AFC East: Jermaine Cunningham

Uh, oh: Ngata active for Baltimore Ravens

November, 24, 2013
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BALTIMORE -- Bad news for the New York Jets' offensive line, which struggled last week: Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who sat out last week with a knee injury, is active and will start Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

This could pose problems for the Jets' interior, especially rookie left guard Brian Winters, who was awful against the Buffalo Bills.

There were no surprises among the Jets' inactive players: quarterback David Garrard, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, running back Alex Green, linebacker Garrett McIntyre, guard Will Campbell, tackle Ben Ijalana and tackle Oday Aboushi.

Former New England Patriots linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who signed last week, is active and will make his Jets debut.

Inactive for the Ravens are cornerback Asa Jackson, safety Omar Brown, running back Bernard Scott, center Ryan Jensen, wide receiver Deonte Thompson, linebacker John Simon and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.

Tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), who returned to practice last week, remains on the injured-reserve list.
Every Wednesday during the season, we'll lead off the day with a quick recap of some notable former New England Patriots players and their standing with new teams.

Patrick Chung (Eagles)
Misses his second straight game, a victory over the Giants, with a shoulder injury.
Season snapshot: Has started three of five games and is credited with 18 tackles.

Jermaine Cunningham (49ers)
After reaching an injury settlement with the Patriots at the end of the preseason, defensive end/outside linebacker signs with the 49ers on Oct. 1.
Season snapshot: Wearing jersey No. 50, he has yet to play in a game.

Brandon Deaderick (Jaguars)
Plays 33 snaps and totals three tackles in road loss to the Rams.
Season snapshot: Has played 122 total snaps; has totaled seven tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery.

Brian Hoyer (Browns)
Quarterback tears his ACL in his third start and is out for the season.
Season snapshot: Led the Browns to two wins in two starts before his injury; 57-of-96 for 615 yards with 5 TDs and 3 INTs.

Zoltan Mesko (Steelers)
Bye week after the Steelers had dropped to 0-4 in loss to Vikings in London.
Season snapshot: 20 punts for 41.9 average (31st in NFL) and 37.6 net (27th in NFL)

Trevor Scott (Buccaneers)
Bye week.
Season snapshot: 45 total snaps at defensive end.

Zach Sudfeld (Jets)
Claimed on waivers on Oct. 4
Season snapshot: Wearing jersey No. 44, tight end was inactive for Monday's win over the Falcons.

Donald Thomas (Colts)
Lands on season-ending injured reserve after injuring his quadriceps in Week 2 home loss to Dolphins.
Season snapshot: Was opening-day starter at left guard and now faces long rehab.

Wes Welker (Broncos)
Five catches for 49 yards and one touchdown in 51-48 win over Cowboys; plays 73 of 79 snaps.
Season snapshot: Receiver has played 275 of 373 offensive snaps (73.7 percent), and has 31 catches for 315 yards and seven touchdowns.

Danny Woodhead (Chargers)
Running back plays 45 of 72 snaps in road loss to Raiders and totals nine rushes for 13 yards, and adds nine receptions for 58 yards and TD. Also fumbles (returned for TD) and is stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Season snapshot: Is second on the team with 31 receptions (for 220 yards and 3 TDs), and has carried the ball 28 times for 103 yards. Has played 154 offensive snaps.

Patriots announce 13 cuts

August, 31, 2013
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The New England Patriots announced Saturday that the following 13 players have been released:

DE Jermaine Cunningham
LB Ja'Gared Davis
S Kannoris Davis
DL Marcus Forston
DE Justin Francis
CB Justin Green
OL Chris McDonald
P Zoltan Mesko
DB Stephon Morris
WR Quentin Sims
LB Jeff Tarpinian
QB Tim Tebow
RB George Winn

Of the group, Tarpinian is the one new player who had previously not been reported to be released.

More analysis to come.

Sharing some midday cut-down thoughts

August, 31, 2013
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Sharing non-Tim Tebow-based thoughts on some of the Patriots' roster moves today:

1a. The change at punter, with Zoltan Mesko out and rookie Ryan Allen in, has many layers. Both showed this preseason that they are deserving of punting in the NFL this season and that's why I took the unconventional approach of keeping both on a final 53-man roster projection (the idea being that maybe it would have been easier to slide Allen to the practice squad after a few weeks). Allen's upside is obvious; his leg is a bit stronger than Mesko's. But Mesko's control and directional punting seemed a notch above over the course of training camp and the preseason. However, Allen's three second-half punts on Thursday might have been the clincher, which showed his potential when it comes to control and directional punting.

Mesko
Allen
1b. Economics shouldn't have been the primary reason for the decision to go with Allen over Mesko, but it has to be a consideration. Mesko was due to earn $1.3 million in the final year of his contract. Allen has a three-year contract and is due to earn $405,000 this season.

1c. There is a trickle-down effect when it comes to the field-goal operation, as Mesko has served as the primary holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Allen didn't hold at Louisiana Tech, but he's worked on the skill since joining the Patriots. Allen will likely become the primary holder, although backup quarterback Ryan Mallett could also be a consideration for the role.

1d. In 2005, the Patriots released rookie kicker Robbie Gould after an impressive camp and later regretted it when Adam Vinatieri departed in free agency the following year. I wondered how much that experience might have played a factor in this decision.

1e. Mesko goes down as one of the players who was most fun to cover. He also seemed most genuine and his farewell message to fans was most classy. One of my favorite personal memories of Mesko was how he was brought to tears after receiving the team's community service award in 2012. It meant so much to him and the emotions took over.

2. The biggest surprise has come among the reserves at defensive end, with Justin Francis, Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham all being cut. They projected to the 3-4-5 spots on the depth chart. Health was likely a factor with Francis and Cunningham, as they have been sidelined. There is always the possibility for them to return if not picked up elsewhere, but an initial thought is that 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan (previous film breakdown) has impressed to the point that the coaching staff felt comfortable letting go of more experienced depth at the position. Buchanan was impressive on Thursday.

3. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was scheduled to earn $1.3 million, but he's agreed to reduce the salary this year with the chance to recoup some of the earnings in incentives, which helped him stick on the roster. Hoomanawanui's smarts, professionalism and dependability made an impression on the coaching staff last season. That he was the last tight end standing among the group of himself, Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells is a minor surprise.

4. The release of defensive tackle Marcus Forston was a mild surprise from this viewpoint. This could mean that rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano is the top backup behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Vellano caught the eye early in training camp, but still didn't think he'd top Forston at this point.

5. Still waiting to hear the fate of presumed bubble players like Vellano, safety Adrian Wilson, running back Leon Washington, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, cornerback Marquice Cole, fullback James Develin and linebacker Steve Beauharnais.

Source: DE Cunningham to be cut

August, 31, 2013
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The Patriots informed defensive end Jermaine Cunningham that he will be released, a source confirms.

Cunningham has been hurt for most of the preseason and didn't play in a game. The move is considered a minor surprise, and also reflects some of the ups and downs the team has had in the second round of the draft, as Cunningham was a second-round pick in 2010.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer are two solid second-round picks, but the list of second-rounders that haven't panned out is quite longer, and includes receiver Chad Jackson (2006), cornerback Terrence Wheatley (2008), safety Patrick Chung (2009), defensive tackle Ron Brace (2009), cornerback Darius Butler (2009), Cunningham and cornerback Ras-I Dowling (2011).

The jury is still out on safety Tavon Wilson (2012).

At defensive end, the Patriots currently have Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette.

Pro Football Talk first reported the news on Cunningham.
The Patriots have informed defensive end Marcus Benard that he has been released, a source confirms.

This is a mild surprise as Benard had been playing a top backup role, while also coming onto the field in sub situations as an interior rusher.

The five-year veteran had a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2010 with the Browns before injuries derailed him the past two years. After signing with the Patriots on Jan. 24 this year, he flashed some pass-rush explosion in training camp as he seemed to be making the most of his fresh start.

With starting ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich entrenched atop the depth chart, Benard had been competing for a reserve role against the likes of Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan. In recent weeks, Cunningham and Francis were both sidelined with injury, so the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Benard seemed like he might have had some security.

But as we've learned on an annual basis with Bill Belichick, the Patriots often have their fair share of surprises as cutdown day approaches.

Current defensive end depth chart
Jones
Ninkovich
Francis
Cunningham
Buchanan
Bequette
The Patriots wrap up their preseason tonight with a game against the New York Giants, their final tune-up in advance of the regular-season opener next Sunday in Buffalo against the Bills.

It's not uncommon to see teams sit all or most of their starters for the preseason finale (colleague Mike Reiss chronicled Tom Brady's snaps history in the preseason finale: link here), so it's possible that tonight's action will prominently feature Patriots reserves.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin indicated his starters will get between 12-15 snaps, and Brady recently said he expects to play as well.

But let's examine those Patriots whom we would not expect to play because of recent injury issues:

Wide receiver Danny Amendola
Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon
Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
Defensive end Justin Francis
Tight end Rob Gronkowski (on PUP)

With regard to Amendola, who recently returned to practice, the team could prioritize keeping him off the field to prevent a re-injury rather than putting him out there for limited reps. Given the strong rapport he's developed with Brady, a final preseason game might not be as much of a priority as it would be for other players.

As for the starters, that's a storyline we'll be closely monitoring leading up to kickoff and in the early stages of the game.
Tonight the Patriots play their third preseason game, which almost always represents the closest thing to regular-season action, as teams typically play their starters for substantially longer than other preseason games.

It would come as no surprise to see Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork on the field in Detroit into the third quarter, while there are other players whom we aren't expecting to see at all, highlighted below.

Non-Football Injury List/Physical Unable to Perform players
TE Rob Gronkowski (PUP)
WR Mark Harrison (NFI)
DT Armond Armstead (NFI)

Players who were absent from practice this week
WR Danny Amendola
DE Jermaine Cunningham
CB Brandon Jones

Players who were limited during Tuesday's practice
DE Justin Francis
OT/G Marcus Cannon
TE Daniel Fells
CB Ras-I Dowling
WR Kamar Aiken

A trio of others to keep an eye on includes defensive backs Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard, as well as offensive lineman Dan Connolly. McCourty and Connolly have yet to play in a preseason game (both are recovering from offseason shoulder surgery), but they were on the field for practice this week.

Additionally, McCourty shed the red non-contact jersey he had worn throughout much of camp. Dennard, meanwhile, has been limited of late, but could return to action after missing the team's second preseason game.

If the 11 players who we expect not to play in the game do in fact sit out, the Patriots will have 73 players in uniform for the contest. That total could shrink if McCourty, Dennard or Connolly is once again unable to suit up.

Rapid reaction: Patriots 25, Bucs 21

August, 16, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Buccaneers, a 25-21 Patriots win:

Brady doesn’t miss a beat. If there were any questions about quarterback Tom Brady and his injured left knee, they were answered with authority. In 12 pass attempts, there was just one incompletion (on a third-down throw to receiver Danny Amendola) as he carved up the Buccaneers’ defense on the team’s first drive, an impressive 15-play, 80-yard march that included a variety of formations and personnel groupings. Before the game, Brady was fired up as he entered for warm-ups, running from one end zone to the other and giving Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn a friendly fist bump. Clayborn, of course, had the bull-rush in Wednesday’s practice that pushed Patriots left tackle Nate Solder into Brady.

PatriotsBucsTop unit on defense produces four sacks. After a preseason opener in which the pass rush wasn’t as disruptive as desired, the Patriots swarmed against the Buccaneers, with the tone set by middle linebacker Brandon Spikes on the first play as he charged downhill and steamrolled running back Doug Martin to register a sack. Spikes added a second sack on the Buccaneers’ second drive, while ends Chandler Jones (nice rush against left tackle Donald Penn in which he got low and pushed Penn back) and Rob Ninkovich added sacks. If the pass rush can perform like that during the season, the Patriots’ D could be dangerous.

Amendola’s home debut a success. Playing the same role as Wes Welker in the team’s offense, free-agent signee Danny Amendola had a Welker-type performance (7 targets, 6 catches, 71 yards, TD). Here is one indication that reflects how the Patriots view Amendola as their No. 1 target: He was the lone receiver who played only the first two series (20 snaps). All other receivers were playing into the second half.

Sudfeld’s emergence continues. Patriots free-agent tight end Zach Sudfeld started and not only has he appeared to carve out a spot on the roster, he’s in position to contribute as the team’s “move” tight end. Sudfeld was on the receiving end of a thread-the-needle two-point conversion pass from Brady, and later made a very nice 22-yard touchdown grab on a Ryan Mallett pass that was tipped before Sudfeld showed excellent concentration and came down with it. At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld has a big catch radius, runs well and currently looks like the team’s best “move” tight end (the old Aaron Hernandez role).

Injury report. There were no major injuries for the Patriots, although second-unit right tackle R.J. Mattes was knocked out of the game with a right ankle injury. Mattes is a long shot to earn a roster spot, but the Patriots have been managing a shortage along the line for most of training camp and this is another hit to be accounted for.

Tough night for Tebow. For the second week in a row, No. 3 quarterback Tim Tebow played the entire second half. It was a tough passing performance for Tebow, who fired an errant, high pass to receiver Kenbrell Thompkins early in the fourth quarter that was intercepted. Tebow also skipped a throw up the right sideline on his first pass attempt. His best success came when he was running, but there weren't many highlights when he was in the game in the second half.

Quick hits. The emergence of rookie free-agent receiver Kenbrell Thompkins continues. Thompkins played 36 first-half snaps (21 with Tom Brady in the game), compared to second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson, who had 17 first-half snaps (two with Brady). ... Defensive end Marcus Benard looks like he’s carving out a role for himself, as he was the first sub rusher to enter the game. That’s the role that Jermaine Cunningham opened the 2012 season playing. Cunningham is currently injured. ... Kickoff coverage was one downer for the Patriots, as they gave up returns of 63 and 40 yards.

Practice report: Day 3 in Philly

August, 8, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Patriots and Eagles wrapped up their week of joint practices on Thursday, conducting a light workout in helmets and shells with a focus on special teams and situational work.

It was the third joint practice of the week, an experience that both teams seemed to view as productive.

From an attendance standpoint, second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left the field early with strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash. He eventually returned alongside Nash, though he did not participate in drills from that point on. It is unclear the nature of the issue he is dealing with.

The following players were not spotted during the workout: receivers Michael Jenkins and Mark Harrison, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, safety Nate Ebner, tight ends Brandon Ford and Rob Gronkowski, offensive linemen Marcus Cannon, Markus Zusevics, Tyronne Green and Kevin Haslam, and defensive linemen Jermaine Cunningham and Armond Armstead.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on Friday, the first exhibition game for both teams.
Brady/BushAP Photos, US PresswireTom Brady, left, and Reggie Bush are their respective teams' most potent offensive threats.


Few predicted before the season that Sunday's meeting between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins would have playoff implications for both teams. But New England and Miami each has a lot at stake in this AFC East matchup.

The Patriots (8-3) are fighting for a first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They trail the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) and Houston Texans (10-1) in the chase for the top two seeds in the AFC with five games remaining.

Meanwhile, the surprising Dolphins (5-6) want to keep their playoff hopes alive. Miami is only one game out of the final wild-card spot behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (6-5).

Something has to give when these two rivals meet at Sun Life Stadium. Our ESPN.com experts weigh in on this matchup.

James Walker, AFC East blog: Mike, it's no surprise the Patriots are playing meaningful December games. But Miami is a total shock. I thought this would be a rebuilding year for the Dolphins with a rookie quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and rookie head coach (Joe Philbin). But the fact that sports fans in South Florida will still be talking about the Dolphins in December -- and not the Miami Heat -- is a miracle in itself. In terms of the big picture, I think we’re seeing the beginning of a new threat developing in the AFC East. The New York Jets are no longer a threat to the Patriots, as we saw on Thanksgiving, and the Buffalo Bills never seem to have it together. But Miami is a young, up-and-coming team that should be solid in the next year or two. Sunday is a good measuring stick to see where the Dolphins stand against the best team in the division. Mike, how are the Patriots viewing this game?

Mike Reiss, ESPNBoston.com: James, the Patriots call these type of situations "hat-and-T-shirt games." Our colleague Tedy Bruschi came up with that saying because if the Patriots win, they clinch the AFC East and will have hats and T-shirts waiting for them. They have two difficult games after this one -- back-to-back home prime-timers against Houston (Dec. 10/ESPN) and San Francisco (Dec. 16/NBC) -- but I don't see them overlooking the Dolphins. South Florida has often been a challenging place for the Patriots to play. I think they respect the Dolphins, and specifically the threat that running back Reggie Bush can be and how stingy the defense has been in the red zone and on third down. Still, the Patriots have looked lethal the past two games and should be up for the task.

Walker: Miami’s front seven has been solid most of the year. But there is a huge mismatch with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throwing against Miami’s secondary. The Dolphins are 26th against the pass and have been short on cornerback depth all season. Opponents have been picking on Miami corners Nolan Carroll, Jimmy Wilson and R.J. Stanford. The Patriots have enough weapons to spread Miami out and take advantage of these matchups. Brady is seeing the field extremely well. He has thrown 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions during New England’s five-game winning streak. It will be up to Miami’s offense and Tannehill to keep pace. Andrew Luck recently struggled against New England. Why do rookie quarterbacks often get embarrassed against Bill Belichick’s schemes?

Reiss: I'm not sure I would necessarily say that has been the case. This Patriots defense has done some great things in recent weeks, but it has also had its struggles at times. The main thing the Patriots have going for them is their amazing turnover differential. They are plus-24 -- easily the best in the NFL. But opponents have moved the ball on them at times. I would envision the Patriots’ plan to be centered around Bush. Try to take him away as both a rusher and receiver, and look to create turnovers from there.

Walker: Miami’s running game averaged 6.8 yards per carry last week against Seattle. The Dolphins are at their best then they can run and stop the run. This might be the only way for the Dolphins to beat the Patriots. Miami, in many ways, has to play defense with its offense. The Dolphins have to control the clock and reduce the number of plays for the Patriots’ offense. Miami is not the type of team that wins in shootouts. The Dolphins average only 19.2 points per game. This is a plodding, physical team. And if this game gets into the 30s, that probably means the Patriots win.

Reiss: I'd agree with that, James. It's challenging to control the tempo against the Patriots, but most of the teams that have had success in recent years did so by controlling the ball on offense. The other area that I think is important to focus on is the Dolphins' pass rush against the Patriots' offensive line. The O-line has generally been excellent for the Patriots this season, and last Thursday, they were without starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and didn't miss a beat. Cameron Wake can obviously be a disruptive player, so let's keep a close eye on the edges and if the Patriots can continue to protect Brady, whose name seems be generating some momentum in the MVP discussion. On the other side of the ball, the right defensive end spot bears watching. That's where the absence of rookie Chandler Jones (sidelined since injuring his ankle Nov. 18 against the Colts) and top backup Jermaine Cunningham (four-game suspension) could create a large void. Jones' status could become more clear in the coming days, and if he plays, that's a one-on-one matchup I don't want to miss -- Jones versus Dolphins left tackle Jake Long. If Jones doesn't play, can the Patriots generate enough pass rush without two of their best threats?

Walker: With huge games looming against the 49ers (8-2-1) and Texans (10-1), normally I would label this a trap game. But as you mentioned, the Patriots are not the type of team that looks ahead. They do a good job of focusing week to week and that should be more than enough to handle the Dolphins. I predict New England wins 31-17. The Dolphins don’t have enough horses to compete with the Patriots just yet. But it’s a good chance for the Dolphins to see where they are at this stage.

Reiss: The Patriots are the class of the AFC East and have been for most of the past decade. The question that interests me is which division foe -- Bills, Dolphins or Jets -- is closest to making a run at them. I pick the Dolphins because I think they have the greatest future potential at quarterback. I have always enjoyed conversations with Philbin, who grew up in Massachusetts, and believe he is the right coach for the Dolphins. He's establishing the foundation with the Dolphins and believes in fundamental football first and foremost. They are on their way. But I agree with your thoughts in this game, James, as I see the Patriots on a different level.

Thoughts on Cunningham's suspension

November, 26, 2012
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The NFL announced New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham is suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancement drug policy. Barring an appeal, Cunningham will be out until the regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 30.

Here are several thoughts on Cunningham’s suspension:
  • It is interesting to think back to how much Patriots head coach Bill Belichick raved about Cunningham’s improvement in the offseason. Entering 2012, Cunningham was a draft bust who couldn’t get on the field. But this year he showed considerable improvement and was busted for performance enhancers. Maybe those two are related. Maybe that's not the case. But it is curious now to connect the dots.
  • Cunningham’s suspension makes it more important for rookie defensive end Chandler Jones to return from his ankle injury. Jones missed his first game of the season against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving, and the Patriots didn’t miss a beat. New England’s defense played well in a 49-19 win over the Jets. But New England’s schedule will only get tougher. The Patriots will play at Miami (5-6) on Sunday, followed by games against the Houston Texans (10-1) and San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1). The Patriots need all hands on deck during this battle for playoff positioning.
  • This suspension could put Cunningham’s long-term future with the Patriots in jeopardy. He was a draft bust for most of his career and then busted for PEDs after finally showing improvement. Cunningham will return for the regular-season finale and the playoffs. But his roster spot may be one to keep an eye on in the offseason.
In July, the AFC East blog highlighted several players who needed successful seasons to avoid the “bust” label.

As we approach the midpoint of the season, let’s take a look at two New England Patriots.

Updated Bust Watch: CB Ras-I Dowling, DE Jermaine Cunningham

Picks: Dowling, 2011 second round; Cunningham, 2010 second round

Analysis: Many Patriots fans thought it was too soon to put Dowling on the “Bust Watch." He had just one injury-plagued year and was put on injured reserve. However, the same thing happened this year where Dowling returned slowly then ended up on injured reserve for a second straight season. Dowling may get one more chance in 2013, but he’s probably a bust at this point. Meanwhile, Cunningham has been a nice story. He showed improvement in the spring and summer and it has translated into the regular season. As a backup, Cunningham has 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. It’s not Pro Bowl production but it’s certainly enough to begin shedding the “bust” label.
This is the final installment of our preseason version of “Stock Watch.” This is a feature that will continue throughout the regular season.

Here is a look at who’s rising and falling:

Falling

1. Miami Dolphins: It was an ugly preseason for the Miami Dolphins. It was full of ups and downs -- with Miami going 0-4 and looking bad doing it. This was the just the third winless preseason in franchise history; after the two previous such preseasons, Miami finished 8-8 in 1989 and 3-11 in 1966. This year’s Dolphins look much closer to the 1966 team than the .500 team in 1989. I’ve said all along that I would be very surprised if Miami wins more than six games, and I am sticking to that prediction. The Dolphins have a tough opener on the road Sept. 9 against the Houston Texans.

2. Matt Moore, Dolphins quarterback: Moore capped a shaky preseason with another poor performance against the backups of the Dallas Cowboys. Moore completed just 4 of 12 passes for 49 yards, an interception and was sacked three times -- and the interception was a pick six. Moore has not fit in well with Miami’s West Coast offense. Both David Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill beat him out for the quarterback job.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/Bill KostrounAn ugly outing in the Patriots' preseason finale doesn't bode well for QB Brian Hoyer.
3. Brian Hoyer, Patriots quarterback: Hoyer just hasn’t looked good in training camp and the preseason. It’s pretty concerning, considering Hoyer has the most experience at quarterback if Tom Brady gets injured. Hoyer threw for 95 yards, one interception, one fumble and was sacked three times against New York Giants backups. It’s not known if Hoyer is still the No. 2 quarterback or if Ryan Mallett has won the job.

Rising

1. Quinton Coples, Jets defensive end: New York’s first-round pick was one of the few starters to play for the Jets on Thursday night-- and Coples did what he should by making plays against mostly backups, recording four tackles and 1.5 sacks in New York’s preseason finale. He has 4.5 sacks in the preseason. If he keeps up this pace, Coples could be challenging for Rookie of the Year honors.

2. Jermaine Cunningham, Patriots linebacker: New England head coach Bill Belichick complimented Cunningham in training camp for being one of the team’s most improved players. The 2010 second-round pick has often shown flashes of brilliance, and that includes his two-sack performance in Wednesday’s preseason finale against the New York Giants. Cunningham is a perfect example of taking a productive offseason and turning into a good training camp and preseason. Now, the Patriots hope Cunningham takes his momentum into the regular season when the games matter.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: Fitzpatrick had a productive final preseason game. He was 5-for-5 for 39 yards and a touchdown pass to receiver Steve Johnson. It was short work, but it provides some momentum heading into Week 1 of the regular season. This is a show-and-prove year for “Fitz” -- no more excuses.
The AFC East blog continues its series this week on highly-touted draft picks who need to show up in 2012. Next we take a look at a defensive end for the New England Patriots.

Bust Watch: DE Jermaine Cunningham

Pick: Second round, 2010

Analysis: Cunningham is part of a long list of recent second-round misses for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Cunningham showed a few flashes as a rookie in 2010 (34 tackles, one sack) but took a step back in 2011 (one tackle). Injuries played a part. But Cunningham also saw little playing time in his nine games before going on injured reserve. The Patriots can no longer wait for Cunningham to develop in his third season. This is a huge training camp for him. Our friends at ESPNBoston.com estimate Cunningham's chances of making the 53-man roster at just 35 percent. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when New England signed veteran defensive end Trevor Scott for depth this offseason. If Scott stays healthy, he could take Cunningham's roster spot.

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