you try to stay real ahead of the things that you are doing really well at and then at the end of the year, you’re in a position to hopefully make the playoffs and do those types of things. Right now we’re building our team. We’re trying to make improvements. It hasn’t all gone right. It doesn’t go right when we have penalties or turnovers or negative runs. We’ve just got to do our assignment, do our job. We’ve got to do it better and then ultimately that’s going to lead to more scoring."

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: When it comes to style points, the Patriots don't get many for this one. It was ugly and produces more questions than answers about the team. But the end result is this: The Patriots are 2-1.

Offense sputters in a big way: Quarterback Tom Brady figures to be grumpy again after this one, as the offense continues to struggle. The problems are across the board, starting with poor protection from the offensive line, extending to questionable play-calling (three throws to open the game against the NFL's worst run defense), time management issues in the red zone at the end of the second quarter, and limited pass-catching options outside of Julian Edelman. We could go on, but the bottom line is that the offense is not in a good place right now. What are the solutions? That is the hot-button question.

Gronkowski not yet at full participation: Tight end Rob Gronkowski is still working his way to top form, as evidenced by his limited playing time. It took him five games last year upon returning from his forearm injury to be playing every snap, and this being his third game this year, it's no surprise he was on for 42 of a possible 73 snaps (including penalties but not kneel-downs).

Game ball: Julian Edelman. On a day in which the offense struggled, he was one of the few players who produced. It was reminiscent of how Wes Welker often delivered in situations like these. This was Edelman's fourth career game with 10 or more receptions.

Where's Dobson? Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, a 2013 second-round draft pick who is the team's best deep threat, was a healthy scratch in favor of Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola. Dobson played in his first regular-season game last week in Minnesota (Thompkins was scratched) as the Patriots are playing some musical chairs at receiver, trying to find the right combinations. That Dobson wasn't part of the mix Sunday is a surprise.

Injuries to monitor. Starting defensive tackle Sealver Siliga left the game in the first quarter with a foot injury and did not return. Second-year player Chris Jones took his spot next to Vince Wilfork. This could lead the Patriots to consider a waiver claim on rookie defensive lineman Bruce Gaston, who was previously with the club but was waived by Miami on Saturday.

Stat of note: The Patriots are now 12-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Kansas City Chiefs on "Monday Night Football." It is their first trip to Arrowhead Stadium since the 2005 season. The Chiefs visit the Miami Dolphins during Sunday's late afternoon slate.