AFC East: 2012 NFL preseason Week 3

Rapid Reaction: Panthers 17, Jets 12

August, 26, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The preseason can't end soon enough for the New York Jets. They became the first team in 35 years to go without a touchdown in its first three preseason games, and they lost TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) and LB David Harris (ankle) to injuries. Oh, yes, and they dropped to 0-3, losing to the Carolina Panthers 17-12 Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.

Woe is O: In their final tune-up for the regular season, the Mark Sanchez-led starting unit stunk -- again. It's time to be concerned. Get this: Seven possessions, no touchdowns. The regulars ended the preseason with zero touchdowns in 15 possessions -- Jason Bay-like numbers. They were sloppy, undisciplined and unorganized. There was an interception on a pass that bounced off the hands of rookie WR Stephen Hill, a senseless personal foul on LG Matt Slauson that ruined a scoring chance, and lousy clock management at the end of the first half. Santonio Holmes' return didn't provide a spark. You hate to overreact to preseason results, but the Jets did absolutely nothing in the preseason to make you think they're heading in the right direction under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. According to NBC, the 1977 Atlanta Falcons were the last team that failed to score a touchdown in its first three preseason games.

Tebow chant: Tim Tebow, who made an earlier-than-expected appearance (5:38 left in the third quarter), drew the biggest cheer of the night with a wild and crazy, 20-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. Tebow fired up the sleepy crowd, jumping to his feet and giving the "first down" signal. Quarterback controversy? Yeah, right. Moments later, Tebow threw a mind-boggling interception into triple coverage.

Tight-end issues: Keller is Sanchez's favorite target, arguably the most reliable weapon on offense -- and now his status for Week 1 is up in the air. What else can go wrong? The Jets also lost the versatile H-back Josh Baker to a potentially serious knee injury, meaning their tight-end depth chart, sans Keller, looks like this -- Jeff Cumberland (concussion), Dedrick Epps and former rugby player Hayden Smith. If Keller's injury is long-term, it will be a big blow to Sanchez, who relies on him in the underneath and intermediate zones.

Silver lining: The Jets managed to plug one leak. Newly installed RT Austin Howard locked up the starting job with a terrific performance. He didn't allow any sacks, and he was often isolated against the Panthers' best pass rusher, Charles Johnson. Howard handled the outside rush, showing nice footwork and lateral agility. The man he replaced, Wayne Hunter, was used on 10 snaps with the starters as an extra lineman/jumbo tight end. Get used to that look; you'll see it a lot. Hunter's role could increase if Keller's injury is serious.

Tone Time: Holmes made his preseason debut, reuniting with Sanchez for the first time since their celebrated feud last season. Unofficially, Holmes participated in 15 plays. He was targeted three times, catching an 8-yard slant but dropping another. By the way, NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, shedding new light on the Sanchez-Holmes relationship, said former Jet LaDainian Tomlinson told her Saturday night that the two players didn't talk to each other for the last 13 games of last season.

Bring back Plax? The Jets failed to score a touchdown on three trips to the red zone, bringing their preseason tally to 0-for-5. Mind you, they were No. 1 in red-zone efficiency last season. What's missing? Do they miss WR Plaxico Burress more than they're willing to admit? At 6-foot-4, Hill has the size to be a weapon in the red zone, but he has a lot to learn. Burress still is a free agent. If the Jets sign him, it would be sheer desperation. Going into camp, they were dead-set against bringing him back. They don't think he can run anymore and they're worried how a Burress-Holmes reunion would affect the young receivers from an attitude standpoint.

What's ahead: It's a quick turnaround for the Jets, who close the preseason Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Observation deck: Bills-Steelers

August, 25, 2012

The Buffalo Bills had their third and most important game of the preseason Saturday night. The Steelers won 38-7.

Here are some notes and observations:

What I liked: The Bills finally started fast, and they did it against a good team. Buffalo took its second drive 49 yards on five plays and briefly showed the kind of offense it can be in the regular season. Fred Jackson capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams also showed by the Bills gave him a $100 million contract with a pair of sacks. It's good momentum for Williams heading into the regular season.

What I didn’t like: Preseason or not, I don't like the fact that Buffalo gave up 38 unanswered points at home. I know these games don't count, and I know it was 14-7 at halftime with the starters. But the Bills should have more depth and pride than to let it get this out of hand. The Steelers pounded the Bills after Buffalo's only touchdown. Pittsburgh forced three turnovers and had 21 points off turnovers. The Bills are winless this preseason, which might not matter. But at times, the Bills have appeared to play as though they know they can turn it on when it matters. That's a dangerous game. The Bills haven't proven they know how to win.

Inconsistent Young: Buffalo backup quarterback Vince Young did a great job in the second preseason game to establish himself as the favorite to backup starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Young took a step back against the Steelers. Young was 12-of-26 for 103 yards and two interceptions. He had a passer rating of 25.0 and made some mistakes a veteran with plenty of starting experience should not make. Young had a chance to finalize his backup status but didn't. He left the door open for Tyler Thigpen to try to make another push in the final week.

McGee makes his case: Buffalo cornerback Terrence McGee was concerned this summer that his knee might not be healthy enough in time to show he deserves a roster spot. But the veteran is feeling better and had a good performance against Pittsburgh, making four tackles and two for a loss. He can help Buffalo’s young corners if he stays healthy. But the Bills have to make a tough decision in the next week due to the injury risk.

What's next: The Bills play their final preseason game Thursday against the Detroit Lions. This will be just a survival game, one Buffalo hopes to escape without major injuries ahead of the regular-season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 9 at MetLife Stadium.

Rapid reaction: Bucs 30, Pats 28

August, 24, 2012
TAMPA -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers in preseason action:

PatriotsBucsUgly night for Patriots. This was somewhat similar to last season’s third preseason game at Detroit in which the Patriots were pushed around and quarterback Tom Brady took too many hits. The Buccaneers were aggressive on defense and had success disrupting the rhythm of the passing game by getting to Brady early and building a 20-7 halftime lead. The overall pass protection -- from the line, to tight end, to running backs -- was shaky. Some might also say Brady didn’t always help his cause by holding on to the ball too long on some plays. The Patriots got behind early -- the defense was shredded on the opening drive -- and were playing catch-up the rest of the night. Bill Belichick will likely say that the team has a lot to work on after this one. He’d be speaking the truth.

Brady plays into late third quarter. Brady’s final play came with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter and was a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. This highlighted Bill Belichick’s approach of playing Brady and the top guns into the second half in this “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. It was hot and humid here in Tampa, so while the results weren’t necessarily desired, one positive was that the Patriots’ conditioning was tested.

Three injuries of note -- Vereen, Larsen, Arrington. Second-year running back Shane Vereen and fifth-year fullback Spencer Larsen limped off in the first half and did not return. That left the offensive backfield a bit thin. Vereen had been making a charge for some more playing time, and in his absence, Stevan Ridley was one of the bright spots for the Patriots and looks like he’s positioned to be the opening-day starter and lead option. Meanwhile, cornerback Kyle Arrington was replaced by Ras-I Dowling for the final two series of the second quarter and was having his back examined by the athletic training staff on the sideline. All three players did not return.

Writing on the wall for Stallworth? With Wes Welker not dressing for the game, the Patriots didn’t turn to Donte' Stallworth -- who played extensively on Monday night -- until late in the fourth quarter (he had a few late catches). Julian Edelman received a lot of playing time at receiver but had a quiet night on the stat sheet (no catches). That could be bad news for Stallworth in his hopes for a roster spot.

Defense -- up and down night. Outside of a 19-yard Doug Martin run, the Patriots played solid run defense. That was one of the positive aspects of the defensive performance, as it’s live work they can’t often get in practice. The secondary had some early struggles, but with rookie safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner seeing significant playing time, there weren’t major issues on the back end outside of the first drive. Some valuable experience gained there.

Demps -- up and down debut. Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps didn't play until midway through the third quarter and had an up-and-down debut, with two kickoff returns that didn’t produce big results and a penalty for simulating the snap count. But his explosiveness was on display late in the fourth quarter with a 29-yard run that showcased his blazing speed. He’s one of those players: When the ball is in his hands, you don’t want to miss it. Exciting.

Reminder -- it’s just the preseason. It wasn’t an inspiring performance from the Patriots, but as we’ve seen before, beware of reading too much into preseason results. The Buccaneers took it to the Patriots, just as the Lions did last year in the third preseason game. The Patriots’ 2011 season turned out to be pretty successful.

Observation deck: Falcons-Dolphins

August, 24, 2012

MIAMI, Fla. -- The Dolphins had their "dress rehearsal" game Friday night at Sun Life Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons won the game, 23-6.

Here are some notes and observations:

What I liked: The good news is the Dolphins' defense finally got stops. Miami entered the game allowing 24 first quarter points in two preseason games, which is well below expectations. The Dolphins' starters only allowed nine points in the first half and rested in the second half. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake returned to the starting lineup and made a huge difference with three tackles and 1.5 sacks.

What I didn’t like: It's looks like it will be a loooong year for Miami's offense. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill struggled. He was 11-of-27 for 112 yards, an INT and a 37.9 passer rating. But I am more concerned about Tannehill's shaky supporting cast. Tannehill received little help against Atlanta. His receivers dropped four passes in the first half. Starting tight end Anthony Fasano had three drops alone. If defenses stack against the run, Miami's offense is really easy to game plan against. I just can't see how the Dolphins will consistently score points this year. There's not much this group does well. You wonder how much this could stunt Tannehill's growth. The rookie quarterback has to make strides this year in spite of his supporting cast.

Matt Moore sighting: Moore is the designated No. 2 quarterback behind Tannehill and didn't do much better. Moore was 4-of-12 for 49 yards and a lost fumble. He was sacked from behind and coughed up the football. Moore played with backups so you have to grade him on a curve. But he didn't do much playing against Atlanta's backup defense, either.

Injury update: The Dolphins still had three key injured players who did not suit up. Receiver Brian Hartline (leg) and starting linebackers Karlos Dansby (knee) and Kevin Burnett (knee) did not play against Atlanta. There is a good chance they will not play much or at all in the fourth preseason game, either. The Dolphins just want to get out of their preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys healthy.

What's next: The Dolphins have their final preseason game on the road Aug. 29 against the Dallas Cowboys. It's a game where Miami likely will just try to get out healthy before its Week 1 matchup against the Houston Texans.