AFC East: Atlanta Falcons

Geno Smith and Matt RyanUSA TODAY SportsGeno Smith's Jets and Matt Ryan's Falcons will try to bounce back from a disappointing Week 4.
If the Atlanta Falcons were in desperation mode last week against the Patriots, now they're in an all-out panic as they prepare to face the New York Jets on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

The Falcons limp into the matchup at 1-3 despite being touted as a Super Bowl favorite. Quarterback Matt Ryan admitted not being as sharp as he wanted to be the last time out. Now, Ryan has to keep the locker room together as the Falcons try to stay afloat against the always-entertaining Rex Ryan and his Jets (2-2).

ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and his Jets counterpart, Rich Cimini, discuss the matchup.

McClure: I was talking to Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux the other day about the mindset when facing a rookie quarterback. He admitted Geno Smith was somewhat similar to Carolina's Cam Newton, a player the Falcons have had trouble containing. Can Smith cause problems for the Falcons or is his confidence shaken?

Cimini: Smith and Newton are different because Smith isn't nearly as dangerous as Newton in terms of making plays outside the pocket. He'll scramble on occasion, and they might call a read-option play here and there, but he's a pure pocket passer. I'd say, yes, his confidence has to be shaken. He's coming off a bad day against the Titans -- four turnovers, bringing his total to 11. He's making bad decisions and being careless with the football. Ryan said he's not considering a change at quarterback -- with Mark Sanchez out, there's no viable option -- but there will come a point where he'll have to do something if the turnovers continue. What's up with Matt Ryan? This hasn't been a vintage Ryan season so far.

McClure: No, not by any means. And fans around here are starting to turn on him, for some reason. I understand their passion, but I wouldn't give up on Ryan. I actually give him credit for owning up to his mistakes against the Patriots. He threw a few bad passes on the Falcons' last desperation drive and missed Roddy White wide open for at least a first down on a fourth-and-2 from the Patriots' 7-yard line. Ryan ranks 23rd in the NFL in fourth-quarter passing with a 75.3 QB rating. Maybe he's rushing his throws as a result of protection issues. It doesn't help when your receivers drop a handful of passes, either. At least Ryan seems to have established a rhythm with tight end Tony Gonzalez. So, how will the Jets approach defending Gonzalez based on his 149-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Patriots?

Cimini: I think Rex Ryan is asking himself that same question, Vaughn. He joked about Gonzalez this week, saying, "Quite honestly, I wish he would've retired." The Jets have done a good job defending tight ends, but they haven't faced anyone close to his caliber. I think a lot of the responsibility will fall to second-year safety Antonio Allen, but that would be trouble waiting to happen. Allen is a "box" safety, not known for his coverage skills. In years past, Ryan put cornerback Antonio Cromartie on athletic tight ends for a few plays here and there, but he needs Cromartie on Julio Jones or Roddy White. In other words, I could see Gonzalez having another monster game. A lot will depend on how they defend the running game. What's the latest on Steven Jackson?

McClure: Although Jackson was on the field Tuesday talking with the trainers, he still hasn't practiced since suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the Rams game (Week 2). It was initially called a three-week injury and with the bye following the Jets game, I see no reason why the Falcons would rush Jackson back out there Monday night. In fact, Jackson recently went on his personal blog to update fans on his status and said he wanted to be 100 percent before returning. Not being on the field with his teammates might be hurting him more than the pain from the injury. I see the Jets are banged up at receiver. How will they compensate?

Cimini: You're right, they're banged up. Santonio Holmes (hamstring) won't play, and I'd be stunned if Stephen Hill (concussion) plays. So we're talking about Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates as the starting wideouts, with seldom-used rookie Ryan Spadola as the No. 3 and David Nelson (signed Tuesday) as the No. 4. This is the definition of "patchwork." They can compensate by leaning more on the running game, which has been reasonably effective. Bilal Powell is tied for the AFC lead with 292 rushing yards. I think you'll also see more two-tight end sets with Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland. Ryan said he might install the wishbone. He was joking -- I think. What's wrong with the Falcons' defense? I see they've been giving up some big pass plays.

McClure: Yes, they've given up seven plays of 40-plus yards, including four Sunday. Against the Patriots, the Falcons actually allowed Tom Brady to convert a third-and-19 from his 12 because they failed to get the proper depth on their drops. Such mental errors seem inexcusable, but defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is doing some "patchwork" of his own without Kroy Biermann (Achilles) or Sean Weatherspoon (foot) available and with Asante Samuel (thigh) still ailing. Three rookies -- cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Robert Alford as well as linebacker Joplo Bartu -- are being asked to come of age rather quickly. And the pass rush has been pretty much non-existent even with the addition of Osi Umenyiora, who leads the way with two sacks. Speaking of the rush, what type of pressure will the Jets bring at Matt Ryan?

Cimini: The Jets aren't the defense we thought they'd be. By that, I mean they're blitzing less than expected, and the reason is because they've been getting good pressure from their front three/four. In fact, they've sent five or more rushers on only 33.1 percent of the opponents' dropbacks, which ranks 17th in the league. With Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson up front, I think they'll be able to pressure Ryan without having to dial up exotic blitzes. Rex Ryan's defense has evolved. When he had Darrelle Revis, the secondary was the strength of the unit, but now the strength is up front with the big boys. The Falcons can counter by running an up-tempo offense with quick throws -- that style causes problems for the Jets. Frankly, it blows my mind the Falcons, with all that skill-position talent, are struggling in the red zone. Most Jets would be happy with one of those weapons, let alone three. What's the deal?

McClure: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Matt Ryan are trying to figure that out as we speak. The Falcons managed only one touchdown in six red-zone trips against the Patriots. For the season, they rank 29th in the league in terms of red-zone efficiency. Koetter took the blame for some bad play calls and vowed to cut one or two plays out of game plan. The fact that White has recovered slowly from a high ankle sprain hasn't helped. And the blocking has been abysmal, at times, in goal-line situations. Once everyone gets healthy, I expect more production and high-scoring games for the Falcons. If Monday night becomes a shootout, can the Jets compete?

Cimini: They're a pass-oriented offense under Marty Mornhinweg, but it would be hard for them to win a shootout, especially on the road. I know the Falcons have their own issues on defense, so I think the Jets can score points on them. But Smith is too mistake-prone, and the receiving corps is too banged-up for me to think they can walk into Atlanta and outscore the Falcons. Their best chance is to shorten the game, playing ball control with Powell and the running game. I'd be surprised if the Jets win a game in the 30s.

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Tom Brady and Matt RyanGetty ImagesTom Brady and Matt Ryan have both come in for heaping praise ahead of Sunday's meeting.

ATLANTA -- There are $100 million reasons why Matt Ryan should be talked about among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. One thing the Atlanta Falcons quarterback doesn’t have that his Sunday-night counterpart possesses is a Super Bowl ring.

Ryan's showdown with New England Patriots star Tom Brady is sure to be a hot topic throughout Week 4. He already lost one such head-to-head matchup, when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints got the better of Ryan and the Falcons in the season opener (23-17).

So how will Ryan fare against the Pats? He’ll need help from all phases, something he didn’t receive in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.

ESPN.com Falcons team reporter Vaughn McClure and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break it down:

McClure: The Falcons were touted as a Super Bowl contender -- and possibly a favorite -- going into the season. But now, at 1-2, they find themselves in almost a must-win situation at home. How will the Patriots respond to the hostile environment they’ll enter Sunday night at the Georgia Dome?

Reiss: With 13 rookies on the 53-man roster -- including receivers Aaron Dobson (second round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), who are playing key roles -- there is an element of unknown for the Patriots when projecting how the team will respond. Some of these players simply haven’t experienced this environment and prime-time stage. It’s rare for a Patriots team to be relying on such a large number of rookies for significant contributions, and that is one of the interesting storylines from a New England perspective this week. Other storylines are if this might be tight end Rob Gronkowski's season debut, if receiver Danny Amendola will also return after missing two games with a groin injury and if the defense -- which has been solid against lesser competition (Jets, Bills, Buccaneers) -- can limit an explosive passing game that is easily the best the unit has seen to this point in the season. Give us a feel for how things are going for the Falcons on offense.

McClure: Not too well, at the moment. Head coach Mike Smith’s biggest complaint is how inefficient his team has been in the red zone. During the Week 3 loss to the Dolphins, the Falcons were 2-of-5 in red zone opportunities. For the season, they are 6-of-12 (50 percent) in terms of touchdowns in the red zone, but offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants that number to be a bit higher. Having bruising running back Steven Jackson in the lineup would no doubt help in goal-line situations, but Jackson will miss Sunday’s game while nursing a hamstring injury. Receiver Roddy White is also a solid red zone target, but White is not 100 percent healthy coming off a high-ankle sprain. Ryan still has Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez as primary scoring weapons. How do you think the Patriots will keep up with the speedy receiver and ageless tight end?

Reiss: I think it starts with how they decide to match up against the Falcons’ “11 personnel” (one back, one tight end), because that looks like the most explosive package -- receivers Jones, White and Harry Douglas, with Gonzalez at tight end and either Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling at running back. Last Sunday against the Buccaneers’ “11 personnel,” the Patriots stayed in their base defense but played with three cornerbacks in the secondary -- their way of staying sturdy against the run but adding a coverage element to the secondary. I’d be surprised if we see that this week because the Falcons are much more potent in the passing game. So I could envision the Patriots turning to a coverage-heavy dime defense (six defensive backs), specifically with Jones and Gonzalez in mind, with the thought that a lighter box might be enough to limit the running game. For the Falcons, how are things shaping up on defense?

McClure: The defense has had its issues. Take the Miami game, for example. The Falcons held a 23-20 lead with just less than five minutes remaining in regulation. The defense needed to close, needed to put pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, needed to lock down the receivers. Instead, the Falcons played soft coverage after the Dolphins reached midfield and couldn’t disrupt Tannehill’s rhythm. In the end, Tannehill engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his game-winning touchdown pass to Dion Sims. Not playing tight coverage and not wrapping up on tackles cost the Falcons in that game, and it could cost them the rest of the season if they don’t find a way to correct those problems immediately. They could use their defensive leader, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was placed on injured reserve (foot) with a designation to return in Week 11. One other aspect noticeable in Miami was how the Dolphins tight ends won their one-on-one matchups against the Falcons on that final drive. That being said, will Atlanta have to contend with one of the best tight ends in the league, Gronkowski?

Reiss: We might not know the answer for sure until 90 minutes before kickoff, but things have been pointing in that direction. The one area the Patriots could use Gronkowski most, at least initially, is in the red zone. One season after ranking first in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (which we acknowledge isn't a foolproof stat), the Patriots rank last (4-of-13). It’s going to be hard to win a game like this settling for field goals. Speaking of which, let’s not overlook special teams. The Patriots are getting good contributions in that third phase of the game, with a 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski a highlight in Sunday’s victory over the Buccaneers. How about the Falcons?

McClure: Yet another area in which the Falcons could use much improvement. Against the Dolphins, returner Douglas fumbled a punt he admitted he shouldn’t have fielded in the first place. It translated into a Dolphins touchdown three plays later. The usually reliable Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. And the Falcons had three penalties on special teams: two holds and an illegal block above the waist. Through three games, the Falcons are ranked 26th in punt return average and 30th in kickoff return average, although they’ve returned just one kickoff. Those special-teams issues are enough to cause special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong to blow a gasket. Speaking of that, is Brady still yelling at his receivers?

Reiss: Could you hear him down there in Atlanta? That was probably the most talked about storyline after New England's 13-10 win over the Jets on Sept. 12, whether Brady’s on-field frustrations were making things tougher on the young receivers than they needed to be. But it was mostly yelling at himself this past Sunday. He was upset with an end zone interception he said he shouldn’t have thrown. And he missed some open receivers, too. So while Brady’s stats were better last week, his performance wasn’t up to his own high standard, and it was actually more about him than the young pass-catchers, who turned in their best performance of the season. What is Ryan saying about this matchup?

McClure: Ryan said plenty about the Patriots when he addressed the media in the locker room Wednesday. He said he expects to see a lot of man-to-man coverage and complimented the Patriots for being very sound with their technique. He believes the front seven does a great job of creating pressure in both the run game and against the pass. Of course, Ryan gave much credit to Brady for being one of the top quarterbacks in the league for such a long time. In fact, Ryan joked that he hoped to be around as long as Brady. And Ryan singled out Vince Wilfork for not only being a disruptive force up front, but for being a 325-pound guy who plays a lot of snaps. So what’s the word from Bill Belichick?

Reiss: Belichick complimented Ryan, saying among other things that Ryan has very few bad plays. He shared his belief that consistency is the mark of any great player and Ryan is “pretty consistent -- every play, every game, every series.” And, according to Brady, Belichick said the following to players this week: “If you love football, then Sunday night at 8:30 in Atlanta will be the place to be.” Hard to imagine many would disagree about that. This is going to be fun.

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Live blog: Falcons at Dolphins

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
2:30
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Atlanta Falcons' visit to the Miami Dolphins. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
DAVIE, Fla. -- For new Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, September 9, 2012 carries significance. That was the last time Grimes played in an NFL game.

Grimes tore his Achilles in the regular-season opener with the Atlanta Falcons last year. His long road back to the field will be complete when Grimes plays for Miami Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game.

Grimes will only play in a series or two with Miami's starting defense. But that doesn’t make Sunday's comeback any less significant after nearly a year on the shelf.

“Yeah, it’s cool because I was out and missed all of last year,” Grimes said. “I’ve been doing this (practice) but it’s not the same as actually going in a game. So it’s going to be fun, even though it’s going to be brief probably.”

Grimes, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with Miami, has been one of the most consistent performers in Dolphins' training camp. Grimes is athletic, consistently around the football and projected to be Miami’s top cornerback in the regular season.

Miami’s pass defense was ranked 27th last year and very inconsistent. The Dolphins are counting on Grimes to stay healthy and add stability to this unit. Grimes has looked 100 percent in camp and has not had any setbacks with his Achilles injury.

“I’m feeling real good,” Grimes explained. “Any time you come into training camp, it’s about getting your timing down and getting back into football [shape]. You can run all offseason, but when you put the helmet and pads on, it’s a whole different kind of shape. I think I’m in a good spot right now.”

Grimes is expected to defend Miami’s best opposing receivers this year. The Cowboys have two good receivers coming to Canton, Ohio, this weekend in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.

Offensive tackle Tyson Clabo explained his release from the Atlanta Falcons as "sudden" and "unexpected." But Clabo explained in a conference call why he feels he landed on his feet quite well by signing with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

“When I was released and became a free agent, one of the things we wanted to find out was who had interest,” Clabo explained. “What teams do I think have use [for a right tackle] and on the move upward in the league? Miami was right there.”

Clabo, 31, is projected to start at right tackle for Miami after signing a one-year contract. Clabo started at right tackle for a majority of his career. He also played right guard in Atlanta in 2006. Miami’s in-house candidate, Jonathan Martin, is now the likely starter at left tackle.

Like many of Miami’s free-agent acquisitions, Clabo cited the potential of Dolphins second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill as one of the key reasons why he joined the team. Clabo grew with 2008 first-round quarterback Matt Ryan in Atlanta to become a perennial playoff contender and aims for similar results in Miami.

The Dolphins, my sleeper pick in 2013, look solid on paper and will try to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.

“We made some big moves in the offseason in free agency, and the draft look like it went really well,” Clabo said of the Dolphins. “With the young QB with a lot of upside, I feel like we can make some noise.”
It has been an ongoing debate in South Florida since the 2008 NFL draft.

The Miami Dolphins and former president Bill Parcells held the No. 1 overall pick and took left tackle Jake Long over quarterback Matt Ryan, who went to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 3. Miami chose a quarterback in the second round, which turned out to be Chad Henne.

Many questioned for years if Long and Henne were the way to go over Ryan, and Long's recent departure from Miami brings this debate back to the forefront. Combining Long's exit with Henne being a draft bust confirms the Dolphins made the wrong decision.

Long was an elite player in Miami during his first three years. However, his play and durability dropped significantly the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Ryan has been a franchise cornerstone in Atlanta his entire tenure and will have a long career.

Quarterback and left tackle are arguably the two most important positions on the field. But if you have to choose between the two, you always fill the bigger need at quarterback.

The Dolphins paid dearly for the Henne mistake. Former head coach Tony Sparano was fired in 2011, and Miami also had to take a quarterback in the first round in 2012 with Ryan Tannehill. None of that would have taken place had Miami selected Ryan over Long. Ryan is a franchise quarterback Miami could have built its team around. He's never had a losing season in Atlanta and already led the Falcons to four playoff appearances.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are still trying to recover from their disastrous decisions in the 2008 draft. Long was the No. 1 overall pick and the final member of that draft class remaining on the Dolphins' roster -- and now he's gone.
Earlier Monday we wrote how Tom Brady’s cap-friendly contract extension helps the New England Patriots become bigger players in free agency. Brady’s three-year extension saves New England $8 million in cap room this offseason.

In addition to Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker, here are four additional players the Patriots could have their eye on with the added cap room:

1. Safety Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens

Thoughts: The pending free agent and future Hall of Famer is coming off a Super Bowl title with Baltimore. The Patriots’ pass defense was horrendous last year and the ball-hawking Reed could be just the right fit. Baltimore has salary-cap issues of its own with free-agent quarterback Joe Flacco, who has tremendous leverage and is looking to become the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. The Ravens won’t have much money left after paying Flacco, making Reed a possibility.

2. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots

Thoughts: Yes, Vollmer is another in-house free agent. But anyone who does a good job protecting Brady is important to the Patriots. Former first-round pick Nate Solder has solidified the left side and re-signing Vollmer could solidify the right side. The only concern is Vollmer has suffered some injuries. Vollmer does a great job playing through pain, but that makes things a little murky when committing to a player long-term.

3. Cornerback Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons

Thoughts: The Patriots like value finds in free agency, and Grimes could be one of those players. Grimes was ascending to a top-level corner two years ago until a severe knee injury derailed his 2012 season. Grimes is rehabbing to get back to form, but the injury risk makes for a reasonable asking price. Grimes could be an affordable option if Aqib Talib’s asking price is too high.

4. Receiver Julian Edelman, Patriots

Thoughts: Edelman is another free agent New England would like to keep. He is dynamic on special teams and making strides as a slot receiver. He was viewed as the heir apparent to Welker before getting injured. The Patriots also could have their eye on West Virginia slot receiver Tavon Austin. But a fantastic combine most likely pushed Austin’s stock out of reach for New England at pick No. 29. Welker and Edelman in the slot next season may have to work.
The strength of schedule ratings are out for 2013, and (surprise!) the New England Patriots no longer have the easiest schedule.

For two straight years, the Patriots had the easiest strength of schedule in the AFC East and one of the easiest in the NFL. In 2013, New England has the 14th-toughest schedule in the league.

Here are the complete strength of schedule ratings next season for the AFC East:
  • No. 8: Miami Dolphins (.520 winning percentage)
  • No. 14: New England Patriots (.508 winning percentage)
  • No. 19: New York Jets (.496 winning percentage)
  • No. 26: Buffalo Bills (.473 winning percentage)

What stands out most is that Miami has the eighth-toughest schedule next season. The Dolphins were 7-9 in 2012 and will be expected to make a jump in the second year under head coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, a brutal slate for Miami that includes games against the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and two against the Patriots could make it tough for the Dolphins to make a playoff push.

The Dolphins have plenty of resources via the draft and free agency this offseason to build a stronger team. They definitely will need it to survive a tough upcoming slate.
VereenAP Photo/Elise AmendolaTom Brady threw for 344 yards and three scores as New England beat Houston in the divisional round.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Joe Flacco. … Matt Ryan. … Colin Kaepernick.

Tom Brady.

If you're looking for a clear-cut favorite among the NFL's final four teams, look no further than the quarterbacks. The disparity between Brady and his counterparts makes the New England Patriots the hands-down favorite to win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Brady was once again masterful in the Patriots' 41-28 divisional playoff victory Sunday over the Houston Texans. Brady threw for 344 yards, three touchdowns and had a 115.0 passer rating.

Brady has a way of consistently making good defenses look ordinary. Houston's seventh-ranked group allowed 83 points in two games against Brady this season.

Sorry, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers, but there is only one elite quarterback left in the NFL playoffs -- and he resides in New England. No one is going to stop a focused and determined Brady from capturing his fourth Super Bowl title, which would tie an NFL record with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

The Ravens are up first for the Patriots in the conference title game, and Brady vividly remembers the controversial loss earlier this season.

Let’s just say Brady doesn't plan on going the Peyton Manning route next week.

“I think the two best teams are in the finals," Brady said. “Baltimore certainly deserves to be here, and so do we. It’s very fitting. We played them earlier in the year and they got us. We blew a pretty good lead there at the end, and we’re going to have to play our best game this week.”

Baltimore, Atlanta and San Francisco all deserve to be in the conference finals. But are Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick ready for this big stage? That is the bigger question.

Brady is one game away from his sixth Super Bowl appearance and fourth championship. Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick have zero combined Super Bowl appearances and zero combined championships. In a one-game scenario, you have to like Brady's chances. Brady’s 17 career playoff wins are nearly double the nine combined postseason wins for Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick.

Brady was winning Super Bowls when Flacco and Ryan were high school teenagers. Kaepernick was 14 when Brady won his first title in February 2002. Brady is the ultimate gatekeeper among these three green quarterbacks still trying to get over the hump and make a name for themselves. It's not going to happen on Brady's watch this year.

New England safety Steve Gregory has been on both sides of the Brady ledger. Gregory played against Brady several times as a member of the San Diego Chargers and became Brady’s teammate for the first time this season after signing as a free agent. Gregory learned quickly that it’s better to be with Brady than against him.

“His ability to get to the line, recognize defenses and get the offense in the right play is pretty amazing,” Gregory explained. “I love having him on my side now.”

The Patriots lost Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season after he broke his forearm for a second time, but it doesn’t matter. The Patriots proved they are adaptable. New England was 4-1 this year without Gronkowski and didn't miss a beat Sunday against Houston when Gronkowski missed more than three quarters. The high-scoring Patriots have more than enough offensive weapons at their disposal.

The only irreplaceable Patriot is Brady.

"He's our leader and we all follow him," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We all respect him and he led the team today. … There's no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady."

Brady began his day at Gillette Stadium when he came out the tunnel for pregame warm-ups. He jogged to one corner of the end zone and pumped up the home crowd. Brady was intense the entire game and stayed on his teammates, even as the Patriots led by as many as 25 points in the second half.

By the time Brady carved up the Texans and went to his postgame news conference, he was subdued. Brady, 35, gave the Patriots all he had. He is playing as though there is no tomorrow.

“I’m tired, man. All the emotional energy spent,” said Brady, who is the third player in NFL history with at least 40 postseason touchdowns. “The big buildup to the week with four days of practice. You’re up and you’re down, you’re up and you’re down. I’m tired and ready to go home.”

When Brady left the news conference, he ran into Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Brady embraced Kraft by putting one arm around New England's owner, and the two chatted on the way out the stadium.

Kraft had a smile on his face during his talk with Brady. Kraft knows he has the one player who separates the Patriots from the rest of the Super Bowl field.

Brady won his first title in New Orleans versus the St. Louis Rams 11 years ago to begin his storybook career. Flacco, Ryan and Kaepernick simply aren’t good enough to stop Brady from winning his fourth championship in the same place where it all started.

Observation deck: Falcons-Dolphins

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
10:43
PM ET

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.
Miami, Fla. -- Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill made his second preseason start and first at Sun Life Stadium Friday night. This is the "dress rehearsal" for Miami and its quarterback, and Tannehill struggled early.

The Falcons lead at halftime, 9-3.

Tannehill was 11-of-25 for 112 yards with an interception and a fumble that was recovered. He had a passer rating of 40.8.

Tannehill made a few good throws and was the victim of drops, although that's no surprise. Miami receivers and tight ends have been dropping passes since spring practices. Tannehill also threw his first pick of the preseason to Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud.

Tannehill will play more in the second half. But here's the reality that we are learning: Tannehill is going to have growing pains. He's not going to light it up in his rookie year and doesn't have the supporting cast to make his tough job any easier. For example, starting tight end Anthony Fasano had three drops in the first half.

But each game is good experience for Tannehill. The Dolphins chose to go with a rookie quartrback this year in preparation for future seasons. As a result, Miami must take its baby steps along with Tannehill in 2012.
One of my favorite AFC East readers, Hot Sauce Steve, asked an interesting question in the blog today.
He writes: "James, here is another good topic from another article. How bad does taking Jake Long over Matt Ryan look now? We were pilloried for it. Jake is about to extend, Ryan looks like he has maxed out at zero playoff wins and they might have to find another or build a team that can carry him."
SportsNation

Four years later, did Miami make the right call by drafting LT Jake Long No. 1 overall over QB Matt Ryan?

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    10%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,695)

James Walker: It's a tough question, Steve. The Miami Dolphins took Long No. 1 overall and also considered Ryan, who went third to the Atlanta Falcons. NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas has an interesting piece on Ryan not fulfilling his potential in Atlanta. The case for Miami is that Long is arguably the best left tackle in football. If not, Long is in the top two or three at his position. The same cannot be said about Ryan, who is maybe a top-10 or top-12 quarterback. But Ryan certainly is not the best quarterback in the NFL. From that standpoint, Miami drafted the better prospect. However, the case against Miami is that the quarterback position is so important. Getting a top-10 quarterback makes a huge difference. The Dolphins took Chad Henne in the second round after passing over Ryan, and we saw how that worked out. Miami is still looking for a franchise quarterback (Ryan Tannehill?) four years later. Meanwhile, the Falcons have not had a losing season under Ryan and have been to the playoffs three of his four years. In contrast, Miami has had three losing seasons and been to the playoffs just once in the span, during Long's rookie year. Although Long is the better player relative to his position, I think drafting Ryan would have made a bigger impact for Miami's franchise. The Dolphins would have won more games and probably saved Tony Sparano's job by having a top-10 quarterback on the roster. Long has more than done his job at left tackle, but he cannot make that type of impact.

So that's my take. Now let's hear yours.

Feel free to cast your vote. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.

AFC East links: Revis sings Tebow's praises

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
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Buffalo Bills

Bills general manager Buddy Nix assured Ryan Fitzpatrick that he would be the team's starter ahead of the signing of Vince Young, the quarterback told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday.

Fourth-round draft selection Nigel Bradham relishes his role on special teams.

Miami Dolphins

Ovie Mughelli, a two-time Pro Bowl fullback who was a salary-cap casualty in Atlanta this offseason, is in South Florida for a Thursday workout with the Dolphins. It might be a signal, Brian Biggane writes, that the team is worried about Jerome Messam, who underwent his second knee surgery in five months this week.

Former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams shared his views on concussions with ESPN's Dan Le Batard.

New England Patriots

The Patriots signed receiver Jeremy Ebert, their seventh-round draft pick from Northwestern.

According to a Forbes report, Bill Belichick is the highest-paid coach in sports.

New York Jets

Darrelle Revis led a chorus of Jets praising new addition Tim Tebow, the New York Daily News reports. "He's a born leader," Revis said. "... It's the passion within ... of him wanting to be a leader, wanting to win. You see it in him all the time... eating lunch. Walking down the hallway you see it. He's just one of those guys."

Offensive tackle Wayne Hunter, coming off a tough 2011, received praise from new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. "This guy is the starting right tackle," DeGuglielmo told ESPNNewYork.com. "Until they tell me otherwise, until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that sonofagun is going to be the starting right tackle."

Thoughts on Mike Nolan leaving Miami

January, 17, 2012
1/17/12
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Former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has agreed to the same post with the Atlanta Falcons.

Here are some quick thoughts on the departure:
  • I think this is a big loss for the Dolphins. Nolan may have been the best coach on Miami's staff this past season. Miami's defense was very tough against the run and came on strong late in the year. Nolan's success was one of the biggest reasons the Dolphins were competitive in the second half of the season.
  • Nolan's replacement is hard to predict, mostly because the Dolphins haven't found their head coach. If the next Dolphins coach retains people on staff, Todd Bowles would be a great candidate. Bowles did a solid job with Miami by going 2-1 on an interim basis. But the new coach could gut the entire staff and start from scratch.
  • Overall, the Dolphins are definitely losing in their once-promising coaching search. Not only did they lose out on the best possible candidate -- Jeff Fisher -- but now the Dolphins loss arguably the best coach on their old staff. It also doesn’t help that the Indianapolis Colts, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, just joined the competition. Miami's goal was the hit a home run in this search. It appears that won't be the case.

Video: Falcons-Patriots pregame report

September, 27, 2009
9/27/09
11:11
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ESPN's Michael Smith previews this afternoon's game between the Falcons and Patriots from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

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