AFC East: John Conner
- Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is off and running with quarterbacks coach David Lee.
- Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long checked in at No. 59 in the NFL top 100.
- The New England Patriots brought in a trio of offensive linemen for tryouts.
- The New York Jets signed free-agent fullback Fui Vakapuna.
QUARTERBACK ISSUES: With Mark Sanchez resting and Mark Brunell recovering from a pulled calf, the Jets started McElroy -- and he didn't make it past the second quarter. McElroy left the game after injuring the thumb on his throwing hand; he appeared to bang it on the helmet of right guard Matt Kroul on a follow-through. One preliminary report said McElroy dislocated his thumb, which would mean a long-term injury. The team didn't provide an immediate diagnosis.
Rex Ryan has said he expects Brunell to be ready for the opener, but it's still a precarious situation, considering Brunell missed all four preseason games and a lot of practice time. If something were to happen to Sanchez, they'd be in big trouble. One move that makes sense is re-signing Kellen Clemens -- assuming he's released by the Redskins. He knows the Jets' system and would be able to play in an emergency.
PHILLY'S QB ISSUES: Naturally, Michael Vick -- the $100 million man -- didn't play. His backup, Vince Young, pulled a hamstring just before halftime and didn't return. In came third-stringer Mike Kafka, who was drilled by linebacker Mattias Berning in the third quarter and nearly came out of the game. They have no other quarterbacks, so it would've been interesting if Kafka hadn’t been able to return. Andy Reid probably would’ve used the Wing-T before using Vick.
DREW WHO?: McElroy was replaced by fourth-stringer Drew Willy, an NFL journeyman who has bounced around on a few practice squads. He also played in the UFL. Willy did well for himself, throwing a 14-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Scotty McKnight on his first pass. Not bad, huh? Willy showed some mobility, running for his life on a few occasions. Willy was going to be released Friday or Saturday; maybe he earned an extended stay.
WOE-LINE: The Jets started their second-team offensive line and it was ugly. McElroy was under heavy pressure from the outset, suffering two sacks in the first quarter. That he got hurt on a freakish play was stunning, considering the pounding he took. Right tackle Vladimir Ducasse was a mess, committing three penalties -- two false starts and one holding (declined).
Clearly, the depth is a problem on the offensive line, with backup center/guard Rob Turner (leg) is down for at least two months. GM Mike Tannenbaum needs to get on the horn and bring in an experienced backup.
RUNNING IN PLACE: The coaching staff was hoping to see some big things from backup running backs Joe McKnight and rookie Bilal Powell, but they did virtually nothing -- a combined total of 10 rushing yards. Worse, McKnight lost a fumble, conjuring up memories of his mistake-prone preseason in 2010. So much for McKnight’s positive momentum.
POSITIVE AUDITIONS: Rex Ryan said they went into the game with three roster spots still up for grabs. Three defensive players helped their chances -- cornerback Ellis Lankster (67-yard interception return for a TD), outside linebacker Aaron Maybin (1.5 sacks) and rookie linebacker Nick Bellore. Outside linebacker Eddie Jones also flashed some potential. Ryan will have some difficult decisions to make at linebacker.
No one on offense really stood out, but rookie tight end Josh Baker showed some pass-catching ability and versatility. Baker, an H-Back in college, also lined up as a fullback. The Jets have only one fullback on the roster, John Conner, who is nursing a sprained ankle.
What a shock it would be if St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh didn't represent his side of the ball.
Still, it's an appropriate time to recognize a few remarkable rookie campaigns in the AFC East.
New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez should get a few votes.
McCourty was forced to grow up fast when Leigh Bodden suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in training camp. McCourty lined up against the opposition's top receivers and finished second in the league with seven interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl.
Gronkowski had 10 touchdown receptions, a Patriots record for tight ends of any age and for rookies of any position. He came two touchdowns short of Mike Ditka's NFL record for rookie tight ends. Gronkowski broke another Patriots rookie record with three touchdowns in one game.
Hernandez broke the Patriots record for receptions from a rookie tight end. He had 45 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns.
None of the three other teams had particularly stellar rookies, but let's take a look at each team.
C.J. Spiller generated a lot of praise in the preseason. He was the ninth overall pick at a position favorable to rookie awards. But Spiller rushed for 283 yards and no touchdowns and added 157 receiving yards with a touchdown.
Some Bills fans might argue linebacker Arthur Moats was their best rookie. The sixth-round pick gained fame for the hit that essentially ended Brett Favre's career. Moats had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He added 10 special-teams tackles.
But I submit the Bills' best rookie wasn't drafted. David Nelson caught 31 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't get on the field regularly until late in the season. Fourteen catches and all of his TDs came in a three-game stretch in December before an injury wiped out his last two games.
The Miami Dolphins caught a bad break when first-round pick Jared Odrick suffered a hairline leg fracture in the season opener. Second-round outside linebacker Koa Misi had a strong campaign with 4.5 sacks.
Defensive back Nolan Carroll, a fifth-round choice, had a wonderful year. Aside from being known as the guy Sal Alosi tripped at the Meadowlands, Carroll was a regular contributor in the secondary and was the Dolphins' top kickoff returner. His mother also was elected Florida's lieutenant governor.
For all the impressive things the New York Jets did in 2010, rookie production didn't rate. They drafted only four players, and all were disappointments to varying degrees.
First-round pick Kyle Wilson played every game but didn't become the nickelback Rex Ryan said he'd be. Second-round offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse was healthy all season but played in three games. Fourth-round running back Joe McKnight became a punch line for his lack of conditioning and will be known as the player who led the Jets to cut Danny Woodhead. Fifth-round fullback John Conner didn't live up to his "Hard Knocks" hype and was deactivated at the end of the year.
Some highlights with my thoughts:
The Jets probably won't re-sign any of their players before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 4. This probably is the most prudent approach. The Jets would benefit from knowing the new salary cap structure rather than simply guessing on whether or not their players will fit under it. Teams also would prefer to know how free agency will be determined under the next CBA. Right now, we can't say for sure who will be restricted or unrestricted or what veteran minimum salaries will be.
Tannenbaum hopes to keep all three free-agent receivers: Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith. I'm skeptical the Jets can pull it off. All are coming off big years, and it will be difficult to match all offers from other teams. But if the Jets can pull it off, the happiest man in the organization will be Mark Sanchez. Tannenbaum declined to speculate on whether or not the Jets would be interested in a post-prison Plaxico Burress.
Free-agent inside linebacker David Harris "remains a top priority for us." Harris, to me, is the most important free agent for the Jets. It's much easier to find a receiver in free agency than a stud linebacker such as Harris. He has led the Jets in tackles each of the past two seasons and makes all the on-field defensive calls. I highly doubt the Jets let him get away.
Sanchez will get "a couple of opinions" on his injured throwing shoulder before deciding if he'll have surgery. The Jets don't want to cut on their quarterback unless they have to. But the sooner they make a decision, the better so Sanchez can begin the rehab process. One of the overlooked traits Sanchez has developed in his two years is toughness. He has taken quite a few shots in the pocket and on the run, but he stays on the field.
Tannenbaum expects LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor to be on the 2011 roster. Tomlinson and Taylor are under contract, but the Jets could release them. Tomlinson lost effectiveness as the season wore on, but he can be a quality backup for Shonn Greene and adds value in the passing game as a receiver and in blitz protection. Taylor clearly is nearing the end of the line, and he knows it. But he wasn't a liability and provided leadership Tannenbaum said was "really hard to quantify."
First-round draft choice Kyle Wilson's future is "one of our paramount objectives for the offseason." The day the Jets drafted Wilson 29th overall, head coach Rex Ryan declared Wilson would be their nickelback and a great punt returner. Even with Darrelle Revis absent all summer because of a contract dispute, Wilson couldn't seize the opportunity and fell behind Drew Coleman on the depth chart. Tannenbaum cited inconsistency as Wilson's biggest problem.
Right tackle Damien Woody and fullback Tony Richardson probably won't be back. Tannenbaum didn't make those statements, but that's what I read between the lines. Woody turned 33 during the season and recently underwent Achilles surgery. He also missed games with a knee injury. Wayne Hunter or Vladimir Ducasse could take over for him. The Jets cut Richardson before the season and brought him back. They also have fullback John Conner waiting in the wings.
Vernon Gholston sounds like a goner. The sixth overall pick in 2008 was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Tannenbaum diplomatically said the Jets "are going to see if there's anything else to try, but he has been given his share of opportunities, and it could be time to move on." Move over Mike Mamula.
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Fullback John Conner
- Receiver Patrick Turner
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive end Vernon Gholston
Smith was the Jets' top kickoff returner, bringing back two for touchdowns in the regular season. He also is a potent weapon in the run game as an option quarterback in their Wildcat-style offense.
Newsworthy for the Patriots is that tight end Aaron Hernandez is active after missing the last two regular-season games with a hip injury.
Here are the rest of Sunday's scratches:
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Fullback John Conner
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert
- Outside linebacker Vernon Gholston
New England Patriots
I'm calling upon you to give one more strong effort in choosing the final High Energy performer for the 2010 season.
I know, I know ... this is an emotional time. So grab a fistful of tissues and consider these top nominees. You're always free, of course, to nominate anyone you'd like in this difficult time.
The decision looks straightforward to me. Only two teams deserve to have anybody nominated because of blowout victories.
New York Jets rookie running back Joe McKnight ran 32 times for 158 yards against the Buffalo Bills' first-string defense. McKnight, in the Jets' doghouse since the summer for his lackluster approach to the game, went into the game with 31 yards total. The Jets scratched LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, and McKnight took advantage of his opportunity.
Also for the Jets, rookie fullback John Conner received his first carries of the season. He ran eight times for 44 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown.
Jets cornerback Marquice Cole made his first NFL start and recorded two interceptions. Cole ran back one of them for a 35-yard touchdown.
Another impressive defensive performance came from Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace. He made one tackle -- a sack. He also had three quarterback hits, an interception and three passes defensed.
The New England Patriots were much more balanced in terms of individual performances. They played almost all of their players, which limited the chance for gaudy stat lines.
But receiver and return man Julian Edelman had his best game of the year. He returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown and caught three passes for 72 yards against the Miami Dolphins.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich had another big game against his former team. He notched a pair of sacks, three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Ninkovich also added a pair of special-teams tackles.
But they finished with a pair of abominable performances in their final two games and head into the offseason with serious concerns about how to shore up one of the game's most fundamental facets.
"That's horrible," Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny said after the 38-7 loss. "It's nothing short of horrible. I mean that was our problem all year long, and we just never seemed to be able to get everyone on the same page in order to fix that.
"Defensively, if you can't stop a run, it's just going to be more of the same for us."
The Bills gave up 158 yards to seldom-used rookie running back Joe McKnight, 60 yards to option quarterback/receiver Brad Smith and 44 yards and a touchdown to rookie fullback John Conner, who went into the game with zero NFL carries. Third-string quarterback Kellen Clemens had a 10-yard touchdown run.
"We did not make them work for anything," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "They could run and not worry about it. That mindset gives you a whole different outlook when you are running the football."
The Bills surrendered 217 rushing yards to the New England Patriots in Week 16.
The Bills went into the season with a new 3-4 defense but morphed back into 4-3 schemes in an attempt to slow down emboldened running backs.
Buffalo gave up 2,714 rushing yards this year and ranked dead last in the NFL with an average of 169.6 yards a game. Opponents also averaged an NFL-worst 4.8 yards a carry.
"I think it was a terrible end to a terrible year," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said of Sunday's performance at the Meadowlands. "Obviously, nothing went right on offense or defense. It was not the way we wanted to finish up."
The New England Patriots have The Law Firm (running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis).
The New York Jets don't have a jurist, but they do have The Terminator (fullback John Conner).
The Miami Dolphins' locker room, meanwhile, has a direct line to the governor's mansion.
The gubernatorial race was among the tightest in Florida history and wasn't decided until Alex Sink conceded early Wednesday morning.
Nolan Carroll, a rookie from the University of Maryland, watched bleary-eyed from candidate headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.
"It was just nervewracking," Carroll said in a story by Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane. "They said it was probably going down to the wire. We were hoping they would call it early, but it just didn't happen."
Carroll has been getting besieged with legal suggestions from his teammates. Some want reduced taxes -- even though Florida has no state income tax.
Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder declared "legalize whatever's illegal and let the state run crazy."
He said the Jets were going to beat the Minnesota Vikings. He just didn't have any idea how it would unfold.
Ryan knew somehow the Jets were going to get it done.
In the days leading up to a showdown that provided more storylines than a season's worth of the WWE and "Grey's Anatomy" combined, there were all sorts of leading characters and themes to choose from.
Vikings quarterback Brett Favre returned to the Meadowlands under duress to play his old team. Randy Moss made his first Vikings appearance after the New England Patriots traded him. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis played for the first time since Moss scorched him. Jets receiver Santonio Holmes came back after a four-game suspension.
Any of those players -- or the handful of other future Hall of Famers -- would be the likely hero.
Of all of the newsprint and bandwidth dedicated to previewing Monday night's game, I didn't see Nick Folk's name mentioned much. Or Dwight Lowery's. Or John Conner's. Or Brad Smith's. Maybe Shonn Greene's here or there ...
Yet all of them played crucial roles in a 29-20 Jets victory Monday night.
The game was delayed 45 minutes because of lightning and it was finished off by players who offered little pregame crackle. Not one of the Jets' points was scored by a star.
"Those aren't the people that you would think would ice the game," Jets right tackle Damien Woody said. "That's why football is the ultimate team sport. Anybody can make a big-time play."
The Jets delivered the sort of resourceful performance great teams find a way to pull out. Their offense encountered trouble scoring touchdowns, and their defense had to hang on at the end like a staggered prizefighter hoping to hear the final bell against a desperate slugger.
"I love the resolve of this football team," Jets fullback Tony Richardson said. "Just keep fighting, keep fighting and whoever makes the play makes the play.
"That's the making of a team. It doesn't matter who gets the glory, just that you get the job done. That's when you know your team is growing together."
Folk turned into points what Mark Sanchez, LaDainian Tomlinson, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller and Holmes couldn't, making all five of his field-goal attempts, including one from 53 yards away.
All of Folk's field goals came in succession, with the Jets unable to score a touchdown despite getting inside the Vikings' red zone four times. One of Folk's field goals came three plays after Smith returned a kickoff 86 yards to the Vikings' 19-yard line in the third quarter.
"It could have gotten really frustrating," Richardson said, "with field goal, field goal, field goal ... We kept getting down there and couldn't put it in. We just dusted ourselves off and kept going until we popped that run."
Greene, the backup running back, darted 23 yards for the offense's only touchdown behind a nasty block from Conner, the rookie backup fullback, in the fourth quarter.
If you were to draw up a list of the 10 Jets defenders most likely to score a back-breaking touchdown Monday night, Lowery's name wouldn't have been on it. The reserve defensive back returned a Favre interception 26 yards for a decisive score with 90 seconds to play.
"I really can't describe it," Lowery said of his first NFL touchdown. "I haven't ever been in that situation before. It's all really so new."
Most of the Jets' stars, meanwhile, didn't shine as brightly as the players beneath them on the depth chart. They didn't have to, and that's the point.
Tomlinson was an exception. He came 6 yards short of recording his second straight 100-yard game, something he hadn't accomplished since 2007.
In rainy conditions that made throwing difficult at times, Sanchez completed less than half of his passes and posted a 59.9 passer rating, his first sub-100 score in four weeks. Holmes was targeted nine times but caught just three balls for 41 yards. Keller caught two passes for 14 yards and had his touchdown streak snapped at three games.
Revis looked like he didn't belong on the field. The All-Pro gimped around and didn't do a very good job covering Percy Harvin in the slot. Harvin scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Antonio Cromartie had an overall successful game against Moss, but he still gave up a 37-yard strike in the end zone that gave Favre and the Vikings life in the third quarter.
But as the veterans in the Jets' locker room can attest -- guys like Woody, who won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, or Richardson, who's in his 16th season -- nights like Monday suggest a coming of age.
"We feel good because this was one where we had to dig and it took the whole game," Greene said. "It took everybody we had. It was one of those games where we got tested, and we came out on top."
One player is questionable: linebacker Jamaal Westerman with an ankle problem.
No Jets are listed as doubtful.
That means everybody else is at least probable, including cornerback Darrelle Revis and outside linebacker Calvin Pace.
They are among eight players listed as probable. The others are:
No wonder head coach Rex Ryan was bemoaning a lack of leadership in the latest episode of "Hard Knocks."
On Sunday, the Jets released veteran fullback Tony Richardson -- a day after he survived the cutdown deadline for the 53-man roster.
Richardson is trying to play a 16th NFL season. He was outplayed by rookie John Conner, but it was clear watching "Hard Knocks" the Jets coaching staff viewed Richardson as highly important to the 2010 cause. He was considered perhaps the most prominent leader in the locker room.
"Each season, there are difficult choices when constructing the 53-man roster, and this year is no exception," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement. "We appreciate Tony's contributions and leadership over the past two seasons and have nothing but the highest respect for him as a person and as a player."
The Jets also waived running back Chauncey Washington and receiver David Clowney. The dismissals cleared way for three waiver pickups: receiver Patrick Turner from the Miami Dolphins, tackle Patrick Brown from the Minnesota Vikings and defensive tackle Marcus Dixon from the Dallas Cowboys.
Richardson joined a long list of veterans who aren't around from a roster that was good enough to get the Jets to the AFC Championship Game, among them running back Thomas Jones (10 seasons), guard Alan Faneca (12 seasons), defensive end Marques Douglas (nine seasons), kicker Jay Feely (nine seasons) and long snapper James Dearth (nine seasons).
In fact, of the 10 most experienced players on the Jets' final roster last year, including injured reserve, only three remain: right tackle Damien Woody, nose tackle Kris Jenkins and defensive end Shaun Ellis.
Granted, the Jets did add veterans via free agency. Quarterback Mark Brunell is entering his 18th season, running back LaDainian Tomlinson his 10th and pass-rusher Jason Taylor his 14th. But all of them were signed with the intention to be backups.
You have to wonder whether the Jets have over-tinkered their roster.
Biggest surprise: The Jets' roster was about as set as you could get heading into training camp. Only a couple reserve roles and special-teams spots were available. So there weren't any surprises, unless you want to count the development from earlier in the week. Backup quarterback Kellen Clemens avoided being released by restructuring his contract to remain on the roster behind Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell. That meant the Jets cut Kevin O'Connell, which wasn't a surprise regardless of what Clemens did.
No-brainers: With the Jets keeping two fullbacks (Tony Richardson, John Conner) on the 53-man roster, there was no room for Jason Davis despite a strong summer. Linebacker Brashton Satele never got on the field, resulting in the memorable "Hard Knocks" quote from special teams coach Mike Westhoff: "Let him open up his freakin' pizza shop in the Bronx and leave me alone."
What's next: Aside from convincing cornerback Darrelle Revis to end his holdout and figuring out who they'll dump once receiver Santonio Holmes' four-game suspension is up, there's not much to address. General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan will comb the waiver wire to see if they can improve the bottom of the roster. They also could bring back receiver Laveranues Coles after the season opener to avoid guaranteeing his salary for the year.
The head coach apparently is wary of not only being in front as a leader, but also alone.
In the latest episode of "Hard Knocks," an exasperated Ryan scolds his team for a growing lack of professionalism and a dearth of demonstrable leadership.
Previous scenes showed offensive coaches bemoaning a lack of confidence, veteran pass-rusher Jason Taylor showing up late multiple times and defensive players groping into a McDonald's bag for cheeseburgers during warmups for a practice at Hofstra University.
Ryan's speech to his players the night before playing the Washington Redskins:
"You guys know me, that I'm about as positive a guy as there is. I believe our team is better than every [expletive] team in the league. I believe our players are better than any players in the league, right? Those are true statements. That's how I believe.
"But the team's only going so far if I'm the only guy that leads. The team is only going so far. I'm not a great leader, OK? I'm not a great leader. I can't lead myself, this whole group of men. We ain't going to win, guys, if it's about me.
"I'm sitting back for us, waiting for us to understand the team that we said we're going to be. What the hell are we waiting on? What are we waiting on? Do you want it or not? Do you understand there's a price to pay?
"Can we have fun? You're damn right. I demand that we have fun. Now there's a difference between having fun and being a jackass. Our defense was a jackass when we went to Hofstra, eating a bunch of [expletive] cheeseburgers before we go stretch and all that. That's being a jackass.
"You can be a world champion, but not like this. We won't win it. We'll sit back and say 'Why didn't we do it?' We didn't do it because 'Where were our [expletive] priorities?' How about our offense? When are we going to put it together? Can we not run the ball down their throats every snap? Can we not throw it any time we want to [expletive] throw it?
"Let's make sure we play like the [expletive] New York Jets and not some slap [expletive] team. That's what I want to see tomorrow. Do we understand what I want to [expletive] see tomorrow?"
Earlier in the show, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer admits his players aren't showing much assertiveness. Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and running backs coach Anthony Lynn agree.
"We have some really talented guys," Cavanaugh says. "But none of them motivate vocally the group. So they all kind of look to each other like 'Yeah, we're pretty talented. Somebody's going to make a play here,' instead of saying 'I'll take this [expletive] game over.' "
Other highlights on this episode (there's only one more):
- Nose tackle Kris Jenkins telling the rest of the defense versus Washington they needed to force a turnover because Mark Sanchez needed more work.
- Ryan's man crush on rookie fullback John Conner and the possibility veteran Tony Richardson will be released.
- A close look at how much rookie left guard Vladimir Ducasse is struggling and concerns that position will get Sanchez hurt.
- Ryan telling former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden that Santonio Holmes might be the best player on the field.
- How backup quarterback Kellen Clemens avoided being cut.
- Releasing receiver Laveranues Coles and reserve quarterback Kevin O'Connell.
- Flabbergasted general manager Mike Tannenbaum trying to decipher where Tim Cowlishaw's infamous report about Darrelle Revis was coming from.
- Ryan on the first three games against the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins: "We open the season with three of our toughest games right out of the gate. But the great thing is if we end up kicking ass, that's going to send a frickin' message to the rest of the league. 'Oh, [expletive]!' "
We talked about the latest episode of "Hard Knocks" and the revelations of the Jets' internal depth chart, which included notes on some players who might be doomed. Other topics included the New England Patriots' vulnerability on defense and the low-profile Miami Dolphins being a dangerous opponent.