AFC East: Mike Holmgren

Tom Brady was on injured reserve with a knee injury the last time his New England Patriots visited the Seattle Seahawks.

The year was 2008.

The Seahawks had a 2-10 record. Seneca Wallace was their starting quarterback. Mike Holmgren was their coach. Pete Carroll was at USC.

Now, for the really different part: The Seahawks' defense, currently ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, ranked 30th back then. It had allowed six total rushing and passing touchdowns in its previous two games, one more than the 2012 team has allowed in five games this season.

Brady is back and leading the NFL's top-ranked offense against Seattle's top-ranked defense in Week 6. The teams kick off Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, Brady's first road start against the Seahawks. The matchup has us talking already.

Mike Sando, NFC West blog: The last time an NFC West team drew New England, Arizona pulled off one of the more shocking upsets of the season, holding Brady to 18 points and leaving Gillette Stadium with a 20-18 victory. New England lost Aaron Hernandez to injury in that game. The Patriots have regrouped. They've scored 113 points in three subsequent games. Was that Arizona game an aberration, or should the Seahawks' defense expect similar results?

James Walker, AFC East: It feels like two different offenses since New England’s loss to the Cardinals, Mike. New England looked shell-shocked after losing Hernandez in that game. He's usually such a big part of the Patriots’ game plan that they had trouble adjusting on the fly. But New England made the proper changes. Tight ends no longer are the first option; now receiver Wes Welker is the top target. New England is no longer passing the ball 60 or 70 percent of the time; its run-to-pass ratio was 54-31 this past week against the Denver Broncos. The Patriots also used a no-huddle offense in all four quarters for the first time in that game. Can New England keep up that kind of pace, especially on the road? The Patriots are concerned about crowd noise in Seattle. Will the 12th man affect this game?

Sando: Yeah, the crowd will be a factor because the defense is good enough to make it one. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo combined for 19 points in Seattle. Brady and the Patriots are playing better offensively than Green Bay or Dallas, though. One key will be whether Brady can get the ball out to Welker quickly enough to avoid Seattle's pass-rushers. Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons and Jason Jones could have big games against the Patriots' offensive front if Brady holds the ball. But Welker should have a big advantage against nickel corner Marcus Trufant. Welker leads the NFL with 24 receptions from the slot over the past three games. Seattle's opponents haven't gone after Trufant all that much, but St. Louis slot receiver Danny Amendola did give him some problems. Welker is a tough matchup for everyone and should be a tough one for the Seahawks.

Walker: Seattle’s pass rush is the biggest concern for New England. Brady’s sack totals have gone up each of the past three seasons, and he already has been sacked 12 times in five games. Brady is not a young pup anymore and only has so many hits left in his 35-year-old body. New England’s pass protection hasn’t been the same after losing left tackle Matt Light and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters in the offseason. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and guard Logan Mankins also have played hurt this year. The Patriots have done things schematically to counter their shaky pass protection. New England is running the ball more, and the no-huddle has slowed down opponents. But you wonder whether the inconsistent pass protection eventually will catch up to New England this season, especially this weekend against a good Seattle defense.

Sando: Seattle's defense was good last season, and it's better in 2012. This is a legitimate top-five defense with big, pressing cornerbacks and the potential for a strong pass rush, particularly at home. The Seahawks are allowing 3.2 yards per carry overall and 3.0 when we remove quarterback scrambles (Brady isn't exactly a running threat). There's speed at every level of the defense. Holding the Patriots' offense to a reasonable level -- say, somewhere in the 20-point range -- should be realistic as long as Seattle fares OK against Welker. The bigger question is whether Seattle's offense can score enough points to win the game. Russell Wilson is coming off his best game, but the offense isn't putting up enough points.

Walker: New England’s defense has improved in a lot of areas. The front seven is more physical and the pass rush is better, specifically with the addition of first-round pick Chandler Jones. However, New England is still 30th against the pass and continues to give up chunks of yards through the air. The safety play has been horrific at times. I think Seattle’s best chance to win is using play-action over the top. Patriots coach Bill Belichick usually tries to take one thing away, and I assume the focus this week will be Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. There will be plenty of opportunities in the passing game if Wilson can take advantage. Speaking of taking advantage, your NFC West division has crushed the AFC East at nearly every turn. What is going on here? Is this a special year for the NFC West, and will Seattle repeat what the Cardinals did by knocking off the top dog in the AFC East?

Sando: I've gone into several of these nondivision games a little skeptical about whether the NFC West team would score enough to win. The offenses in Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis lag in the rankings. But the defenses and special teams have more than made up the difference. I think Seattle has a winning formula and a good shot at pulling it off, but I still think Brady is more likely than Wilson to reach 20-plus points.

I've had similar thoughts before and been wrong. I really thought some of these top opposing quarterbacks would enjoy greater success against the NFC West. Brady, Jay Cutler, Rodgers, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Romo, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are a combined 2-8 against the division, and both victories were against St. Louis. Those quarterbacks have seven touchdown passes and nine picks against the division. Outside the division, NFC West teams have gone 10-0 at home and 11-3 regardless of venue.

I'll probably wind up picking the Patriots, but Seattle's defense gives the Seahawks a good chance.

Walker: It looks as if the AFC East is having a second consecutive down year, and the arrow is certainly pointing up for the NFC West. But the Patriots are a legit team. Barring significant injuries, I expect New England to carry the banner for the division all season. I’m 15-2 predicting AFC East games this year, so I feel pretty confident in my picks. I think New England will pull this one out. The Patriots’ offense is very balanced, and their tempo puts a lot of pressure on teams. If they score points early, it could put too much pressure on Wilson to answer. Wilson has beaten Rodgers, Romo and Newton this year. But I don’t think Wilson will add Brady to that list.

Parcells, Bledsoe and the Hall of Fame

February, 9, 2011
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I once heard Tom Donahoe, the former Buffalo Bills president and general manager, call quarterback Drew Bledsoe a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Then again, Donahoe used to say a lot of things.

I was reminded of this when taking a glance at players who will make their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2012.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, who's on the Hall of Fame selection committee and last weekend was elected president of the Pro Football Writers Association, blogged the top newcomers to consider the next few years.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBill Parcells and his former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year.
The lists are helpful in speculating when fan favorites such as Andre Reed and Curtis Martin will get their Canton calls. They both were finalists this year -- Reed for the fifth time, Martin for the first -- but weren't added to the 2011 induction class Saturday.

Perhaps that development was fitting for Martin because his coach with the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be on the ballot again. They could get in together in 2012.

Bill Parcells has been a finalist twice, but not since 2002 because rules for coaches changed. They now must wait five years from their last game to be eligible for induction, and Parcells returned to the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

Is Parcells a Hall of Famer? I know Miami Dolphins fans aren't too thrilled with him these days, but he did add to an already remarkable legacy -- two championships, different teams to the Super Bowl, a few organizational turnarounds -- by guiding the Dolphins from 1-15 to the AFC East title as their football operations boss.

Also on the ballot next year will be Bledsoe, running backs Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber, fullback Mike Alstott, guard Will Shields and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Bledsoe had a fine career with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys and ranks eighth all-time in passing yards. But he was a Pro Bowler only four times and never was first-team All-Pro. Bledsoe was helpful in getting the Patriots their first championship, so he does have a ring. But that was Tom Brady's team.

Dillon also was a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He ranks 17th in rushing yards and never led the league in a major rushing category.

Schottenheimer played for the Bills and Patriots before winning 61 percent of his regular-season games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. His 200 victories rank sixth all-time, but his 5-23 playoff record will hurt.

That group of first-time candidates -- plus the newcomers for 2013 -- bodes well for Reed. There won't be any new receivers for him to box out. He already has jockeyed ahead of contemporaries Cris Carter and Tim Brown by making the cut from 15 to 10 in the selection process the past two years. Carter and Brown haven't.

Gaughan highlighted first-year players for next few classes.

2013: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Michael Strahan.

2014: Running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Rodney Harrison and coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren -- if they don't return to sideline work.

2015: Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackles Orlando Pace and Walter Jones and linebacker Junior Seau.

AFC East mailbag on your doorstep

January, 16, 2010
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John in La Jolla, Calif., writes in with a complaint: "Tim, why do you have so little respect for the Chargers? I can't wait for your response. Hardly anyone at ESPN ever mentions them."

Tim Graham: The fact the San Diego Chargers play in the AFC West and this is an AFC East blog might have a little something to do with it. That would explain my lack of Chargers coverage over the past two years.

As for a lack of respect, I've gone on record as predicting the Chargers will beat the New York Jets on Sunday. So have all eight ESPN experts who pick the games, AccuScore and the SportsNation poll. Notice those 10 yellow lightning bolts all in a row? That means they're predicting a Chargers victory.

Ethan in Austin, Texas, thinks the Buffalo Bills' inability to land a coach has been "overplayed" because of his belief that Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is the only one to have turned down an interview, that Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera eventually will interview and that there have been no confirmed reports Bill Cowher is out of the mix.

TG: That's an awful lot of blind hope. In all fairness, Ethan submitted his question before Saturday's report in the Buffalo News that Arizona Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm likely won't accept the Bills' invitation to interview either. Even so, these men also spurned overtures from the Bills: Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren and Charlie Weis. Mike Shanahan interviewed and went elsewhere. That's a lot of rejection.

Interim coach Perry Fewell would rather have the New York Giants' defensive coordinator job than the possibility of the Bills' head-coaching position. That leaves one candidate we know they've interviewed and still is available, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

As for still waiting on Cowher, what are you basing that hope on? Other reports that state the Bills have been pursuing him? You can't listen only to the stories that tell you what you want to hear. ESPN's Adam Schefter and John Clayton and Sports Illustrated's Peter King all have reported Cowher isn't coming to Buffalo.

Tony in Madison, Wisc., wants to know what the Miami Dolphins should do in the draft. He mentions the defensive line, receiver and safety.

TG: Let's not forget inside linebacker. The Dolphins need to upgrade there, too. They were ready to walk away from Channing Crowder last year and let him become a free agent. Crowder gave them a discount rate to remain with the team. Otherwise, the Dolphins would have gone a different direction a while ago. Akin Ayodele hasn't been a difference-maker, either.

The Dolphins own the No. 12 selection. A receiver there would be the sexiest pick. Chad Henne could use a formidable and reliable downfield target. But if the Dolphins identify a nose tackle they like, and who projects worthy of the draft slot, then that could be the way to go. Nose tackle is critical to a 3-4 defense. Jason Ferguson is a free agent, would turn 36 next season and is coming off a leg injury that limited him to nine games. Paul Soliai was adequate in Ferguson's place, but the Dolphins probably wouldn't mind improving there.

Carlos posted a question on my Facebook wall about how the Patriots might change on the offensive line to make room for Sebastian Vollmer. (If anybody else wants to friend me on Facebook, you can get alerts on my blogs the second they're posted.)

TG: Although receiver Julian Edelman was the biggest name at the end of the year, Vollmer was the prize of New England's 2009 rookie class. Vollmer showed he was capable of being a franchise left tackle, but the Patriots would be better off if they kept the aging-but-still-capable Matt Light through the final year of his contract and insert Vollmer on the right side for Nick Kaczur. If the Patriots wanted to cut payroll, however, then they could start Vollmer at left tackle next year with no problem.

In response to the debate about whether Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis deserved to win the AP's Defensive Player of the Year Award instead of Green Bay Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, Kevin in Menlo Park, Calif., wants to know how each player compared from a penalty standpoint.

TG: Revis was penalized four times for 20 yards. Three flags were for illegal contact. The other was for defensive holding. No pass interference calls.

Woodson was penalized eight times for 68 yards. He was called for pass interference three times, defensive holding three times and facemask twice.

Steve in Middlesex, N.J., writes in with a correction. He points out that twice I erroneously cited the Dallas Cowboys finished with a better scoring defense while, in fact, the Jets gave up fewer points.

TG: Guilty as charged. I have no explanation other than I must've looked up the stat incorrectly the first time and then committed those false numbers to memory. For the record, the Jets allowed a league-low 236 points for an average of 14.8 points per game. The Cowboys allowed 250 points for an average of 15.6 points per game.

Gene in Rochester, N.Y., writes: "Do you ever get tired putting down the Bills all the time? Its getting old."

TG: After a full decade without making the playoffs, the only way I can avoid writing anything negative about the Bills would be not to cover them at all.

Video: AFC East 'Blogger's Blitz'

December, 30, 2009
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ESPNEWS anchor Will Selva humored me with a few questions about the AFC East for the latest edition of "Blogger's Blitz." We discuss the New York Jets' plump playoff chances, whether Bill Belichick will rest his starters in the season finale, the Miami Dolphins' recent problems and the Buffalo Bills' coaching search.

Buffalo coaching search on hold

December, 29, 2009
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A pair of insightful blogs have been posted about the Buffalo Bills' approach to finding their next head coach.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan writes the Bills will not hire a coach until they bring in a legitimate general manager. The Bills have operated without a traditional GM or football operations boss, choosing instead to let team president Russ Brandon, who has a marketing background, handle the role.

NFL Network reporter Jason La Canfora, citing an unnamed source, provides an update on the coaching search: There really hasn't been one yet.

La Canfora reports since the Bills interviewed Mike Shanahan and were snubbed by Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher, the club has decided to sit back and wait.

From La Canfora's blog:

According to the source, a resolution is "a long, long ways away," and the franchise is at the start of what will be a "very thorough process." As expected all along, the Bills could look to several emerging coordinators, though there are few options on the offensive side of the ball. Buffalo would like to install an offensive-minded coach and explosive system, if possible, and is looking for someone who can identify and develop a franchise quarterback -- which is why Holmgren, Shanahan and Gruden were so appealing.

Buffalo television station WIVB reported Monday night the Bills had reached out to former Notre Dame head coach and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis through "back channels."

Report: Bills, Weis show mutual interest

December, 28, 2009
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The pipeline for news about the Buffalo Bills' coaching search has been dry for weeks.

Weis
Weis
The Bills sat down with Mike Shanahan and reached out in vain to Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren and Jon Gruden by Thanksgiving. We haven't heard anything substantive since.

Here's an update:

John Murphy, sports director for CBS affiliate WIVB and play-by-play voice for the team, reports the Bills have reached out to former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, and there is mutual interest.

The Bills interviewed Weis for their vacancy in 2004 but eventually hired Mike Mularkey. Weis remained offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots one more season and then took over Notre Dame's program in 2005.

The Bills haven't gone to the playoffs for 10 straight seasons.

They fired Dick Jauron after falling to 3-6 with a Week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Bills named defensive coordinator Perry Fewell interim head coach and have gone 2-4.

Bills playing with pride under Fewell

November, 29, 2009
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The Buffalo Bills gave Perry Fewell a seven-game audition when they named him interim coach.


Marc Serota/Getty ImagesThe Bills have been very competitive under interim head coach Perry Fewell.
About a third of the way into the tryout, I'd say Fewell is making a sound case to get the job permanently. I'm not saying Fewell is the best option, but there's no denying he has been impressive so far.

The Bills have been courting the upper echelon of available coaching candidates. They spoke to Mike Shanahan a week ago and reportedly have approached Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren.

In the end, however, Fewell could be the guy.

Bills fans might be depressed with that idea compared to an A-lister with Super Bowl credentials, but the Bills have shown some fire under Fewell that was undetectable with Dick Jauron. They nearly defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in his debut. On Sunday, Fewell won his first game in Ralph Wilson Stadium, a 31-14 thumping of the surging Miami Dolphins.

The Bills have been fun to watch the past couple weeks. They've limited their past two opponents to a couple touchdowns apiece and are taking shots down field. J.P. Losman would be proud.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Ryan Fitzpatrick has connected with Terrell Owens on long scoring bombs. They hooked up for 98 yards in Jacksonville and hit on a 51-yarder to put a late dagger in the Dolphins.

I also liked the way Fewell ended the game with authority. Some might have viewed what he did as rubbing it in, amassing 17 points in the final 3:35 because Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne kept throwing interceptions.

But this wasn't like Pete Carroll going deep for a meaningless touchdown Saturday night against UCLA or even Bill Belichick trying to run it up against the New York Jets by having Tom Brady throw a bomb to Randy Moss last Sunday.

The Bills have been rummaging for sources of pride all year, and Fewell helped them find a healthy caché against a division opponent.

What the Bills told future opponents in those final few minutes is they're not on your schedule to be patsies anymore.

What's next for Bills after Shanahan?

November, 25, 2009
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ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Buffalo Bills met with coaching candidate Mike Shanahan for seven hours Monday night and Tuesday morning in Denver.

The report suggests Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon interviewed for Shanahan rather than vice versa.

"We had an excellent meeting," Shanahan told Schefter on Wednesday. "I was really impressed with Russ Brandon and everything he had to say. We're going to stay in touch and see what develops."

The Bills are expected to take their time in making a hire and will interview several more candidates before they find the permanent replacement for Dick Jauron, who was fired last week and replaced with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell on an interim basis.

Almost all of the top-tier candidates have rebuffed the Bills' attempts to talk about the job. Substantive reports have stated Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren have turned them down.

The next wave of candidates might include the likes of Brian Billick, Jim Fassel, Mike Martz and Jim Haslett, but the Bills seem hot for an offensive-minded coach, which could work against Haslett, a former Bills linebacker.

Billick had an 80-64 career record and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Defense was the foundation of those Ravens teams, but Billick is a lifelong offensive coach who had a star quarterback only once in his nine seasons there. Billick won 13 games with Steve McNair in 2006.

Fassel went 58-53 as head coach of the New York Giants and won an NFC title. Bills fans might note some similarities between their team and the one Fassel took over in 1997. The Giants went 6-10 the year before, but Fassel guided them to a 10-5-1 record and the NFC East championship with Danny Kannel and Dave Brown as his quarterbacks.

Martz coached The Greatest Show on Turf with the St. Louis Rams for six seasons. He went 53-32 and won an NFC title. His offense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2000 and 2001 with such stars as Kurt Warner, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk.

Another offensive-oriented coach who has been mentioned is longtime NFL offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who has been tearing up the Canadian Football League as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.

But one major hang-ups the Bills will have is their quarterback situation. They have no obvious starting quarterback on their roster. The organization apparently has given up on Trent Edwards, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't held in high regard. Newly acquired third-stringer Brian Brohm is a project.

Many coaches' names will be associated with the opening. Expect some surprises along the way.

Report: Holmgren turns away Buffalo

November, 24, 2009
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In case you're keeping score in the Buffalo Bills' search for a head coach, another prominent name apparently isn't interested.

NFL.com senior columnist Vic Carucci reports Mike Holmgren "has rejected an overture from the Bills" because the former Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks coach and executive is believed to have his eye on an administrative job rather than one on the sidelines.

That means every one of the so-called A-list of Super Bowl-winning candidates has been accounted for in reportage -- for now.

Mike Shanahan has accepted an invitation to meet with the Bills about the opening. Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Holmgren declined.

Marty Schottenheimer also stated publicly he has not been in contact with the Bills about the job and, in regards to coaching, "I'm really not going to go back down that road again."

Fewell: Ryan gives Bills best chance to win

November, 18, 2009
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With a number of well-credentialed coaches, including Super Bowl winners Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Brian Billick seemingly available if you meet their price, there is some optimism surrounding the Buffalo Bills’ future direction.

As for the Bills' immediate future, that falls on the broad shoulders of interim head coach Perry Fewell, who replaced Dick Jauron Tuesday.

Clearly, Fewell has his work cut out for him.

He inherits a Buffalo team that shares the longest current playoff drought in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, dating back to 1999. On Day 1 as head coach, Fewell said he wants his team to “play like hell and win.” On Day 2, he made his first big decision, naming Ryan Fitzpatrick his starting quarterback over Trent Edwards for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

“We just felt like Ryan gives us the best opportunity to go into Jacksonville and win this week,” Fewell said.

The decision to start Fitzpatrick was initiated by offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and approved by Fewell, who described the Bills' quarterbacking situation as “week-to-week and day-to-day.”

In summarizing how the Bills' offense might look different with Fewell running the show, the 26-year-old Fitzpatrick said, “not a ton will change.” But, he added, "Perry brings a different attitude and coaching style."

Fewell agreed that his style differed from Jauron's.

“I’m more fired up, I’m much more emotional," he said. "Whether the team takes on these characteristics, I don’t know.”

The switch from Edwards to Fitzpatrick was fully endorsed by wide receiver Terrell Owens.

“He’s (Fitzpatrick’s) a veteran and has more experience," Owens said. “He will bide time, assess the defense and take shots downfield.”

Fitzpatrick went 2-1 while Edwards was sidelined with a concussion. Edwards returned last Sunday in a loss at the Tennessee Titans.

“I thought it was his (Fitzpatrick’s) job to lose,” Owens said.

For Fewell, choosing between Edwards and Fitzpatrick must have seemed like picking between root canal and shock therapy. Both quarterbacks have struggled all season moving the ball and finding deep threats Owens and Lee Evans.

In his last four games, Edwards has thrown just one touchdown pass to go with five interceptions. Fitzpatrick has been similarly ineffective with just two touchdown passes and four interceptions in four games this season.

The affable Fewell has spent his entire 12-year NFL coaching career working on the defensive side of the ball. He’s had to deal with a number of key injuries over the last two years.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills reside near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category: 28th in points scored, 29th in total offense, 29th in passing yards per game.

Buffalo’s scoring woes were clearly evident during the exhibition season when their first-team offense scored exactly three points -- total -- in four games. This led to the firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert 10 days before their first regular-season game. The Bills' lackluster no-huddle offense was also scrapped after six games.

“You never envision things would have transpired to this point,” Owens said. “It’s tough. I haven’t been in a losing situation like this before. I haven’t been as productive as I would like. All I can do is work hard.”

All season, Jauron stressed the Bills need to stretch the field and make big plays -- to no avail.

Owens, who arrived in Buffalo this offseason amidst considerable fanfare, has been at best a non-factor, at worst a complete bust. Nine games into his one-year, $6.5 million dollar deal, Owens has caught just one touchdown pass. Owens, 35, has yet to have a 100-yard receiving game this season and seven times has caught three balls or fewer, stats reminiscent of a No. 4 receiver, not a future Hall of Famer.

“I’m not in a system I’m accustomed to,” Owens said. “I haven’t been utilized like I have been in years past. In San Francisco and Philadelphia, we had great offensive minds that utilized my abilities.”

The Bills' inability to get T.O. the ball has been a sobering experience for him. As a Pro Bowler on winning teams, Owens became as notorious for his public feuds with quarterbacks Jeff Garcia at San Francisco, Donovan McNabb at Philadelphia and the Dallas Cowboys’ management as for his elaborate touchdown celebrations.

Since his arrival in Buffalo, T.O. has been by all accounts a boy scout from a public relations perspective, an eerie silence for Bills fans who at this point would gladly take all the drama that Owens brings as long as it came with some touchdowns and wins.

David Amber is an ESPN TV correspondent based in Toronto.

Who will be Buffalo's coach in 2010?

November, 17, 2009
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Now that the Buffalo Bills have fired Dick Jauron, who are the candidates to be their head coach in 2010?

Here are some thoughts on a few potential candidates in no particular order:


Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIREHiring former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher would be a splashy move for the Bills.
Bill Cowher: It would take a gigantic change of philosophy for Bills owner Ralph Wilson to sign off on a larger-than-life coach such as Cowher. Wilson's modus operandi has been to pursue coaches who don't command a high salary and don't expect organizational control. Cowher essentially has his choice of any openings and will need to be dazzled by an offer the Bills have no history of making.

Mike Holmgren: See Cowher.

Mike Shanahan: See Holmgren.

Jon Gruden: See Shanahan.

Tony Dungy: See all of the above. Plus, he seems to enjoy retirement. He had peace of mind in leaving one of the NFL's elite franchises. It would be a colossal stunner if he would consider joining one of the decade's least successful clubs.

Marty Schottenheimer: The former Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers head coach has a reputation for getting his teams into the playoffs but not Super Bowls. Bills fans certainly would settle for that. Schottenheimer spent four seasons playing linebacker for Buffalo, winning an AFL championship his rookie year.

Jim Haslett: Many observers see the former New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams head coach as the perfect choice. Teams often like to go with a coach that has a different personality from the one they just fired. Haslett would be that. He's fiery. He also has a history with Buffalo. He played linebacker for the Bills from 1979 through 1985 and got his start in coaching as an assistant for the University of Buffalo.

Brian Billick: If the Bills wanted a coach with an offensive background, Billick is available. He was Baltimore Ravens coach for nine seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 2000.

Mike Martz: Similar to Billick, he's an offensive coach with Super Bowl credentials and currently works for the NFL Network. He coached The Greatest Show on Turf with the Rams for six seasons.

Jim Fassel: Fassel likely would be reasonably priced. He has been eager to get back into the NFL since he was fired as the Ravens' offensive coordinator in 2006. Fassel was head coach of the New York Giants from 1997 through 2003, winning one NFC title.

Perry Fewell: The Bills' defensive coordinator has been named interim head coach. He never has been a head coach at any level, but when clubs look for an interim coach from within, they generally look to the offensive or defensive coordinator. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was installed 10 days before the regular season and hasn't exactly done a bang-up job.

Bobby April: Buffalo's assistant head coach and special-teams coordinator would seem to be a candidate based on how highly he's respected around the league. But it doesn't bode well that Wilson bypassed him for Fewell.

Other names to consider: Todd Bowles (Miami Dolphins secondary), Ted Cottrell (former Bills defensive coordinator), Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator), Turner Gill (University of Buffalo head coach) Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator), Mike Leach (Texas Tech head coach), Paul Pasqualoni (Dolphins defensive coordinator), Brian Schottenheimer (New York Jets offensive coordinator), Marc Trestman (Montreal Alouettes head coach).

Your AFC East mailbag delivered

October, 17, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Charles in Vicksburg, Miss., can't understand why Bills fans would want the front office to fire head coach Dick Jauron. He notes the Bills are only two games out of first place with at least one game remaining against each AFC East opponent. "Throwing away the season right now is just ludicrous," Charles says.

I love your spirit, Charles. You're one of the last holdouts of Bills optimism. I don't think it matters one bit whether the Bills fire Jauron. Regardless of who the coach is, they're in too deep of a hole, too banged up and too out of synch. Mathematically, you are correct the Bills can make up substantial ground with six AFC East games left, but the other teams have at least one divisional victory already, and the Bills have lost their past eight in a row.


Clay from Sacramento, Calif., takes offense to my post that points out Tom Brady has been about average in many statistical categories. Clay writes, "To measure the effectiveness of an NFL quarterback in the manner you have done is, for lack of a better word, idiotic." Clay thinks fantasy football geeks are ruining football. "The obsession with statistics in a team sport like football," Clay says, "is causing generally intelligent people, like yourself, to judge a three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback based on their statistics over a five-game span."

Five games is a third of the season. If that's an insignificant sample, then Charles in Vicksburg comes off as coherent. But if you don't like data, how about this? Based strictly on my observations and not taking a single statistic into consideration, Brady -- a great quarterback, mind you -- is playing at a mediocre level right now. There you go. I've delivered the same message that upset you in my post without mentioning a single stat.


In reaction to the same Brady post, Mike in Halifax, Mass., takes the time out of his day to write "I dislike you as a writer, or shall a say a data collector." He says he "hates articles like this" and instructs me to "get a life."

Sadly, a big part of my life is getting paid by ESPN to gather analytical material for reader consumption in the hopes of getting them to read my blog and, if I'm lucky, click on my mailbag to drop me a line. And I reveal that with a heavy heart.


Wil in Albuquerque, N.M., clearly doesn't get out much. He calls my AFC East trade-deadline analysis a "killer article. Way to have the pulse of all the situations congrats on the excellent piece of journalism!"

Thanks, Wil. The reason that story worked is because I didn't use any stats and resorted to pure speculation. As Mike and Clay point out, facts are for suckers.


Masoud in Fairfax, Va., wants to know if I thought Rex Ryan's quotes after getting beaten Monday night were disrespectful to the Miami Dolphins.

Only slightly, Masoud. Ryan did cross a line when he said of Chad Henne "We made that quarterback look like Dan Marino." While that was the snippet that caught everyone's attention, Ryan quickly added before drawing his next breath that Henne "was pretty good, though. He deserves credit." I thought Ryan delivered his postgame comments with the intention of blistering his team. In the process, Ryan insulted the Dolphins a tad. No biggie in my book.


Lee in Columbia, Mo., wants to know how long the Monday night's game lasted.

Not your typical mailbag question, but I have that answer. The game kicked off at 8:38 p.m. EDT and ended at 11:42 p.m. That's a duration of 3 hours, 4 minutes.


Brian in Albany, N.Y., wants to know if I've heard the rumor Mike Holmgren might join the Bills with full organizational control.

I haven't heard that one aside from the usual shotgun theories involving every unemployed big-name coach such as Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden and Holmgren. But I would be ecstatic for Bills fans if football operations were to be turned over to someone who could establish front-office credibility. I'm pessimistic Ralph Wilson would do that, but I'd love to see a proven football mind be given authority.


Mr. Anonymous from Nashville writes "I just discovered your blog this week. I like the tone and the substance. Looks like ESPN has made their best decision since getting Buster Olney."

Do you and Wil ever get together in New Mexico to take turns hitting each other in the forehead with tire irons? In all seriousness, thank you for being delusional in my favor.

Miracle not enough to mask Jets problems

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
3:41
PM ET
 
 Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI
  Quarterback Brett Favre and the rest of the Jets got a little lucky on Sunday versus the Bills, but the serendipitous win couldn't hide some glaring issues.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Amid the sheepish laughter and unconvincing sighs of relief, a pall wafted through the New York Jets locker room Sunday.

Imagine enjoying the warm revelry of your office Christmas party before you notice the bony hand cradling the eggnog ladle belongs to the Grim Reaper.

This is not a time for unbridled mirth for the Jets, and they know it. They deserved to lose Sunday.

The Buffalo Bills had the game well in hand, plowing forth behind Marshawn Lynch. All the Bills had to do was run out the final two minutes. Maybe they would have to punt, but they have a Pro Bowler for that. Their defense had contained the Jets throughout the second half.

Right then, the Bills called a rollout pass play. Usual backup quarterback J.P. Losman might as well have asked the Jets' defense to put an index finger on the ribbon so he could tie a pretty bow.

Sack. Fumble. Rumble. Touchdown. Jets win ugly 31-27.

Afterward, I asked several Jets if what had just transpired instilled confidence or raised more concerns. Each player paused before answering. Some responded with nervous laughter or facial expressions that indicated they would rather not weigh anything other than the victory.

"We're just happy to escape," Jets tight end Chris Baker said. "We're still in first place. We didn't have any expectations of how they game was going to go. We only expected to win. We're going to move on."

The Jets needed that triumph badly to remain tied with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots atop the AFC East.

The Jets had dropped two games in a row against teams they were favored to defeat. A third such loss would've waylaid their playoff plans.

"At this point in the season the key thing is to get the win," Jets head coach Eric Mangini said Monday. "There are things that we've needed to improve every game of the season. There are things we need to improve from this game.

"It's not like the BCS. We don't get voted down for style points. We're first place in the division, and we have two games to go.

"The win is the win is the win."

And the problems are the problems are the problems.

Reasons do exist for Jets fans to remain confident their staggering team will reach the playoffs, which looked like a given after they knocked off the defending AFC champion Patriots and undefeated Tennessee Titans in consecutive weeks.

  • The cheap victory buys them one more week to figure out how they went from fashionable Super Bowl pick to mediocre after losing to the Denver Broncos at home and the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Running back Thomas Jones is playing at an elite level. He has at least one touchdown in eight straight games and 14 touchdowns in his past 10 games.
  • Leon Washington continues to be electric on offense and kicks returns.
  • Their pass defense went into Sunday ranked No. 31 but played well against the Bills.

"The biggest thing," Jets fullback Tony Richardson said about Sunday's improbable finish, "is if you didn't believe before you definitely should believe now.

"Play hard for 60 minutes and then look at the scoreboard because you never know what play is going to be the biggest play to determine the outcome of the game."

But there are more reasons to be concerned than confident of the Jets' chances to play in January.

Here are five troubling trends the Jets must cope with to make the playoffs:

1. Run defense not looking elite anymore.

The Jets aren't stopping the run like they used to. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins, their MVP for most of the season, looks worn.

Two Sundays after Broncos rookie Peyton Hillis ran for 129 yards, Lynch went for 127 yards and carried a 6.0 average. It was the Jets' first game since Week 3 that an opposing back finished with the most rushing yards.

When the Jets met the Bills on Nov. 2 -- in Ralph Wilson Stadium and with starting quarterback Trent Edwards running the offense -- Lynch ran nine times for 16 yards. In last week's loss to the Dolphins, Lynch ran for 31 yards.

Buffalo's most startling run on Sunday was made by backup Fred Jackson, who rambled 11 yards with a gang of Jets on his back.

2. Troubles on third down.

The Jets rate decently in turning third downs into first downs. They're at 41 percent for the season, tying them for 12th in the NFL. But they've converted only eight of their past 32 third downs.

Against the Broncos three weeks ago, the Jets converted 27 percent. The number plunged to 10 percent in their loss to the 49ers.

The Jets finished Sunday with a middling 36 percent, but all four of their third-down conversions came early. They failed to convert any of their final six third downs.

The Bills, meanwhile, converted six of 14 third downs and both times they went for it on fourth down.

The 49ers converted 52 percent of their third downs and their only fourth-down attempt against the Jets a week earlier.

3. Brett Favre's pedestrian numbers.

Favre's best passer rating over the past three weeks is a 61.4 and he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in each of those games. Top receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery have combined for 17 receptions over that span.

Favre threw two more int
erceptions on Sunday, giving him an NFL-worst 17 for the season.

In the season finale, he'll face the opportunistic Dolphins, who lead the NFL with a plus-12 turnover margin.

4. Sunday's game in Seattle.

With a three-way tie in the AFC East and only two games left, victories are paramount.

The Jets on Sunday will travel cross country to meet the Seattle Seahawks, who are 3-11.

But unfavorable circumstances abound for the Jets.

They are 0-3 in games played out West. They've lost at San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco. The Dolphins and Patriots went 5-1 against those teams.

The Seahawks should be inspired about Sunday, which will be head coach Mike Holmgren's final home game before stepping down.

The Seahawks are coming off a victory -- albeit over the St. Louis Rams -- and have played well lately, nearly beating the Patriots on Dec. 7.

5. Breaks have a way of evening out.

Luck has played a significant role in the Jets building their 9-5 record.

Favre's fourth-down desperation heave for a touchdown in Week 1 to beat the Dolphins ... a wild finish to beat the Kansas City Chiefs despite three Favre interceptions ... winning the coin flip to short-circuit the surging Patriots in sudden death ... Losman's fumble ...

"We're 9-5, and it doesn't have an asterisk beside it," Favre said Sunday. "It's kind of like in baseball, when you get a little 'Punch and Judy' [hit] right over the first baseman's head. The box score doesn't say 'Punch and Judy.' It says single.

"A home run is a home run. A win's a win. Once again, it doesn't matter how you win them. All I know is this team is 9-5 and we're still in first place."

Favre claims he was less prepared than Cassel

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
4:03
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

In September 1992, during a Week 3 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, football's Wally Pipp gave way to a prospect few knew anything about.

Don Majkowski, the Pro Bowl quarterback, suffered an ankle injury. Although he would play several more games for them, his Green Bay Packers career was through. Brett Favre trotted off the sideline and took over.

Favre, now of the New York Jets, will play against another relative unknown making his first NFL start because the leading man got hurt. Matt Cassel will start Sunday at the Meadowlands in place of injured New England Patriots QB Tom Brady.

Cassel completed 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's victory over the Chiefs, his most extensive game action since high school.

"I don't think I'm in a position to give Matt Cassel that much advice," Favre said Wednesday. "I think he's fallen in the footsteps of somebody who's been pretty damn good. And he obviously handled himself well the other day.

"He's probably going to tell you guys he's ready, he's worked for this opportunity, and that's all true. I think he'll do fine."

After all, Favre noted how well it worked out for him after leaving Southern Mississippi and getting traded away by the Atlanta Falcons.

But Packers general manager Ron Wolf saw something in Favre. Somebody in the Patriots front office presumably sees something in Cassel to have drafted him without starting a single college game at quarterback and keeping him around Foxborough a fourth season.

"I think of every guy who's ever had his first start, and there was no person that I could think of who was ever more raw than me," Favre said. "I mean, I'd never really played in a passing offense. I was always in an option-style offense and was asked to do things that normal starting quarterbacks in this league were never asked to do. So I was really learning on the run.

"I had a lot of talent, but was very raw. I didn't know how to use it. To me, if a guy was double covered or triple covered it didn't matter. I could throw it through them. The precision part of my game didn't come until later, when I started reading defenses and looking at it from a different perspective, and a lot of it had to do with [Packers head coach] Mike Holmgren.

"But I think Matt Cassel is ready to accept this role. I think he did great the other day, and I don't see any reason why he doesn't continue to play well."

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