AFC East: Dolphins-Jaguars 121309

Dolphins working on another big rebound

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
7:53
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Last year, the Miami Dolphins pulled off the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history.

This year, they have the chance to achieve one of the rarest in-season turnarounds since the league went to a 12-team postseason format in 1990.

Only three times since the league adopted its current playoff system has a team sprung back from a 0-3 start to make the tournament. Nobody has done it for 11 years.

Kim Klement/US PRESSWIREChad Henne has gone 7-3 since becoming the Dolphins' starting quarterback in Week 4.



The Dolphins climbed above .500 for the first time all season, built a stronger case for a wild-card berth and remained one game out of first place in the AFC East by handling the Jacksonville Jaguars 14-10 on Sunday.

In the visitors' locker room of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium afterward, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland allowed himself three minutes to reflect on a season that began so brutally but is being respectably salvaged.

Ireland claimed the nadir wasn't their 0-3 start, but the disheartening loss to the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago. Had the Dolphins won that one as expected, then they would be tied with the New England Patriots atop the division.

"The Buffalo game was the lowest point in the season," Ireland said. "You feel like you should win those games, and generally we have won those games since we've been here. Then you play the New England Patriots well and you got an awful lot of hope.

"Hope's a powerful emotion, and we have it. The other side of that is no hope and nothing to play for. Hope is a powerful emotion that enables you to do incredible things. And we got hope right now."

Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano has gotten his team's helmet above water despite losing 2008 MVP runner-up Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury the same day they fell to 0-3.

They've also lost Wildcatalyst Ronnie Brown, center Jake Grove, nose tackle Jason Ferguson and top cornerback Will Allen.

"It's testament to what this coaching staff has been able to do," Ireland said. "When it's slipping away, they seem to be able to bring it back. Getting these players up for game after game after game, you go down to Buffalo, bring them back up to New England, it is prideful. The attention to detail that Tony and his staff brings to this team is tremendous."

The Dolphins' final three games are at the Tennessee Titans and then home dates with the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers. All three opponents are 6-7 and dangerous.

But so are the Dolphins, with such youngsters as quarterback Chad Henne, defensive tackle Randy Starks and cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith coming into their own, and veteran running back Ricky Williams on the verge of a 1,000-yard season.

"We don't have a large group of superstars," Ireland said. "We know we got to grind it out. I don't know what the players are thinking, but that seems how we play. We try to keep it close, not make a lot of crucial mistakes and then we make plays when it counts.

"Our defense is maturing, which is nice to see. We've played a lot of young guys this year, and they're maturing. The quarterback ... You lose the players that we lost, and then you insert young players at those key positions and you see them mature at a week-in, week-out basis, it's a testament to the coaching staff and the players for buying into the system."

Dolphins, Jets stalk vulnerable Patriots

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
9:13
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Getty Images
Miami's Chad Henne, left and Thomas Jones of the New York Jets are leading their respective teams in commanding ways right now, while Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are clearly struggling.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins bottomed out two weeks ago. They couldn't beat the Buffalo Bills. That was that. Grab the proverbial fork and ram it right in the Dolphins' sternums. They were done, out of the playoffs. Time to start planning for 2010.

Unbeknownst to the football universe at that time, the New England Patriots were on the verge of catastrophe -- by their standards anyway. They faltered. Rather than run away with the AFC East, the Patriots went to Land Shark Stadium last week and lost their third game in four tries.

All of a sudden, momentum turned. The Dolphins got back into the hunt. The Patriots appeared wounded, vulnerable.

Those movements continued Sunday.

The surging Dolphins won another game, while the Patriots played like Weebles. They didn't fall down, but the Patriots (8-5) sure did wobble while managing to stay one game ahead of the Dolphins and the New York Jets (each 7-6) with three games to go.

"Hope's a powerful emotion, and we have it," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said after his team beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 14-10. "The other side of that is no hope and nothing to play for.

"Hope is a powerful emotion that enables you to do incredible things. And we got hope right now."

Hope isn't plentiful in New England. While the Patriots probably will make the playoffs, they don't project to last long.

The Patriots have instilled a general queasiness in their fans. They look nothing like the teams that won three Super Bowls and nearly went undefeated just two years ago.

They struggled on their own field to beat the Carolina Panthers, regaining their composure to finally put away an inferior opponent with a backup quarterback in a 20-10 white-knuckler. The game did little to quell anxieties surrounding the Patriots for the past few weeks.

Randy Moss was booed by his home crowd for an uninspiring effort that had Panthers players claiming afterward they made him quit. Moss finished with one reception, which he fumbled away after a 16-yard gain. He also gave up on a Tom Brady pass that was intercepted.

But Moss isn't alone in creating concern. Bill Belichick sent Gillette Stadium into a full cringe when he went for it on fourth down again and didn't convert. And there's still that matter of disgruntled outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, a healthy scratch for the second time this year.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, are on the make. The defending AFC East champs finally might have discovered themselves after an 0-3 start, a 3-5 record at the midpoint and that deplorable loss in Buffalo.

Despite the absences of top players in crucial positions -- quarterback Chad Pennington, top running back Ronnie Brown, center Jake Grove, nose tackle Jason Ferguson, No. 1 cornerback Will Allen -- they have a winning record for the first time.

While the Patriots exhibit shaky tendencies, the Dolphins and Jets are playing with conviction.

"You give this team some light, and our antennas go up," Dolphins nickel back Nate Jones said. "We fight our butts off to achieve a goal. We're in December. We're over .500.

"This team is really building something. We can kind of see we have a chance here to do something big. I love the look in all the guys' eyes when we go out to practice and come out for the game."

The Jets are finding their mojo, too, but it's probably not going to be enough. They won their third straight game with a 26-3 domination of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets are tied with the Dolphins, Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens at 7-6.

But the Jets have an arduous schedule to come: Atlanta Falcons, at Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals. The Dolphins, holding several tiebreakers thanks to their season sweep of the Jets, will face three more manageable teams: at Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots have the easiest remaining schedule of the three: at Bills, Jaguars, at Texans.

What made the Dolphins' victory impressive on Sunday was their ability to persevere.

They fumbled four times and committed three turnovers, but seemed to remain in control all the while. Chad Henne (17 consecutive completions) and Ricky Williams (108 rushing yards and a touchdown) generally kept the ball moving. The defense kept the Jaguars stalling.

Whereas the Patriots have made a habit of coming up empty in clutch situations -- failing to convert a fourth down in Indianapolis and Brady's late interception in Miami come to mind -- the Dolphins talk about a swelling belief they're going to make the play when it counts.

"If nobody expected anything out of us, then it wouldn't be worth playing," Dolphins left guard Justin Smiley said. "I'm thankful we have a resilient team, a team that fights.

"In the past we haven't done such a good job of finishing the fourth quarter. It looks like we're finally coming into our own. We need a sack at the end of the game? The defense is going to go get it.

"That's just amazing. It's just knowing your teammates and knowing the fight. It's pretty awesome to be a part of."

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 14, Jaguars 10

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
4:03
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For weeks, the Miami Dolphins have talked about first peering out of the hole and then jumping out of it.

The hole was that bleak 0-3 start. They were 3-5 at the midpoint. But head coach Tony Sparano kept harping about getting back to .500 and then securing their first winning record of the season.

The Dolphins broke through Sunday afternoon with a colossal 14-10 road victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars to tangle the AFC the playoff vines.

Not only did the Dolphins get to 7-6, but they also caught the Jaguars in the conference standings. The Jaguars went into the game in the second wild-card position.

Now the Dolphins are tied with the Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets with three games to play.

The Dolphins seemed to be in command at halftime. They were up 14-7, dominating in time of possession and having success with the run and the pass. They kept denying the Jaguars on third down.

But the game got interesting in the second half. A missed Dan Carpenter field goal kept the Jaguars within striking distance, and the Dolphins' offense began to sputter. But the Jaguars never could generate any momentum.

The Dolphins held monster edges in total yards (354-217) and first downs (22-10).

Chad Henne had another solid day overall, but he did get shaky in the fourth quarter. Henne completed 17 straight passes at one point and finished 21-of-29 for 220 yards. He threw an interception at the Miami 40-yard line late in the game to give the Jaguars a glorious opportunity they couldn't convert.

Ricky Williams ran 28 times for 108 yards and a touchdown, but he also fumbled three times, losing one. Greg Camarillo had seven receptions for 110 yards.

Henne's 17 straight ties team mark

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
3:23
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne completed 17 straight pass attempts against the Jacksonville Jaguars, tying a franchise record.

Henne threw two incompletions on his first three tries, then he started connecting. His streak came to an end late in the third quarter.

He tied Chad Pennington, who set the record last year over parts of two games. Henne's 17 in a row is a Dolphins record for a single game.

The top six in Dolphins history:

  • 17, Chad Henne, Dec. 13, 2009, at Jacksonville.
  • 17, Chad Pennington, Dec. 7, 2008 at Buffalo through Dec. 14, 2008, versus San Francisco.
  • 15, Dan Marino, Nov. 8, 1992, at Indianapolis through Nov, 16, 1992 versus Buffalo.
  • 14, Dan Marino, Nov. 17, 1996, at Houston through Nov. 25, 1996, versus Pittsburgh.
  • 13, Earl Morrall, Dec. 1, 1975, versus New England.

A halftime trip around the AFC East

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
2:37
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Since the AFC East has four games going simultaneously, here are some quick halftime thoughts from around the division:

First of all, I might be in the wrong stadium. The real news will take place in Gillette Stadium if the New England Patriots don't get their act together against the Carolina Panthers. The score is tied at 7, but the Patriots have looked homely. Tom Brady has an interception. Randy Moss lost a fumble. Do you think Bill Belichick has Charlie Weis' updated résumé on file?

The Miami Dolphins appear to be in control against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins lead 14-7 and should be up by at least 10, but receiver Davone Bess fumbled on a reverse at the Jaguars' 33-yard line right before intermission.

The Dolphins are running and throwing effectively. Ricky Williams has rushed 15 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. Chad Henne, who also has a touchdown run, has completed 14 of 16 attempts -- 13 in a row -- for 146 yards and no interceptions.

The New York Jets are cruising against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 19-0. Jay Feely already has four field goals in his hometown. Rex Ryan was wise not to push rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez back too soon from a knee injury because Kellen Clemens hasn't had to do anything. Clemens is 7-of-16 for 52 yards. But Thomas Jones has 12 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown.

The Jets are getting it done in their last cushy game before a brutal finish against the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. The Jets and Dolphins are tied at 6-6, one game behind the Jaguars. If these scores hold up, then we're going to have some fun the rest of December.

And in Kansas City, the Buffalo Bills are up 10-3 in a game that's irrelevant other than establishing the top 10 draft order. Terrell Owens has a 9-yard touchdown reception.

Dolphins grinding it out early

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
1:34
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins threw, threw and threw some more to stun the New England Patriots last week.

On Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dolphins are ready to slog it out.

The slick field at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium has made crisp pass routes tough to execute, but the Dolphins had no trouble running their way to a 7-0 lead with 2:33 left in the first quarter.

The Dolphins went 67 yards on 13 plays, with Ricky Williams punching it in from a yard out. Fullback Lousaka Polite has been a key factor. He picked up two first downs, including one on a fourth-and-1 run.

Chad Henne, who threw 52 passes to beat the Patriots, handed off nine times on the drive. Three of Henne's four throws were on third downs.

Greetings from Jacksonville

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
12:03
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The weather has broken here on the First Coast, allowing the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars to stretch on the field without getting soaked.

The sun has popped out of the clouds and the temperature is in the upper 70s. Scattered thunder showers are in the forecast, but they aren't expected to arrive until the game is over.

Sunday's game has serious playoff implications. The Jaguars are 7-5 and are in the final wild-card slot. But the Dolphins are one of three 6-6 teams, and a victory could propel them deep into the mix with three games to play.

The Dolphins also still have an outside shot at the division title. They're a game behind the New England Patriots, who have an easier remaining schedule but are having as much success on the field as Rob Petrie had with ottomans.

The most notable news from the inactive list is that top Jaguars receiver Mike Sims-Walker isn't on it. He was listed as doubtful with calf and knee injuries.

Get a load of the complete inactive list:

Miami Dolphins

Jacksonville Jaguars

Big afternoon for learning stuff

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
8:33
AM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For the first time in six weeks, I will not be covering the New England Patriots' game.

Now that the AFC East and wild-card standings are clustered tightly, the place to be for Week 14 is Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, although you won't be able to tell by the 147 people in the stands. The Miami Dolphins will play the Jaguars in a biggie that will impact the playoff picture. The Jaguars hold the AFC's final playoff slot for now, and the Dolphins are one victory behind them.

Mike Reiss and Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com will be in the Gillette Stadium press box to provide reports from the Patriots game against the Carolina Panthers. Be sure to check back throughout the day for the latest updates as the Patriots try to snap out of their forlorn daze.

Meanwhile, back at the ol' AFC East blog, I'll be chiming in on that game as well as any major happenings from New York Jets at Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs.

But wait. There's more. Order now and you can have access to our weekly NFL Nation Live chat, featuring yours truly, ESPN.com's seven other divisional bloggers and Scouts Inc. analysts Jeremy Green and Matt Williamson.

And if I could ask you dear readers for a favor this afternoon, I'd sure appreciate it.

All four AFC East teams are playing outside the division and kicking off at 1 p.m. That means all of the games will be ending at roughly the time I'm scrambling to the Dolphins' locker room for postgame coverage.

So when it comes to getting the various postgame wrap-ups posted on the site, please, for the love of man, cut me some slack, you braying jackals.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
4:00
PM ET

» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

The New England Patriots' locker room will determine the course of the AFC East. It won't matter how hot the New York Jets or Miami Dolphins get over the final month if the Patriots can pull themselves together. I'm not convinced that's going to happen with a young roster and so much missing leadership. Too many players who weren't around for the glory years haven't experienced the payoff to Bill Belichick's methods. Instead, they see two fourth-down coaching decisions that might have cost them victories and four starters sent home for showing up late to a meeting because of the weather.

It's possible no ground could be gained in the AFC East on Sunday. All four AFC East clubs are playing teams outside the division and conceivably could go 4-0. The Dolphins can strike a resounding blow in the wild-card race by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars, who currently are sixth in the conference standings. But even if the Dolphins win, chances are they won't alter the division picture. They probably won't catch the Patriots, who host the 5-7 Carolina Panthers, or separate from the Jets, who visit the 1-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDolphins coach Tony Sparano has kept his team competitive for the second year in a row.
Tony Sparano deserves consideration for coach of the year -- again. Sparano was jobbed out of last season's awards because most folks credited Bill Parcells first and everybody else second for the Dolphins' spectacular turnaround from one victory to the AFC East title. Sparano has his Dolphins at .500, but they have remained highly competitive without last year's MVP runner-up (Chad Pennington), their star running back (Ronnie Brown), 3-4 nose tackle (Jason Ferguson) and No. 1 cornerback (Will Allen). This year's effort might be more impressive.

Sunday might be Kellen Clemens' last stand to show he can be a starter. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has stressed for months he believes rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez gives them the best chance to win. Sunday's game at Tampa Bay is a must-win. But Sanchez's knee injury is forcing Ryan to insert Clemens, a 2006 second-round draft choice who has had his chances but could never persuade the Jets to trust him with the job. Clemens won't win over the Jets on Sunday, but it's an audition for 2010 that he can't afford to fail.

The only way Terrell Owens comes back to Buffalo is if he has no other options. Owens has been diplomatic when responding to questions about whether he'd like to remain with the Buffalo Bills. He's not going to openly dismiss a locale that gave him a key to the city before he played a down. But it's clear in Owens' answers he's not enamored with the organization. If he has any chance to join a playoff-caliber team, he will leap at it. So enjoy your last four games of mirth, Bills fans.

Video: Dolphins-Jaguars preview

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
11:31
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ESPN's Mark Schlereth and Darren Woodson preview the game I will be attending Sunday, the Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars. Big wild-card implications, folks. Click on the video to see who the analysts predict will win, and why.

Henne's deep stats may surprise you

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
10:27
AM ET
Chad Henne's downfield passing numbers must be better than Chad Pennington's.

Henne has the stronger arm. The Miami Dolphins are able to air it out with him, as opposed to Pennington's underneath precision passes.

Or at least that's what I thought before ESPN Stats & Information slung some interesting data at me.

Turns out, the Dolphins haven't gone deep with any greater frequency since Henne took over as the starter in Week 4.

On passes that travel 15 or more yards downfield, Henne has tried exactly as often as Pennington did -- 20.3 percent of his attempts.

Pennington completed 7 of 15 deep passes (46.7 percent) for an average of 8.3 yards per attempt.

Henne has completed 21 of 61 deep passes (34.4 percent) for an average of 7.6 yards per attempt.

And that includes the fluke, 53-yard touchdown strike to Ted Ginn against the New York Jets in Week 5.

Yes, I'm calling it a stone fluke that Ginn burned Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. With the way Revis and Ginn have otherwise performed this year, that play makes no sense.

Back to Henne ... Even though his downfield numbers are surprising compared to Pennington's, ESPN Stats & Information also shows Henne is getting better as the season progresses.

Through his first five games, Henne completed only 28.9 percent of his passes longer than 10 yards for 226 yards and a 38.7 passer rating.

In his next five games, he completed 49.2 percent for 544 yards and a 59.2 passer rating.

Video: Dolphins in a tight one with Jags

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
4:45
PM ET

Jenny Dell from "Countdown Daily" takes us inside the AccuScore report for the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. In 10,000 simulations, the Dolphins have a slight edge.

Under Sparano, Fins are Decemberists

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
8:32
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If the Miami Dolphins are going to make a late-season run at the playoffs, the weather won't be as much of a factor for them as it will be for other clubs.

The Dolphins play their next two games in Jacksonville and Nashville before finishing the regular season with a pair of home games against Houston and Pittsburgh.

The Dolphins have a reputation for not being able to win in cold weather, illustrated by the fact they're 13-29 in December road games since 1988 and have only four winning records in December since 1993.

But the Dolphins have shown they can win in December under coach Tony Sparano.

After knocking off the New England Patriots on Sunday in Land Shark Stadium, the Dolphins are 5-0 under Sparano in December.

In a do-or-die situation every week at the end of last season, they went 3-0 on the road in December to win the AFC East title on a tiebreaker. They caught a break when the Buffalo Bills moved their game to Toronto and into the comfy confines of a dome.

But the Dolphins had to close out the season with road victories over the Kansas City Chiefs (kickoff temperature of 10 degrees) and the New York Jets (kickoff temperature 65 degrees, believe it or not).

What does all of this mean? Maybe the sampling is too small to indicate anything, but the Dolphins do seem to have an all-weather mentality. They're one of the NFL's best rushing teams and are slightly above average at stopping the run. Quarterback Chad Henne has played in the elements.

Again, weather might not play a factor down the homestretch, but either way it looks like the Dolphins are ready.

Video: Fins rookie CBs vital to beating Jags

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
8:41
PM ET
KC Joyner takes a gander at the game I will be attending Sunday, the Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars. Joyner thinks the key will be the Jaguars' passing game against Dolphins rookie cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith.

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