FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In a promotional giveaway, all fans will receive a green New York Jets flag Sunday upon entering MetLife Stadium. Maybe it should be a white flag.

Harvin
No doubt, many are ready to give up on the season, if they haven't already. The Jets (1-6) have dropped six straight, one loss shy of their longest losing streak since 2005, Herm Edwards' final season. The arrival of Percy Harvin has created a fresh vibe around the team, but you have to wonder if -- and how long -- that can sustain them, considering there's no playoff motivation.

It would be human nature to suffer a major letdown after last week's soul- and season-crushing loss to the New England Patriots, billed by the Jets as a last-stand opportunity. Rex Ryan, who prides himself on his ability to motivate, faces a huge challenge in trying to regroup his team. The Jets are a slight favorite even though the Buffalo Bills (4-3) can still call themselves contenders. It's probably because the Jets have won seven of the last 10 meetings, including four straight at MetLife.

"Buffalo is no gimme game," guard Willie Colon said. "I think that's the biggest misconception, that we're going to come in and blow Buffalo out of the water. That's not the case at all. They're 4-3, and I'm pretty sure they see blood in the water. They're probably thinking, 'This is there for the taking.' They're not going to bow down by no means."

Has any team ever bowed down to a 1-6 opponent?

Kickoff Sunday is 1 p.m. ET. Here are the top storylines for the Jets against the Bills:

1. The unveiling of Percy: The Jets are bad poker players. They've tried to tamp down expectations, giving only vague answers to questions about Harvin's potential role and impact. Give me a break. Truth is, Harvin figures prominently in the game plan even though he's had only four practices. The plan is to give him at least six to eight touches, feeding him the ball in a variety of ways. You'll see screen passes, running plays and probably a deep shot -- just because they want to prove to everyone he can be more than a "gadget" receiver. His ability near the line of scrimmage, though, could be big in this game. The Jets need quick-hitting plays to offset the Bills' pass rush, and that plays to Harvin's strengths.

Smith
2. Can Geno do it again? News flash: Geno Smith didn't throw an interception last week, only his fifth no-pick game in 23 starts. Ryan is excited that Smith has only two interceptions over the last three games, both coming in desperation-type situations. In the Jets' world, this is considered progress. Smith delivered a workmanlike performance last week, but the question is whether he can sustain it. Typically, he doesn't play well under duress, and the Bills (league-leading 24 sacks) generate a lot of pressure. The Jets' pass protection is shaky. They allow pressure on 33.2 percent of their dropbacks, 29th in the league.

3. Battle of the D-lines: You're talking about two of the better defensive lines in the league. The Bills have Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus inside, with Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams outside. If you asked the Jets to rank them, they'd probably put Mario Williams at No. 4. The overpaid defensive end never does anything against the Jets -- no sacks in four games as a member of the Bills. The biggest concerns are Kyle Williams and Dareus. Colon said he's been losing sleep thinking about his matchup. The Jets' line doesn't have the Pro Bowls and the big salaries, but Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson & Co. should be able to rattle Kyle Orton, who was sacked 11 times in the last two games.

4. From Manning and Brady ... to Orton: The Jets haven't faced a pedestrian quarterback since Week 1 (rookie Derek Carr), but the run of future Hall of Famers is over after a hellacious six-game run. Now they get Orton, who has no Hall of Fame inductions in his future (unless his alma maters decide to honor him). He's 2-1 since replacing EJ Manuel, but let's be real: The Jets have bigger problems than we think if they let Orton -- sans Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- pick them apart. They have to be aware of rookie Sammy Watkins (don't be surprised if Antonio Allen is back at corner), but it's not a multi-weapon offense.

5. A different kind of must-win: Ryan's career record in the AFC East is 14-17, including seven wins over the Bills. If the Jets can't beat the Bills at home, the season turns a darker shade of bad.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has proved to be a quick study on the field. That extends to off the field, as well.

One example came this week when Garoppolo, who grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was asked his favorite team growing up as part of the weekly “football journey” series.

“Is this a setup?” a smiling Garoppolo asked in the days leading up to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

No setup, Jimmy, just a standard question as part of the “football journey.”

And with that, Garoppolo laughed and talked about his love for the Bears growing up, how he admired the hard-charging running of Anthony “A-Train” Thomas and experienced heartbreak when Chicago lost to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.

“Devin Hester returning that opening kickoff [was a top memory], and then it was all downhill from there,” he recalled. “That was a heck of a year to be a [Bears] fan.”

But at the same time, Garoppolo wanted to make something clear -- his allegiances have fully shifted to his current team.

And with that, he shares his “football journey” as part of our weekly feature:

[+] EnlargeJimmy Garoppolo
AP Photo/Richard LipskiDespite being a Bears fan as a kid, Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite player growing up was Brett Favre.
When he first started playing football: “Fifth grade. My two older brothers played. My parents wouldn’t let us play until we got big enough. We were soccer kids growing up, and once we got to fifth grade, we were allowed to play.”

First positions: “A little bit of everything really. I was linebacker, tight end, receiver, running back. When I was younger, I was mainly running back and tight end.”

Favorite players growing up: “It sounds weird, but I always liked Brett Favre, even though he was on the Packers.”

Role models growing up: “My parents [Tony and Denise], definitely. Seeing what they went through, having four kids, always busy running from game to game. Then my two older brothers, obviously. Just being number three of four, you look up to them and want to do what they did.”

Top football memories at Rolling Meadows High: “Definitely winning conference. Sophomore year, I got moved up and we were No. 1 in the state and everything. Senior year, we won conference again. It’s just being with all your friends; I think that’s the coolest thing about high school. You grew up with all these guys since you were little and you play with them.”

Why he chose to attend Eastern Illinois: “Eastern, Illinois State and Montana State all gave me scholarships. Bigger schools wanted me to walk on, but I didn’t want to do that. I went with Eastern, which was a great opportunity to play because their quarterback had just graduated. I went on a visit and fell in love with it.”

Top memories at Eastern Illinois: “The whole last two years were just unbelievable. Freshman and sophomore year were fun. We struggled on the field, but those last two years we really became a team. Those were some great memories.”

One game that stands out: “When we beat Illinois State my senior year, it was a pretty good whipping [57-24]. They were our in-state rival and we don’t like each other very much.”

When he knew the NFL might be possible: “Probably around sophomore year. My quarterback coach at the time, Coach [Roy] Wittke, was getting it in my head. I had progressed a lot from freshman to sophomore year, and he gave me the idea. He told me if I kept progressing the way I was, good things would happen.”

Reaction to being selected by the Patriots in the 2014 second round (62nd overall): “Stunned. That is how it would have been anywhere, but to come to such a good organization, looking up to a great guy in front of me right now, it’s picture perfect.”

Life as a Patriot: “Busy, especially as a rookie. There is not much off time. But this is what you love to do and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t want to work a job or anything; this doesn’t feel like work to me. I go out and enjoy it every day.”

[+] EnlargeJimmy Garoppolo
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsAfter his senior season at Eastern Illinois, Jimmy Garoppolo won the Walter Payton Award, given to the top FCS player.
Transitioning from Football Championship Subdivision to the NFL: “People are going to make a big deal out of it; I knew that as soon as I started getting into the draft talk and all that stuff. Going to the two All-Star Games -- the East-West and the Senior Bowl -- really helped clarify some things. It’s a different level, that’s for sure, but once you break it down, players are players, we’re all the same age coming out together, all talented.”

What he prides himself on as a football player: “Just being the hardest-working guy. I want to go out there and bust my butt every day and get after it. You don’t want to have any regrets at the end of the day.”

What he loves about the game of football: “Everything. Being with the guys and building these relationships that you’ll have forever. It’s a very unique job, not many people get to do it, so you might as well enjoy it while you’re doing it.”

Highs and lows in football: “Hopefully the highest point hasn’t come yet. Lowest point? I don’t know if there was one. We had a couple rough years at Eastern the first two years. Other than that, it’s football. You get to go out there and work hard, grind with the guys, and enjoy every second of it.”

Summing up his football journey: “Unbelievable. If you told me in fifth grade that all of this was going to happen, I don’t know if I would have believed you. I was a baseball kid growing up, I thought that was what I was going to do. Things worked out, and I became a quarterback junior year. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

W2W4: Bills at Jets

October, 24, 2014
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills (4-3) will look to string together back-to-back wins as they travel to face the New York Jets (1-6) on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for:

1. Addressing the backfield: By far the biggest story coming out of Western New York this week was a reshuffled backfield following injuries to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. As far as how the Bills will split carries, let's keep it simple: They know what they have in Anthony Dixon and he's been productive when called upon this season (5.1 yard average on 27 carries), so the Bills aren't suddenly going to turn away from him. Rather, expect Dixon to be the "lead" back and for Bryce Brown to work into the mix. If he shows well, he could get more carries; if he doesn't, he probably won't.

2. Getting ahead on scoreboard: The Bills' offense hasn't started a drive with a lead for their last 46 possessions, or since EJ Manuel was intercepted by J.J. Watt in the third quarter of Buffalo's Week 4 loss to the Houston Texans. That means Kyle Orton has gone under center either trailing or locked in a tied game. In general, that has created more of a dependence on the passing game, so if the Bills fall behind again Sunday it won't matter whether Dixon or Brown is receiving carries; what matters will again be Orton's ability to move the ball through the air.

3. Containing Harvin: The greatest challenge for Jim Schwartz and the Bills' defense will be to figure out what the Jets are doing with Percy Harvin, their new offensive chess piece. Even if he doesn't touch the ball, it would make sense for the Jets to use Harvin in as many formations and motions as they can. The big-play threat that Harvin poses might be enough to draw the Bills defense's attention away from other players. Something to consider, however: Schwartz, as coach of the Detroit Lions, coached seven times against Harvin when he played for the Minnesota Vikings. There's a level of familiarity there for Schwartz that could translate to a higher comfort level in scheming against Harvin.

Here's a deeper look at how Harvin has fared against Schwartz:

Harvin against Schwartz-coached defenses (seven games):
Receptions per game: 5.4
Receiving yards per game: 51.9
Yards after catch per reception: 5.8
Pass targets per routes run: 35.6 percent
Rushing yards per game: 17.6

Harvin against all other defenses (53 games):
Receptions per game: 5.0
Receiving yards per game: 58.3
Yards after catch per reception: 6.5
Pass targets per routes run: 33.7 percent
Rushing yards per game: 12.3

4. Finishing first half strong: After going winless in their final game before the bye week for more than a decade, the Bills snapped that skid last season with a 37-14 win over the Jets. Another win over New York could pull the Bills even in the AFC East again if the Patriots lose at home to the Chicago Bears. If the opposite happens, and the Bills drop to 4-4 while the Patriots improve to 6-2, the Bills will return from their bye week in a tough spot, effectively down three games in the division with eight remaining.

RB Shane Vereen not seen at practice

October, 24, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Shane Vereen was not spotted at the start of the Patriots’ practice on Friday.

 Vereen has not been listed on the team’s injury report, so it was unclear why he was missing from practice. He was in attendance for the three other practices held this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Vereen had dealt with a shoulder injury earlier in the season that had him listed as questionable for the team’s Week 3 game against Oakland.

Defensive end Chandler Jones missed his fourth practice of the week with a hip injury and is unlikely to play this Sunday against the Bears. Jones is reportedly out for one month while he recovers.

While there was a sighting of defensive tackle Alan Branch in the locker room on Thursday, Branch was not seen at Friday’s practice. The team has not officially announced the signing of the 6-foot-6, 325 pound Branch.

The Patriots were wearing sweats and shells at practice.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Although it hasn't been publicized much on a national level, Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins has quietly been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL during the past three weeks.

Tannehill has been lights out in 10 of his past 12 quarters, with the exception being the first half in a Week 6 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Tannehill
The Dolphins are 2-1 in that stretch and 3-3 overall heading into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6). Tannehill appears to be finding his groove at the right time. This is an important part of the season where we will find out if Miami is a contender or pretender this season.

“It’s a natural progression, right?” Tannehill said this week. “As a play-caller, as an offense, as you get in the flow of things, you figure out the things that your team is good at, that your players are good at, and you try to highlight those things. You can’t only do those things because you have to be balanced. But I think [offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor] has done a great job of game-planning, and then when the games come around, calling great games.”

Tannehill’s numbers are up across the board during his three-game run. He is completing 72.3 percent of his passes in that stretch and making fewer mistakes. Tannehill also is using his legs more and produced runs of 40 and 30 yards in his past two games.

Tannehill’s recent play has fueled newfound optimism that he could potentially develop into Miami’s long-term solution at quarterback. Just before this three-game run, there was speculation that Tannehill was in danger of being benched.

Miami head coach Joe Philbin refused to name a starting quarterback before the Week 4 game against the Oakland Raiders. That fueled questions of whether Tannehill needed to play better quickly or risk being benched. From that point, Tannehill has played some of the best football of his career.

“I’m just glad we’re playing good football, myself and the team,” a happy Tannehill said. “You want to improve every week, and you know I think we’ve done that. Sometimes it’s been obvious, sometimes not so obvious. But I think we’re improving consistently, and that’s what you want is guys getting more comfortable on the field, myself included and things start clicking.”

The next step for Tannehill is to prove his hot streak isn't just a short-term solution. It is easier for NFL quarterbacks to get hot, but franchise quarterbacks are able to consistently stay hot.

Tannehill has 10 more games to get the Dolphins in the postseason and prove he is Miami's long-term answer under center. A good game against the lowly Jaguars Sunday would be another step in the right direction for Tannehill's development.

Bill Belichick deflects questions about Darrelle Revis

October, 24, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Making his first public comments since cornerback Darrelle Revis was kept out of practice for tardiness, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was characteristically deflective when asked about the absence.

Several reports had conflicting details about whether Revis was sent home from the facilities or was told to stay home before he showed up. Belichick did not shed any light on the situation.

Here’s a back-and-forth between Belichick and reporters from Friday’s news conference:

Reporter: “Bill, what is your version of what happened with Darrelle Revis on Tuesday?”

Belichick: “Anything between me and a player is between myself and the players.”

Reporter: “You sent him home, is that correct?”

Belichick: “I didn’t say that.”

Reporter: “But he was here and ...”

Belichick: “I’m ready to talk about the Bears. Anything else is between myself and the players.”

Reporter: “Will his playing time on Sunday be impacted in any way based on that?”

Belichick: “The Bears are really a good team. I think they are going to be a tough matchup for us. We are going to do the best we can to match up against them.”

Bills vs. Jets preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Since taking over the New York Jets in 2009, Rex Ryan is 7-3 against the Buffalo Bills -- the only team in the AFC East he can beat on a fairly consistent basis. Now Ryan and the Jets could be on the verge of losing that.

The Jets (1-6), losers of six straight, are heading nowhere. The Bills (4-3), in their second season under Doug Marrone, still have a chance to make something of their season. They meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak discuss the matchup:

Cimini: Let's start with the quarterbacks. The Kyle Orton-for-EJ Manuel switch has worked out well. Why is that? What does it mean for Manuel's future? It's interesting because the Jets have a similar dynamic with Geno Smith and Michael Vick, yet they decided to ride it out with Smith.

Rodak: I'm not sure if the change has been night and day, but in general, Orton has shown a greater willingness to sling some passes where Manuel may have been more tentative.

Through the first four games, Manuel had a QBR of 19.8, a completion rate of 58 percent and 6.4 yards per attempt. In his three starts, Orton has a QBR of 40.7, a completion rate of 68.5 percent and 7.2 yards per attempt. Orton hasn't played mistake-free football, with an interception in each of his three games, including a pick-six. But unless those mistakes multiply, don't expect Manuel back in the lineup anytime soon. Orton gives the Bills the best shot at the playoffs. If Orton leads the Bills to the postseason, he is likely their full-time starter going forward. If he doesn't, perhaps Manuel gets another shot, but it's no guarantee it's under the current coaching staff.

Why have the Jets decided to ride it out with Smith? What happened to the quarterback who lit up the Bills for a career-high 331 yards at MetLife last September?

Cimini: That quarterback is like a telephone bill; he shows up once a month. Smith is sometimes solid, rarely spectacular and often mistake-prone. Now I will say this: He is coming off his best game of the year, a no-turnover performance in last week's crushing loss to the New England Patriots. Smith is at his best when he uses his legs to get out of trouble, and he ran seven times for 37 yards in the game. The question is, can he sustain it? Unlike the Bills, the Jets decided to endure the weekly growing pains instead of turning to the veteran backup. Two explanations: They are really down on Vick, or they made a predetermination to devote the entire season to Smith's development. Either way, it doesn't cast the organization in a positive light.

With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson injured, who's left at running back, Mike? Can Thurman Thomas still play?

Rodak: Well, Thomas has been out at practice a few times this season and still looks the part. Maybe, with one more injury, he'll get his call. Until then, the Bills are going to roll with Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown in the backfield. When you consider some of the other backup situations around the league, it could be a lot worse. They are both experienced backs who were somewhat phased out of their former teams' offenses. I get the sense both have a chip on their shoulder. Marrone said Wednesday that he wasn't "as concerned about that situation" as some may think. In truth, while Spiller was injured on a 53-yard run, he was one of the NFL's worst running backs from a statistical standpoint over the past month.

I guess the big story in New York is Percy Harvin. How much of a role will he have in this game?

Cimini: The Jets haven't revealed too much, as you'd expect, but I expect him to play a good chunk of the snaps on offense. Will he play 50-plus snaps? I doubt it, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's out there for 20 or 30. They will have a Percy package that will include his signature plays -- jet sweeps, bubble screens, etc. -- but I also think they will give him an opportunity to be a conventional wide receiver. This much we do know: He will return kickoffs and, possibly, punts. Harvin's arrival definitely adds intrigue to the season. Now we'll see if he's worth the hype. My gut tells me he won't make a significant impact. It's hard to integrate a new receiver into the offense without having had the benefit of training camp.

Speaking of fast receivers, Sammy Watkins is coming off his best game. Give us your take on his progression, Mike. Do the Bills have any second thoughts about making the trade for him?

Rodak: Watkins has shown few, if any, limitations that you might expect from a rookie. He had a few quieter games, but generally he has been one of the best players on the field each week. That's what the Bills expected -- a player who can step in right away and perform -- and that's what they're getting. Still, I think time will tell if trading up for him was the right move. The Bills consider him a "generational" talent, but it's debatable whether it was worth giving up two first-round picks for a nonquarterback. The Falcons, who gave up the house to grab Julio Jones, are one example of a team that may have benefited from saving their draft choices and building across the roster.

In particular, the Bills could be hurting next spring when they don't have a first-round pick to use on a quarterback. That's the underlying problem with the Bills' trade; Watkins can be a perennial 1,000-yard receiver, but if the rest of the offense isn't up to snuff, what good does he do you? Consider that Watkins is on pace for 990 yards this season but the Bills still rank near the bottom of the NFL in most offensive categories.

What has happened to the Jets' defense? They ranked 13th in third-down defense last season; they rank 27th this year. They were fourth-best in the red zone in 2013 and are fifth-worst this season. What's to blame for the drop?

Cimini: Oh, man, I could ramble for a long time on this topic. First, let me throw out a couple of other numbers: The defense has allowed a league-high 11 touchdowns on third down and generated only three takeaways -- and one of those was a gift, a botched snap.

What makes the swoon so puzzling is that the Jets are one of the better pass-rushing teams in the league (20 sacks), which should be the foundation to a strong defense -- in theory. The problem is they have no playmakers in the back seven/eight. Their linebackers and defensive backs have combined for one interception and two forced fumbles. The cornerback play is pedestrian. They have been undermined by injuries (Dee Milliner), defections (Dimitri Patterson) and poor personnel decisions. It's so bad that Ryan has resorted to playing more zone coverage than ever before. Somehow the Jets are ranked ninth in total defense, but don't let that fool you. This isn't a top-10 defense.
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Has it really been eight years already?

The last time the Chicago Bears visited the New England Patriots, on Nov. 26, 2006, quarterback Tom Brady was juking linebacker Brian Urlacher on an unforgettable 11-yard run en route to a hard-fought, 17-13 win.

The Patriots had ripped up their natural-grass field the week before and installed FieldTurf on a permanent basis.

"It goes fast," Brady said of the eight years. "Before that game, we played the Jets in a rainstorm, and the field really started off crappy that year. The start of the year, it was like a sandpit."

The Bears' return to New England for the first time since that game, and ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Michael C. Wright (Bears) break down the matchup:

Reiss: Give us a feel for the state of the Bears team from a locker room solidarity standpoint. Any sense of how receiver Brandon Marshall's remarks were received?

Wright: Well, you're talking about a locker room with 53 players, meaning 53 individuals who all view things differently. On one hand, you've got players who saw Marshall's remarks as something that needed to be said. On the other, you've got guys who believe he needed to keep those sharp criticisms in house. Ultimately, all of these guys have to continue to play together and unite to reach the goal, which obviously is to defeat the Patriots. Bears general manager Phil Emery recently took part in a chat on the team's official website and likened the situation to a family. There will be disagreements and different points of view, but ultimately, it's all love. So I think the Bears will quickly forget about Sunday's drama once they get into the thick of preparation for the Patriots.

The Patriots looked like a tired team during their 27-25 win over the New York Jets, especially on defense. How much of a change can we expect from this team with plenty of rest and 10 days to prepare for the Bears?

Reiss: If it doesn't change, Mike, then I think they are in trouble. I probably gave them a little more leeway on that performance than others because it was their fourth game in 18 days (three in prime time), and they had no full-speed practices to adjust to the season-ending loss of signal-caller Jerod Mayo five days earlier. I thought they looked tired, and some players said as much after the game. The tackling was sloppy, and there was just no snap in their performance. Looking ahead, the concerns are in the front seven, where they are thin and still banged up. They are pretty deep in the secondary, especially at cornerback. I'd expect a better performance Sunday than we saw Oct. 16.

Patriots followers had been hoping the team might make a run at defensive end Jared Allen in the offseason. How would you characterize his impact on the Bears defense?

Wright: Very minimal at this point, Mike, and I don't quite understand exactly why. I think a combination of factors have limited Allen's ability to make a real impact on the defense. During the preseason, Allen missed time to attend the birth of his daughter. Then, the team held him out of the third preseason game due to a bruised shoulder. Two days after the team's Sept. 22 win over the Jets, Allen was diagnosed with pneumonia, which caused him to lose 15 pounds and forced him to break a streak of 113 consecutive starts.

Meanwhile, Allen's backup, Willie Young, is putting together a career year (seven sacks). The Bears originally brought in Young to be a starter at defensive end, but when Allen became available in free agency, the club pounced and made Young the backup. But while Allen was missing time dealing with injuries and illness, Young stepped up and earned significant snaps. Now, it appears Allen has been relegated to a lesser role. Allen contributed half a sack in last week's win over the Miami Dolphins but didn't receive much playing time. Reporters asked Allen about that after the game, and all he could say was we'd have to ask the coach.

What I find a little odd is the Patriots rank fairly high in terms of points allowed, and they're also doing pretty well in terms of takeaways (tied for most in the NFL), yet there's the perception that New England's defense isn't very good. I know they've struggled against the run, but why is that the case, and where -- in terms of the defense's strengths -- do you think New England matches up best against Chicago's struggling offensive attack?

Reiss: They've had three really bad games against the run, giving up 191 to the Dolphins in the season opener, 207 to the Kansas City Chiefs and then 218 to the Jets. Like most things in football, it's never really one thing. I thought the game plan against Miami was a bit flawed because they played Chandler Jones as a 5-technique defensive end in the 3-4 and, overall, they were hurt by the inside zone runs. Against Kansas City, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis are no slouches, and that was just a beatdown in a frenzied environment in which the Patriots didn't enter the boxing ring with the emotion needed to win. Then, the Jets game had those dynamics in play where they were without Mayo for the first time, had others banged up and were fatigued quickly. As for where the Patriots match up best with the Bears, I'd relay what Darrelle Revis said Wednesday -- the unit is at its best producing turnovers. What Revis didn't say, but you can probably confirm best, is that Chicago has been generous in that area.

With Matt Forte, Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Jay Cutler, that's a pretty high-powered offensive package of five key players. What are some of the reasons they haven't been more explosive?

Wright: The No. 1 reason is turnovers, and Cutler has committed more of them than anyone else (10) on the team, with opponents scoring 37 points off the quarterback's generosity. In each of the four losses, Cutler turned the ball over multiple times, yet in each of the victories, the quarterback didn't commit a single turnover. Headed into the game against the Dolphins, Bears coach Marc Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and even Cutler himself pointed to turnovers being the common denominator in each of the losses. Yet for whatever reason, the Bears haven't been able to fix the problem. I think Trestman, as a play-caller, shares in some of the responsibility because he probably needs to lean more on the rushing attack. Forte is averaging 4 yards per carry this season, yet in the first half last week, the Bears handed off to him just twice. Yes, the Bears ran just 18 plays in the first half. But the team needs to make Forte a more focal part of the game plan, which would enable Cutler to utilize play-action more effectively. Also, I believe there might be a problem brewing at right tackle with Jordan Mills. In each of the past two games, the Bears have had to give Mills help in protection, which obviously reduces the number of targets you can send out on routes.

Let's look at the other side of the ball. It's sort of rare to hold possession for 19:06, be outgained by 100 yards and have 12 fewer first downs than the Jets, yet still come out victorious. I know the offensive line has struggled, but can you give me an overview of some of the issues on offense?

Reiss: It starts on the offensive line. Our good friends at ESPN's Stats & Information passed along these numbers that reflect some of the instability: The Patriots have had nine different offensive linemen play at least 100 snaps, tied for the most in the league. Furthermore, New England is the only team to play six different players for at least 100 snaps at the three interior offensive line positions. Part of that has been injury-based, while part of it has been performance-based. They opened the season with tackle Marcus Cannon at left guard despite never playing him there in the preseason. He lost the job after three weeks, as did first-year right guard Jordan Devey. Things have stabilized a bit in recent weeks, and, not surprisingly, the offense has looked better in the process. It has helped that tight end Rob Gronkowski is just about back to 100 percent after being eased back into the mix coming off his torn right ACL. What a difference-maker.

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Oday Aboushi is in his second week as the Jets' starting left guard, and his assignment this week at MetLife Stadium is a formidable Bills defensive front, a group that leads the league in sacks.

“I think they all just play with great effort,” Aboushi said. “I know a lot of their players are coming on for them. It’ll be a good challenge for us.”

That will certainly be true. The 1-6 Jets haven’t won a game since beating the Raiders in the first week of the season. The 4-3 Bills will try to extend that with their defensive front of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes.

“Bills’ front is one of the stoutest in the league, so we know that’s going to be a challenge,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “But it’s not like we’re not going to give it a shot; we’re certainly going to give it a shot. We recognize who we’re up against, but it’s not like we’re just going to make it pass [skeleton]. We’re going to try to run the football and I think we will run the football.”

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Gary WiepertJerry Hughes and the Buffalo Bills' defense could present trouble for the Jets' offensive line.
The Jets have had some good running games with running backs Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell, but they’ve also struggled at times. Against the Broncos, the Jets only had 31 total rushing yards. Ivory leads the Jets with 432 yards on 88 carries this season and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Chris Johnson has 261 yards on 64 carries for 4.1 yards a carry.

Johnson said there is a formula to success on Sunday.

“Stay on our assignments and get some hands on those guys and if we can do that, we should be all right,” Johnson said.

The Jets are sixth in the league in rushing yards per game. But still, how easy is it to get Mario Williams out of the way?

“I can’t get him out of my way,” Johnson said with a laugh. “The offensive line has to do that.”

Johnson has faced the Bills before with the Tennessee Titans.

“They always had a good defensive line, always had a fast group,” Johnson said. “This is not a game where we just hand off and we break 10-, 15-, 20-yard runs every time we touch the ball. It’s going to be a grind.”

Creating those gaps will be a challenge for Aboushi, who is learning on the job as he continues to start for the injured Brian Winters. Fellow offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson says it’s the only way to get used to the game.

“Everybody starts in a different way, but when you get in there, that’s how you begin to learn,” Ferguson said. “You learn by doing. Whether it’s the beginning of the season, the middle of the season, it doesn’t matter. When you get in there, that’s when you realize what it is to play in this league.”
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Hard-hitting safety Calvin Pryor -- a.k.a. the Louisville Slugger -- got blindsided Thursday by his own coach.

Giving a seven-game assessment of Pryor's rookie season, Rex Ryan offered an honest and accurate evaluation of the first-round pick, saying, "He hasn't had the impact necessarily that all of us had expected."

Pryor, in a full-time role, has made no big plays for the New York Jets, fueling the perception that he's falling short of expectations. Two factors have contributed to that, one of which was quickly noted by Ryan.

Pryor
For a variety of reasons, Pryor has played out of position as a deep-middle safety -- a free safety, if you will. He did that early in his college career at Louisville, but he built his reputation near the line of scrimmage, delivering blow-up hits. The Jets fell in love with him because of his aggressive and fearless style.

Ryan being Ryan, he raised the bar (and the pressure) on Pryor by making a far-fetched comparison. A few days after the draft, he said, "He reminds me of Jack Tatum -- an enforcer back there."

Talk about turning up the heat.

Tatum, notorious for his paralyzing wide receiver Darryl Stingley with a vicious hit, was known in the 1970s as "The Assassin." In fact, he wrote a book, entitled, "They Call me Assassin." He was one of the most feared tacklers in NFL history.

Pryor hasn't made an impact -- no interceptions, no forced fumbles, one tackle-for-loss and a half-sack. Ryan attributed the lack of production to the defensive scheme, suggesting Pryor has been victimized by an in-season adjustment. Because of injuries and personnel issues at cornerback, and because of the number of top quarterbacks they've faced, the Jets have played more zone than usual. The grand design was to use Pryor in the box, letting him attack the line of scrimmage, but that hasn't materialized.

"It hasn't gone according to plan, so to speak," Ryan said.

Of course, there's nothing stopping Pryor from making plays in the deep middle. After all, when you're the 18th overall pick, you're expected to be more than a one-dimensional safety. But pass coverage isn't his strength. During the draft process, scouts questioned that aspect of his game.

Pryor said he never expected to play this much free safety, admitting, "It can be frustrating and disappointing at times." But he also acknowledged that he has to play better.

"There have been a lot of moving parts on the back end, but he's definitely right," Pryor said of Ryan. "I look at myself in the mirror and I know I have to step it up."

Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman agreed with Ryan's assessment but defended the rookie, saying he hasn't had many opportunities to make plays. Coincidentally, he mentioned Tatum.

"You guys think he's the second coming of Jack Tatum," said Thurman, apparently not aware that Ryan started the comparison several months ago. "Go find a tape of Jack Tatum's rookie year. I promise you, he was dealing with the same issues playing the deep middle. You don't get a lot of opportunities to get blow-up hits playing the middle."

As rookie with the Oakland Raiders, back in 1971, Tatum had four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Antonio Allen has played safety, cornerback and nickel this season as the New York Jets try to account for a dwindling number of defensive backs, and he has done so with a mixed amount of success.

Last week against the Patriots, Allen allowed two touchdowns, including one on third-and-19. It was a rough game for Allen, who played in 75 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps that game.

Allen
"It’s been a roller coaster," Allen said Thursday, "but I’m always up for the challenge and looking for ways to better myself."

Coach Rex Ryan pointed out that Allen has had a difficult role to play. Starting cornerback Dee Milliner suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against Denver, and rookie Dexter McDougle was out with a knee injury before the season even started.

"It's kind of tough, especially when you have an injury and you're trying to make in-game adjustments. It's kind of difficult," Ryan said of the situation at cornerback. "But we've placed a lot on (Allen) and I think overall he's done pretty well. Everybody has some moments that they wish they had back, there were a couple of things, probably he could have played better, we could've played better, everybody across the board. But I'm happy he's on our team and he's playing well."

Allen has played all over the secondary this season. He said he knows the entire defensive playbook, but joked that he hasn't been asked to play on the defensive line.

"D-Line's doing a good job, so I [don't] think they're going to have me in that spot," Allen said. "But you never know, I might get in the nine technique."

Dawan Landry and rookie Calvin Pryor are the starting safeties, and Ryan said Pryor hasn't been quite what the team hoped for in his first year, so they have had to alter the defense a bit to compensate. This week, they have the Bills and rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to contend with.

"It's going to be a tough challenge," Allen said. "Every week is going to be tough because we haven't been playing up to par. But hopefully we can come out this weekend and show up a little bit."

Vince Wilfork: Can't miss tackles against Matt Forte

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
3:53
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In the Patriots’ narrow 27-25 victory over the Jets, the defense was gashed for 218 yards on the ground by Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. The task doesn’t get any easier this week against one of the best running backs in the league: the Bears’ Matt Forte.

Vince Wilfork sees tackling -- an area he feels the defense has struggled with -- as the key to slowing down Forte and the Bears’ offense.

“That’s the biggest thing defensively -- being able to tackle,” Wilfork said. “And that’s part of our problem, too; sometimes we miss tackles, we overplay some things and it costs us. It costs us big.

“No matter how you slice it, we have to be able to tackle. We have to be able to get off the field on third down, in the red area, just make them kick field goals. The team has played good football in the red area. I think that’s one of those things that helped us last week was in the red area they kicked field goals instead of us giving up seven points. That’s big. That’s probably the only thing we did well.”

The last time the Patriots played the Bears, New England’s defense held Forte to a mere 25 yards rushing on nine carries. The Patriots also limited Forte in the receiving game as he only had two catches for 36 yards.

Wilfork, however, knows that game was back in 2010 and this is a different Bears’ team -- one with a strong offensive identity.

“Last time we played them they were totally different,” Wilfork said. “They probably have a couple guys that are still there but for the most part it’s a different team. A team we don’t play a lot. We have to do a lot of study on those guys on tendencies and what they want to do and how they do it, formations, situations in the game, understanding what they want to do.”

Wilfork gave high praise to Forte’s versatility and the balance he provides the Bears’ offense.

“There’s not a lot [of backs Forte compares to] because he is a big running back,” Wilfork said. “The way he catches the ball out the backfield you would think he is a receiver. And he can run the ball well, too.

“I could see them doing a lot more of [giving Forte the ball] coming into this game, especially trying to get that running game started so it can open up the play-action passes and throw the ball vertically to his big receivers. So we have to do a real great job up front of trying to take away the run game.”

The Patriots will have to slow down Forte without the help of defensive end Chandler Jones, who has a hip injury. Jones is reportedly out for one month, but Wilfork shrugged it off.

“Who said we don’t have Chandler?” Wilfork said. “I don’t know if we are going to have Chandler or not, but when the time comes we will figure it out.

“I’m confident in everybody we put on the field because the way we practice around here, the way guys get taught the same way. We don’t change any type of defense because we lack a person, we don’t care who that person is. Just the next man up, he has to be able to step in and do his job and do it to the fullest.”
What's the best way to rank defenses?

Is it points allowed? Yards allowed? Turnovers forced? There isn't one right answer, but one of the better methods is to combine a group of statistics and create an index.

ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi's defensive index does just that, and the Buffalo Bills' defense is treated favorably, ranking second in the NFL behind the Detroit Lions.

Bruschi combines a defense's ranks in turnovers, third-down conversions, red-zone efficiency, points allowed per game and sacks to arrive at his index ranking.

One surprise on the list? The Seattle Seahawks' vaunted defense falling to dead last in the ranking.
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Sunday's Jacksonville Jaguars-Miami Dolphins matchup at EverBank Field features two teams coming off big victories and searching for something neither has had in a while: a winning streak.

The Jaguars haven't won back-to-back games since Weeks 12-14 of the 2013 season, and the Dolphins haven't accomplished that since Weeks 13-15 of last season. Even worse for the Jaguars: They haven't won back-to-back home games since the 2011 season.

ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup.

Michael DiRocco: Everyone in Jacksonville is convinced Blake Bortles is the franchise quarterback the team has needed. What's the feeling in Miami on Ryan Tannehill?

James Walker: Just like Tannehill's play, the mood has been up and down on Miami's starting quarterback. There was a lot of optimism entering this season that Tannehill would carry Miami's offense. The Dolphins hired a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, who helped quickly develop Nick Foles last season in Philadelphia. So many Dolphins fans, perhaps prematurely, expected quick results from Tannehill, as well. But it's been a slow progression in his third season. He was average for the first three games. Then, Tannehill started to put together better performances against the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Last week was really the first time in 38 starts that I felt Tannehill was the best player on the field. He started with 14 straight completions, which Tannehill told me he's never done at any level to start a game. He appears to be turning the corner and clicking in this new offense. But the bottom line is Tannehill is still 18-20 as a starter. Gaining consistency over these next 10 games will be key.

I'm not sure if the Jaguars getting their first win makes them more or less dangerous to upset the Dolphins. What are your thoughts?

DiRocco: If you had asked me this question on Sunday night, I would have said more dangerous. The defense just played its best game, and the offense took advantage of some Cleveland turnovers and scored a season-high 24 points despite Bortles playing his worst game. Things had been starting to come together for the Jaguars in the previous two weeks, and they finally put a complete game together, eliminated mistakes and made big plays. But the loss of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (torn pectoral muscle) for the rest of the season and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) for at least six weeks is a huge blow. It's almost as if this team is snakebitten. They get some good news (a victory) but can't enjoy it because of the injuries. That will definitely impact the team's psyche because there are so many young players (29 first- or second-year players) who haven't been through a situation like this before.

How does the return of Dion Jordan impact the defense? Will that help Cameron Wake?

Walker: I don't expect a huge impact from Jordan right away. Six weeks is a long time to be away from football, especially during a suspension when you can't communicate with coaches or have a playbook. Jordan practiced with the team for the first time since Aug. 28 on Tuesday and a lot has changed. Backups such as Derrick Shelby, Chris McCain and Terrence Fede have stepped forward and developed. Miami's defense also added a few wrinkles since the summer. Jordan has a lot of catching up to do. The practice week is still ongoing, and how he responds physically and mentally will be key. If Jordan sees action Sunday in Jacksonville, his biggest contribution would most likely be on special teams until he gets his legs under him.

How much will the loss of Posluszny impact Jacksonville's defense?

DiRocco: As mentioned before, it's huge, and it goes beyond what he does on the field. Posluszny has his limitations in pass coverage, but he's a fantastic two-down linebacker. He's a tackling machine, one of the team's leaders, one of the team's smartest players, is responsible for calling the defensive plays and is the Jaguars' best defensive player. There's no way the Jaguars will be able to replace his production or leadership, especially since they're going to be relying on players who have mainly contributed on special teams (J.T. Thomas and LaRoy Reynolds). Though the Jaguars' defensive line has played pretty well, not having Posluszny makes the run defense considerably weaker -- not good since the Dolphins are fourth in the NFL in rushing.

The Dolphins had a big win in Chicago last week. Was that an aberration or are they legitimate contenders for a playoff spot?

Walker: I won't put the Dolphins into the "contender" category until they can at least win two games in a row -- a feat they have yet to do this season. The Dolphins are in that middle of the pack with about 12-15 other teams about which you're not sure what to expect week to week. There have been times -- such as wins against the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots -- when the Dolphins have looked like contenders. There is certainly enough talent, especially when the quarterback is playing well, but Miami hasn't developed enough consistency to this point to inspire confidence this is a 10-win team. We will learn a lot about the Dolphins with how they respond Sunday in Jacksonville.

Have the Jaguars finally found a spot for Denard Robinson at running back?

DiRocco: It appears so, although I don't think you're going to see him get the kind of workload he did against Cleveland (22 carries) on a consistent basis. Though he's the most explosive of the Jaguars' backs, he's not used to carrying the ball that many times. Carrying the ball as a running back is different than carrying it as a quarterback, the way he did during his career at Michigan. And, he's not used to taking the kind of pounding he did on Sunday. When Toby Gerhart returns from a foot injury (which should be Sunday), Robinson's carries will decrease, though he should still be the No. 1 back. I'd also like to see him used more on the edge and in the passing game, where he can use his open-field abilities a little more.

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Percy Harvin and Geno SmithAP Photo, Getty Images
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- We're five days removed from the Percy Harvin trade, and there's still an element of mystery surrounding the New York Jets' motivation for the deal. One theory being floated is they believe a playmaker of Harvin's ilk will accelerate the development of Geno Smith, assisting the organization as it formulates an evaluation of the quarterback over the final nine games.

I don't think that was the primary reason for the trade. If it was, my question is this: Why didn't they take that approach in the offseason? Why didn't they try to sign another wide receiver to go along with Eric Decker? Bringing Harvin into the fold at this point in the season, asking him to learn an offense on the fly and develop a rapport with Smith, is a too-little, too-late move. It may provide some help to Smith, but it won't elevate him to a new level.

Harvin won't save Smith. The only person who can save Geno is Geno. He has nine games to convince the brass he's their long-term answer. Let's be honest, it'll have to be one whale of a nine-game run to erase the first 23 games.

"Receivers don't make quarterbacks; quarterbacks make receivers," a longtime personnel executive said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I don't think Geno can play, I don't care who you put around him. Yeah, [Harvin] will make him a little better, but I've seen enough of Geno. You can't saddle the next coach with another year of Geno."

Smith played one of his best all-around games in last week's loss to the New England Patriots, managing to go a full game without an interception -- only the fifth time he's done that in 23 starts. There were some positives (an 88.6 passer rating), but the question is whether he can sustain it. This is hard to believe, but only once has he posted an 80 rating or better in back-to-back games -- the final two games last season.

Starting Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (4-3), Smith needs to put together a string of feel-good performances. He dismissed the idea that last week was a building block, saying, "No, we lost the game. That's that."

Good answer.

Smith has made slight improvements from last season in most of the major statistical categories, but as Bill Parcells always used to say, the quarterback's job is to get his team into the end zone. Smith isn't doing that. The Jets are averaging only 17 points per game, tied for 28th in the league. That's not good enough. Not even close.

Decker believes Harvin's presence will take some pressure off Smith, because he can take a short, high-percentage throw and break it for 40 or 50 yards. That's a fine theory. The Seattle Seahawks felt the same way, except the longest of Harvin's 22 receptions was only 33 yards. The Seahawks didn't know how to use Harvin and gave up. Why should we believe the Jets will be any different?

Smith spoke highly of Harvin's "dynamic" ability -- that's the new favorite word in the Jets' locker room -- but he stopped short of making any bold predictions. "This isn't video games," he said, meaning that integrating Harvin into the offense will take longer than popping a disc into a Play Station.

It's funny how general manager John Idzik and Rex Ryan have tried to remove Smith from the Harvin equation, insisting their young quarterback's development wasn't the impetus for the trade. "No, I don't see that," Ryan said. Of course, if he acknowledged that, he'd basically be calling out his GM for doing a lousy job of stocking the receiver position in the offseason.

Which he did. Stephen Hill was hopeless, Jalen Saunders was a bust, Jacoby Ford was an inexpensive flyer who couldn't fly (at least not with the ball in his hands) and David Nelson was a possession receiver who didn't excite the brass. And yet Idzik said Monday, "I think we have some weapons, I really do."

If the Jets have weapons, they're dormant. The reason is Smith. The quarterback makes everybody better -- or worse. Maybe Harvin can provide a spark, but a spark won't ignite a damp firecracker.

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