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Friday, November 6, 2009
Final Word: AFC East



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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

 
 AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
 Tom Brady and the Patriots have some wiggle room in the AFC East. The Dolphins do not.
Sunday will mean more to the Miami Dolphins than it will the New England Patriots. With a little separation in the AFC East standings, the Patriots can afford to drop a game in early November. Yes, it's a divisional game. Yes, the Patriots are entering a rugged five-game stretch. But they have some wiggle room. The Dolphins do not.

Postseason berths aren't based on how narrowly a team lost to the NFL's elite teams. Tough losses to the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints are losses, and another one this week will make them 3-5, tied with the Buffalo Bills for last place, and three games behind the Patriots.

The New York Jets' self-evaluation during the bye week should include an oral exam. The blogger in me doesn't want to the Jets to change a thing. I hope Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, Kerry Rhodes and the boys keep speaking their minds. It makes my job much more entertaining.

But the words are ringing hollow with one victory in their past five tries. The Jets' bombastic pregame rhetoric is starting to sound empty. The postgame comments sound like excuses. The act is wearing thin. The fans deserve results. Until they start winning, the Jets would be wise to hush until they generate some credibility in the standings. But I personally hope they don't.

The Dolphins need to unveil another Wildcat wrinkle to beat the Patriots. A lot of elements appear to be working against the Wildcat offense Sunday. The Dolphins sprung it on the Patriots with dramatic results in Week 3 last year, calling it six times for 119 yards and four touchdowns. But Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows how to adjust. When they met again in Week 12, the Patriots held Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to 25 yards on eight Wildcat plays and beat the Dolphins 48-28.

Belichick has had two weeks to prepare for the Dolphins. The Patriots are coming off their bye week, and under Belichick they are 7-2 in their first game back. He also has had the benefit of watching two films on how to stop the Wildcat. In Week 7, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzed from the secondary every time Brown lined up for the shotgun snap, holding the Dolphins to 27 yards on 14 Wildcat tries. The Jets swarmed them, too. The Dolphins ran the Wildcat five times for 15 yards last week.

Ted Ginn cannot be evaluated simply as a player. As much as the Dolfans have hoped Ginn would become a complete performer when Miami drafted him ninth overall in 2007, it's evident that the returner and the receiver are two different people.

Ginn, under fire from the fans and in the coaching staff's doghouse over dropped passes, dazzlingly returned kickoffs 100 yards and 101 yards for touchdowns Sunday against the Jets. But he didn't vindicate himself as a receiver. He lost his starting job to rookie Brian Hartine and didn't catch a pass. Only one was thrown his way. Ginn reminded everyone he's a brilliant return man, but teams don't draft return specialists ninth overall.

Ryan Fitzpatrick went 2-1, but the Bills have to put Trent Edwards back in the lineup. Fitzpatrick had a chance to seize the starting job while Edwards was sidelined three games with a concussion. Fitzpatrick came off the bench in an overtime victory over the Jets and beat the Carolina Panthers in his first start. Another win or even a respectable performance against the Houston Texans would have cinched it, but he had 63 yards passing before the final drive.

Edwards isn't the answer to Buffalo's problems. In fact, he's a part of the problem. But the Bills have no choice but to reinstall him. Their wins over the Jets and Panthers were ugly. They have recorded single-digit first downs in Fitzpatrick's two stars. The Bills hadn't done that in consecutive games since they went 1-13 in 1971.