Here are seven notes and observations on Week 4 in the AFC East:
I liked how the Patriots stashed rookie free-agent running back Brandon Bolden on the roster. Starting tailback Stevan Ridley and backup Shane Vereen were garnering all of the headlines in training camp. But Bolden quietly impressed the Patriots and made the 53-man roster. New England didn't use Bolden much in the first three weeks and suddenly unleashed him against the Buffalo Bills. Bolden led New England with 137 yards and a touchdown. There was little film on Bolden and he caught the Bills off guard.
Our friend and colleague Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com brought up a good point Sunday about Patriots Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins. Reiss pointed out that Mankins is extremely tough. Since the hip injury kept Mankins out of a big game, it makes you wonder if this is a multigame injury. Mankins didn't make the trip to Buffalo or practice all week. But the Patriots' offensive line stepped up without Mankins and showed they can produce without their best O-lineman.
It’s gut-check time for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills were embarrassed by the 52-28 loss to New England, and their upcoming schedule is not easy. They play on the road in four of the next five games, and all four road games are against teams with winning records. It starts next week when Buffalo travels to the West Coast to face the San Francisco 49ers (3-1). The Bills then will travel to play the undefeated Arizona Cardinals (4-0), at home against Tennessee (1-3), then on the road against Houston (4-0) and New England (2-2).
Here is a stat that will scare Bills fans: Buffalo has been outscored 100-56 in two AFC East games against the Patriots and New York Jets. The Bills are just 2-12 against division foes under coach Chan Gailey and look to be far from competitive again in the AFC East. The Bills know they have little chance of getting over the hump if they can't beat teams they play twice a year.
The Miami Dolphins' run defense continues to amaze. Yes, they lost in overtime for the second straight week. But the Cardinals averaged 1.9 yards per carry on 15 attempts. It got to the point where Arizona basically stopped trying against Miami, which has the top-ranked run defense in the NFL. Defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are two of the best at stuffing the run. They don't make a lot of tackles, but they have good technique and rarely get pushed around. That allows the linebackers and ends to fly to the football. If you like defensive football, it's enjoyable to watch Miami play the run week in and week out.
Perhaps no player in the AFC East has come further since training camp than Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline. He was virtually forgotten in Miami as a new coaching staff had to do without him most of the offseason due to a calf injury. Hartline slid down the depth chart. But once Hartline got healthy, it was hard for Miami to keep him out the lineup. Hartline took over the starting job in Week 2 and never looked back. He set a Dolphins record Sunday with 12 receptions for 253 yards against the Cardinals. Hartline, who has 455 receiving yards on the season, is just 94 yards shy of last year's total.
It’s a little too early to bench New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, but the leash gets shorter every week. The bottom line is the Jets are 2-2 and tied for first place in the AFC East. That's enough for Sanchez to keep his job. Yes, Sanchez had a horrendous game against the 49ers. But he's also had two winning performances. The key for Sanchez is not to suffer a long losing streak. The second the Jets lose three in a row, that is when the team will consider backup quarterback Tim Tebow. Thinking back to last year, Kyle Orton of the Denver Broncos lost his job to Tebow in Week 5. Sanchez must have a bounce-back game against the Texans this year in Week 5 to keep Tebow at bay.