AFC East: Mike Nugent

The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

Double Coverage: Jets at Bengals

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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Green/SmithUSA TODAY SportsA.J. Green, left, and the Bengals hope to stay hot against Geno Smith and the surprising Jets.
Rookie quarterbacks have caused the Cincinnati Bengals problems in recent seasons, as their 7-8 record against them since 2008 attests. On Sunday afternoon in the familiar confines of Paul Brown Stadium, they hope to pull that record even when Geno Smith and the New York Jets come to town.

Just like the Bengals' own young quarterback, Smith has found the winning formula the past five weeks, winning three games in that span. All four of the wins he has engineered this season have become victories because of game-winning drives he has led. While there might be other factors at play that are contributing more to New York's 4-3 record, there isn't much denying that Smith has had some hand in it, too.

As they interrupt a four-cities-in-five-weeks road tour with this home game, the Bengals are looking to extend their winning streak to four. In this edition of Double Coverage, ESPN.com Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Jets reporter Rich Cimini look at what could contribute to that happening or to Cincinnati losing and dropping to 5-3.

Coley Harvey: So Rich, Sunday’s game will feature two of the three players in the league named Geno. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Jets quarterback Geno Smith have earned rather impressive headlines this season. In Atkins’ case, it was for signing his $55 million contract extension five days before the season opener. Recently, Smith’s headlines have come from the four game-winning drives he’s led. Both are good young players, but something will have to give. How confident are Smith and the Jets that they’ll be able to keep Atkins and the rest of Cincinnati’s defensive line out of their backfield?

Rich Cimini: You just hit on one of the keys to the game, Coley. The Jets have allowed a lot of sacks (25), but I think many of those can be attributed to Smith, who tends to hold the ball too long. That said, the line needs to do a better job, especially the left side. Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and rookie guard Brian Winters allowed two sacks apiece last week, bringing their totals to four and three, respectively. That's not a good number for Winters, who has started only three games. I don't see how he handles Atkins; he's simply not ready for that kind of challenge this soon. There are some tough matchups across the board for the Jets. The coaches will have to game plan ways for Smith to get the ball out quickly. I see Andy Dalton is coming off a big game. Is the Bengals' offense for real?

Harvey: It’s tough to really answer that question, Rich. One week the Bengals' offense looks for real, the next, it looks like a cheap imitation of its former self. Thankfully for the Bengals, though, the ineptitude they have shown offensively at times this season hasn’t shown up in the past three weeks. You could say Dalton is a big reason why. He is, after all, coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing performances. The more likely reason this offense has started taking off, though, lies in something Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth talks about often: the apparent “matchup problems” the Bengals create. In addition to receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals have quality second- and third-tier receivers in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, a pair of ball-seeking tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and a balanced rushing attack led by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the shifty Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati has finally figured out how to use all these weapons, and it's paying off.

The Bengals’ offensive line has been a group of unsung heroes of sorts, too. They had a fairly easy challenge last week preparing for Detroit’s line-first pass rush. Just how complex are the looks the Jets’ multiple defensive fronts give teams this season? Could the Jets' defense be a key to this game?

Cimini: Definitely. The Jets are ranked fourth in total defense, due largely to the line. We're witnessing the emergence of something special. The linemen are all good, and they're all young, starting with Muhammad Wilkerson, who is on his way to his first Pro Bowl. The next-best is rookie Sheldon Richardson, a high-energy player who shows up in the running game and the passing game. Quinton Coples is listed as a rush linebacker, but he's often in a three-point stance. He's coming off his best game of the season. This is what happens when you draft a defensive lineman in each of the past three first rounds. The Jets will control the Bengals' running game, and they will get after Dalton on obvious passing downs, but they're vulnerable to quick, short passes. That's how you neutralize the Jets' big fellas.

The Jets did a good job last week against the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, but now they face a double threat at tight end with Gresham and Eifert. How are they being utilized?

Harvey: So that’s the way to neutralize the Jets’ front, huh? Bad news for Gang Green: Short, quick passes are the Bengals’ forte. Dalton has thrived throwing them all season. On passes that have traveled 5 yards or less, he has the league’s highest completion percentage at 76.7 percent. On 66 completions from that range, he has thrown for 500 yards. Of those, 316 have come after the catch.

Eifert and Gresham certainly are major contributors to that short-passing game, grabbing balls off flare screens and slants across the middle. Last week, though, Eifert caught his first touchdown pass of the season when he ran a seam route deep into the Lions’ secondary for a 32-yard reception. While they are tight ends and do their share of pass blocking and run blocking, Eifert and Gresham are true threats in the Bengals’ passing game, too.

Going back to Geno Smith for a moment. What has been the trick the past few weeks to him leading these game-winning drives?

Cimini: The trick? I go back to something Rex Ryan said a few weeks ago. I asked him what he learned from his first experience with a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez, 2009), and he said, "Make sure you have a great defense." So, yes, Smith has enjoyed some dramatic moments, but they're 4-3 because of the defense. But since you asked about Smith ...

He became the first rookie since the merger in 1970 to register four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. Clearly, his signature drive came against the Falcons, when he drove them to the winning field goal in the final two minutes. In the other three game-winning drives, he attempted a total of five passes, including a 69-yard touchdown strike. Obviously, we're not talking about a lot of passing shows. But he never gets visibly rattled, he always seems in control -- good qualities to have. Do you think Smith could have some success against the Leon Hall-less secondary? The Lions' Matthew Stafford picked them apart for 357 yards.

Harvey: It’s certainly possible. The Bengals are going to be bringing in one of their own young players, second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to perform some of the responsibilities that had been Hall’s. Kirkpatrick will be playing some in the slot, he’ll be playing some outside. You’ll see recently signed veteran Chris Crocker taking some of Hall’s snaps. Adam Jones will be getting some, as well. And assuming he’s healthy enough to play, Terence Newman will be getting his share of opportunities to lock down the Jets’ receivers. In short, without Hall, it’ll be a cornerback-by-committee setup for the Bengals. It’s worked before, most notably against the Patriots in Week 5, when Hall was out with a hamstring injury. The week before, the Bengals still held the Browns in check defensively, even though they ended up losing that game 17-6.

Cincinnati’s main concern, judging from last week’s Jets-Patriots game, seems to be stopping New York’s running game. A lot of people here this week have been comparing the Jets to the Bills with respect to the potency of their multi-back running game. As someone who will see the Bills twice this season, do you think that’s a fair comparison to make for a defense that’s used to facing truer pass-first offenses?

Cimini: The Jets use a two-man committee, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. In that sense, they compare to the Bills. In terms of ability, they're not as potent as the Bills. The Jets don't have a C.J. Spiller-type, meaning a home-run threat. They are the ultimate grind-it-out rushing attack. Their most explosive back, Mike Goodson, blew out his knee two weeks ago, so he's done for the seaosn -- and they will miss his ability to threaten the perimeter. Powell and Ivory are a nice tandem, each capable of a 100-yard rushing day on any given Sunday, but I wouldn't say either one possesses special qualities. Powell is more of a slasher than Ivory, who reminds me of a poor man's Marshawn Lynch. In other words, he runs with some nasty. You won't see them running too often outside the tackles. They also mix in some Wildcat and read-option, maybe five to 10 plays a game. Recently signed Josh Cribbs, no stranger to the AFC North, got a couple of reps last week in the Wildcat. I wouldn't sleep on him if I were the Bengals.

There was a lot of chatter in New York before the draft about the possibility of picking Bernard. What has he brought to the Bengals' offense?

Harvey: Yeah, I don’t think anybody in Cincinnati is going to sleep on Cribbs. They know better than most teams just what he can do. With respect to the Jets’ overall rushing game, it was kind of surprising to hear Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict almost nonchalantly dismiss it this week. He said he didn’t think the Bengals would have much issue stopping it, saying that after “15, 20 plays” the Jets would realize it wouldn’t work. Big, bold talk from the NFL’s leading tackler. Then again, Burfict is the one who was scolded this training camp for bringing Bernard to the ground during a practice drill, so maybe he really can talk that talk.

Bernard really is a special player, Rich. New York had good reason to be excited about possibly drafting him. He’s quick, shifty, has great acceleration and is a home run threat. His two receiving touchdowns have come on short screen passes that ended up becoming longer gains. Both scores were caught at the line of scrimmage and resulted in 20- and 27-yard touchdowns, respectively. He certainly brings a unique dimension to the passing game.

This game features a pair of head coaches who know one another quite well. When Bengals fans, like most people outside New York, think Rex Ryan, they think of his hijinks with the media and his always-second-guessed decisions. Who is Rex the coach, in your opinion?

Cimini: Ryan has changed this season, Coley. He's not the walking sound bite he was in his first few years. A few reasons for that, I think: First, he has a new boss, general manager John Idzik, an old-school, buttoned-down guy who doesn't care for all the yapping. Obviously, Ryan is coaching for his job, so in the interest of self-preservation, he has conformed to fit Idzik's head-coaching model. Second, I think Ryan realized before the season this was going to be a very young team. He knew he wouldn't be doing the players any favors by making bold predictions. Maybe you can do that with a veteran team, as he did in 2009 and 2010, but it doesn't make sense to put that kind of pressure on kids. He also has taken on more of a teaching role, running the defense on a day-to-day basis. So far, it's all working out. I don't think there's any doubt that, through seven games, he's on his way to a contract extension.

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Sparano would like Favre to be a memory

August, 3, 2010
8/03/10
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Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has gotten singed his share of times by Brett Favre.

But Sparano is not necessarily buying Tuesday's hot rumor that Brett Favre will retire.

"Well, I'll believe it when the season starts and he's on that couch somewhere out there," Sparano said "All I know is we're going to Minnesota in Week 2. So I hope he's ... We'll see."

Sparano spent five years as a Dallas Cowboys assistant, crossing paths with Favre several times. Favre's season with the New York Jets coincided with Sparano's rookie year with the Dolphins.

"Facing him with the Jets, facing him in Dallas, facing him in a lot of places I've been," Sparano said, "there were times where with Brett you kind of felt like it was seven-on-seven out there and nobody was on the other side.

"The throws he made, some of the plays he made ... I remember in Dallas, us having him in the grasp a few different times. He spun out one time, spun around, kind of had him again. We thought he was down. Next thing you know he flips this thing up and he makes a big play on us.

"Then we see this thing down here [at Sun Life Stadium] in the first game that I coached [for the Dolphins], in my first at bat, and this thing goes up in the air and ends up coming down into somebody's hands."

The last play Sparano referenced came in his head-coaching debut, Favre's first game for the Jets in 2008.

Jets kicker Mike Nugent was sidelined with a leg injury, forcing the Jets to go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Dolphins' 22-yard line in the second quarter. Favre escaped what appeared to be a certain sack and threw a high, arcing desperation lob toward the end zone. Chansi Stuckey came down with the ball just inside the goal line for a touchdown. The Jets went on to win 20-14.

The Dolphins went on to win the AFC East, clinching it with a victory over the Jets in the regular-season finale. But prior to that, when the Dolphins were clawing their way toward the finish line, I asked Sparano if he still thought about Favre's play.

"That wakes me up some nights when I'm trying to sleep," Sparano admitted.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: under-the-radar needs.

Buffalo Bills

Because the Bills have so many glaring needs such as left tackle, nose tackle and quarterback, nobody was thinking about running backs until Bills coach Chan Gailey mentioned Tuesday he was interested in adding a third-down option to his roster. Then everybody leaned back and nodded "Why, yes, the Bills do need that player." Gailey even went so far as to give a description: 5-foot-8-ish, 190 pounds-ish with quickness and receiving skills to complement the prototypical Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.

Miami Dolphins

You'd think the Dolphins would be set at cornerback. They have three good ones. Sean Smith and Vontae Davis were good enough to start 16 and nine games, respectively, last year as rookies. Will Allen was their top cornerback when he went down with a knee injury in Week 7. But teams never can have enough good cornerbacks, and there are no guarantees Allen will be back. He recently was busted for driving under the influence of alcohol and has had off-field problems before. The Dolphins also declined to bring back free-agent nickelback Nate Jones.

New England Patriots

The Patriots could use another quarterback. Owner Robert Kraft will make sure Tom Brady, who's entering the final year of his contract, doesn't go anywhere. But the Patriots have the flimsiest backup quarterback situation in the AFC East if not the entire league. The lone reserve on the roster is Brian Hoyer, an undrafted rookie last year. The Patriots have cycled through several backup quarterbacks over the past three years in search of reliable help. They'll be on the lookout again next month.

New York Jets

The Jets need a kicker. They signed free agent Nick Folk a few weeks ago and seem comfortable with the thought of letting Jay Feely go. (He's a free agent exploring his options.) But the Jets can't be comfortable with Folk as his replacement. Folk is coming off a disastrous season in which he missed a kick in each of his final six games with the Dallas Cowboys. With a team that will win with defense first, head coach Rex Ryan needs to be able to count on his kicker. Don't expect the Jets to draft one anywhere near as early as they took Mike Nugent (47th overall in 2005), but they'll have kickers in mind.

Is icing the kicker a waste of time?

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
1:34
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


The question pops into your head almost every time it happens:
AFC East kickers in the clutch: Iced and not iced
Kicker Team Iced Not iced Total
Dan Carpenter Dolphins 1/1 0/0 1/1
Rian Lindell Bills 2/3 3/4 5/7
Stephen Gostkowski Patriots 0/0 0/0 0/0
Jay Feely Jets 3/6 5/9 8/15

Does icing the kicker really work?

Some believe it does, that it's wise psychological warfare at a critical time.

Some say no, that it gives the kicker more time to prepare, maybe even allows him to get a practice kick in if the opposing coach waits too long or even to clear his spot on a snowy field.

NFC West blogger Mike Sando endeavored to find out if data supported either theory by asking ESPN Stats & Information to track the numbers.

Research suggests that icing the kicker in clutch situations works.

The definition of a clutch kick was an attempt from at least 35 yards inside the final two minutes with the score tied or the kicking team trailing by fewer than three points.

In overtime, iced kickers made 58.1 percent of their tries from an average of 41.9 yards away. Kickers who were left alone made 72.7 percent from nearly two yards farther out.

Overall, iced kickers converted 65.1 percent of their attempts from an average distance of 44.9 yards. Kickers who weren't iced made 68.9 percent from 45.1 yards away.

Some AFC East tidbits from the stats, which date to 2001:
  • I guess I never noticed because the New England Patriots have scored so many points since he joined them in 2006, but Stephen Gostkowski has never been asked to make a clutch kick (by our definition) in his career.
  • Former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri is 11 for 12 in clutch situations. He's 8 for 8 when not iced, 3 for 4 when iced.
  • Jay Feely, who has kicked for the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants since 2001, had some bad numbers. But three of those boo-boos occurred in an overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2005. Feely missed three potential game-winning field goals. He missed from 40 yards at the final gun and from 54 yards and 45 yards in sudden death, a game that inspired a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
  • Former Jets kicker Mike Nugent is 2 for 3. He was iced for his lone miss.
  • Former Miami Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare is 5 for 8 overall. He was 4 for 6 when he wasn't iced.

Around the AFC East: Marshawn's mom is cross

February, 25, 2009
2/25/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Jets free-agency dossier

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
8:35
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Throughout the day I'll post the rundowns of free agents for each AFC East club.

We'll start off with the New York Jets, who have a lot of work to do to get their roster organized for 2009.

They're already about $7 million over the projected salary cap because of an accumulation of prorated signing bonuses.

Before we get to the list of free agents, here are some of the higher cap numbers for Jets under contract. I think everybody can identify one player in particular who will alleviate a lot a lot of cap strain if he doesn't return:

Here are the Jets whose contracts are up:

Unrestricted (free to negotiate with any team beginning Feb. 27)

Restricted (Jets have right to match offer from other team)

Exclusive rights (cannot negotiate with other teams if tendered qualifying offer)

Crowder, Allen will play for Dolphins

December, 28, 2008
12/28/08
3:16
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Greetings from balmy Giants Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins can claim the AFC East title with a victory over the New York Jets. Conditions are warm and windy, but nothing like the tornadic gusts at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

There are no surprise scratches for Sunday's showdown. The Dolphins will have both linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Will Allen, who missed considerable practice time this week but will dress.

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

Fluke Favre TD keeps Sparano up at night

December, 24, 2008
12/24/08
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Tony Sparano could've tossed out some politically correct coachspeak about not looking in the past and focusing on the now, but everybody would have known he was lying.

While I asked the question, the Miami Dolphins head coach broke into a conceding smile -- almost a grimace, really -- and slowly nodded his head.

"Yeah," Sparano said. "That wakes me up some nights when I'm trying to sleep."

One low-percentage, desperation play is all it was, but it proved to be the difference in a 20-14 loss to the New York Jets on opening day.

With kicker Mike Nugent injured, the Jets went for it on fourth-and-13 from the Dolphins' 22-yard line. Brett Favre completed an arcing lob to the appropriately named Chansi Stuckey for a touchdown.

As the year has unfolded, that prototypical Favre fluke play loomed increasingly large. Had that pass hit the turf or been intercepted as it should have been, the Dolphins might have the AFC East already locked up heading into Sunday's rematch at the Meadowlands.

"I think it's natural when you're in this tight position right now that you do look back on some of those things," Sparano said at his Wednesday news conference. "Some people say you can't take anything from a loss, you can't learn from a loss. I don't believe that. I think that you can take some things out of that. So I usually try to go back and rehash those things and punish myself.

"Now, that being said, I have thought about that, yeah, the ball up in the air that way. But that's what makes Brett, Brett. He can pull those things off, and it looks like it was done intentionally."

How Dolphins safety Renaldo Hill handled the slapdash play internally is one thing, but at least on Wednesday he didn't sound like someone punishing himself or remembering that ball as it fluttered through the sky for what seemed like 20 seconds.

"I don't expect that play to happen one out of a hundred times," Hill said. "That was the one time."

There were plenty of ways for the Dolphins to snuff the play. Defensive end Randy Starts blew past Jets right guard Brandon Moore and grabbed Favre's throwing shoulder. Favre deftly switched the ball to his left hand, ducked Starks and grasped the ball with his right hand again, while outside linebacker Joey Porter leapt for Favre's waist. Just as Porter wrapped him, Favre flung the ball.

Hill, playing center field in front of the goal line, bit on what he thought would be a bullet to Stuckey, who instead drifted behind Hill and awaited the jump ball. Dolphins cornerback Will Allen slipped while breaking toward the ball, and Stuckey caught it uncontested.

"I was actually a free guy on the play," Hill said. "I was just floating around. I saw his arm motion, so I was expecting the ball to come out more flat and direct. Then it floated in the air."

That lucky play cost the Dolphins their season opener. On Sunday they'll have an opportunity to render it irrelevant.

Jets scratch first-round pick Gholston

December, 14, 2008
12/14/08
12:02
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets have scratched sixth overall draft pick Vernon Gholston from Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills in the Meadowlands.

Gholston has been a major disappointment. On a Jets defensive stat sheet that's 23 players long, he's one from the bottom in tackles this year with one solo and four assists. He has zero sacks and one pressure. He has 11 special-teams tackles.

Gholston left Ohio State a year early to enter the draft. He was a pass-rushing specialist as a defensive end and projected as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

He dazzled scouts with his physique and measurables at the NFL combine and blew them away at his pro day in Columbus, Ohio. The Jets gave him a contract with $21 million in guarantees.

Here are the rest of the inactives from Sunday's only AFC East showdown:

Buffalo Bills

New York Jets

Take your pick: Loyalty or production?

November, 27, 2008
11/27/08
8:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FeelyNugent

The decision here comes down to loyalty and what you've done for me lately.

No, this isn't really a kicker debate. This is a scenario in which you need to weigh sentiment against production.

By all indications, Jets kicker Mike Nugent should be back on the field by now. The 47th overall selection in the 2005 draft injured his right thigh in the season opener and hasn't played since.

Jets head coach Eric Mangini has made Nugent a game-time decision the past two weeks. Mangini on Wednesday said Nugent is "practicing as well. ... He's been kicking for a few weeks now." Nugent's still counting against the 53-man roster.

Jay Feely, meanwhile, has proved himself a valuable teammate on a first-place club. The street free agent has been the Jets' kicker for 10 games, endearing himself with critical field goals.

Feely calmly made a 34-yard kick to beat the New England Patriots in sudden death two weeks ago. He made a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation time to force overtime in Week 7 against the Oakland Raiders.

He tied a club record with a 55-yard kick in the Week 10 blowout of the St. Louis Rams.

He's fourth in the NFL in points per game with a 9.1 average. He has made 20 of his 24 attempts (83.3 percent). Not a bad turnaround for a guy the Miami Dolphins cut in training camp and the Kansas City Chiefs let go after a strange one-day kicking contest among three hopefuls.

The Jets, however, might not find it so easy to send Nugent to the curb.

On the day the Jets signed Feely, Mangini said Feely would be the kicker only until "Mike gets back."

That was team loyalty talking then. Nugent was entering his fourth season as the Jets' kicker. They used a second-round pick to draft him out of Ohio State in 2005. He was the highest-drafted kicker since Sebastian Janikowski in 2000 and the second-highest since John Lee in 1986.

Nugent scored 110 points last year for a team that went 4-12. His 29 field goals were tied for fifth in the NFL.

But if Nugent was healthy enough to be a game-time decision on Nov. 13, then one must wonder if Mangini has changed his mind.

A look at the AFC East in Pro Bowl balloting

November, 25, 2008
11/25/08
5:23
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre continues to be the AFC's most popular quarterback in balloting for the Pro Bowl.

Favre ranks third among all NFL players with 525,825 votes in fan balloting, which continues until Dec. 9. Fans account for one-third of the process, with players and coaches also helping decide who goes to Honolulu.

Here are the position-by-position tallies of where AFC East players rank within the conference:

Quarterback
1. Brett Favre, Jets (525,825 votes)
Comment: He has about 152,000 more votes than second-place Jay Cutler.

Running back
1. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (346,059)
4. Marshawn Lynch, Bills (181,613)
Comment: Tennessee Titans rookie Chris Johnson is behind Brown by about 36,000 votes.

Fullback
3. Tony Richardson, Jets (95,559)
Comment:
Richardson still third, but he's closing the gap a bit on LeRon McClain, about 22,000 votes ahead.

Wide receiver
4. Randy Moss, Patriots (235,279)
Comment: Moss finally had a Pro Bowl-worthy game with three touchdowns against Miami. He trails first-place Brandon Marshall by 50,000 votes.

Tight end
None.
Comment: No AFC East tight end should be in the top five.

Center
3. Nick Mangold, Jets (126,938)
Comment: Mangold is hopelessly way behind Kevin Mawae and Jeff Saturday.

Guard
1. Alan Faneca, Jets (215,134)
5. Logan Mankins (74,936)
Comment: Bills guard Derrick Dockery falls out of the fourth spot, while Mankins deservedly debuts in the top five.

Tackle
1. Jake Long, Dolphins (137,556)
2. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets (125,602)
3. Matt Light, Patriots (100,824)
Comment:
Again, the only AFC East left tackle not in the top five is former Pro Bowler Jason Peters.

Defensive end
None.
Comment: Still no Richard Seymour?

Defensive tackle
4. Kris Jenkins, Jets (105,282)
5. Marcus Stroud, Bills (93,589)
Comment: Stroud slips from third to fifth, while Jenkins rises from fourth to third. Albert Haynesworth has more then twice as many votes as second-place Casey Hampton with 263,064 votes.

Outside linebacker
1. Joey Porter, Dolphins (198,283)
Comment: Chatty sackmaster has about 42,000 more voted than second-place James Harrison.

Inside linebacker
4. Tedy Bruschi, Patriots (60,658)
5. Jerod Mayo, Patriots (52,290)
Comment: Rookie of the Year candidate Mayo debuts on the list and deserves to finish higher than Bruschi. Regardless, Ray Lewis is uncatchable.

Cornerback
None.
Comment: Darrelle Revis is being overlooked because of such big names as Champ Bailey and Cortland Finnegan.

Strong safety
4. Yeremiah Bell, Dolphins (22,977)
5. Donte Whitner, Bills (22,945)
Comment: Bell and Whitner switch positions on the list. Whitner's shoulder injury is keeping him off the field and certainly will affect his votes. Troy Polamalu is in first by a large margin.

Free safety
4. Kerry Rhodes, Jets (46,198)
Comment: Ed Reed is way out in front with more than three times as many votes as Rhodes.

Kicker
5. Dan Carpenter, Dolphins (50,793)
Comment: Stephen Gostkowski is tied for the NFL lead with 103 points and can't get any Pro Bowl love.

Punter
3. Brian Moorman, Bills (44,599)
Comment: Moorman moves up from fourth and is only 22,000 votes behind leader Shane Lechler.

Kick returner
2. Leon Washington, Jets (63,709)
Comment: Washington jumps up from fourth but still is 25,000 votes from Darren Sproles. Bills specialist Roscoe Parrish falls out of fifth.

Special teamer
2. Patrick Cobbs, Dolphins (55,894)
3. Larry Izzo, Patriots (43,462)
Comment: Cobbs and Izzo flip-flop spots. Cobbs is only about 4,000 votes behind Anthony Madison.

AFC East free-for-all at 1 p.m.

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
12:37
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- All four AFC East clubs are kicking off at 1 p.m. Sunday, which will make scoreboard watching especially entertaining.

If the first-place New York Jets aren't to mark up the Tennessee Titans' unblemished record, then the winner of the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins showdown will be tied atop the AFC East.

The flagging Buffalo Bills play the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that could cripple the Bills' dim playoff hopes.

Of interest on the various injury reports, the Jets have scratched Mike Nugent, meaning Jay Feely, perhaps the best street free-agent pickup of the year, will remain their kicker for at least one more week.

There are no surprises in the Patriots-Dolphins game. Most notable is that defense end Richard Seymour and linebacker Tedy Bruschi will play. Both were questionable. Dolphins receiver Ernest Wilford is inactive. Again.

For the Bills, receiver Josh Reed is back after missing three games with an ankle injury.

Sparano to the injured: 'Nobody feels sorry for you'

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
10:08
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins have been criticized for their unpopulated injury reports. They issued another blank report Wednesday for their game against the New England Patriots, and no injuries to list in Week 12 seems rather dubious.

The more we learn about rookie head coach Tony Sparano, however, the more we understand.

Injury reports are less a descriptive rundown of injured players than, depending on the day provided, involvement in practice or the likelihood a player will suit up.

In Sparano's world, you practice and you play through pain. If you can't go, you're headed to injured reserve.

"Nobody feels sorry for you one way or the other," Sparano said. "The Patriots don't feel sorry for us. We really don't feel sorry for them.

"So at the end of this if you are hurt and truly hurt, that is one thing. If you are bumped up, nicked up, whatever it is -- there's a pretty good chance there is a lot of people in this league that are nicked up, hurt whatever it is -- they have to play.

"So the message is simple: If you want to go to heaven you have to die to get there. If you are in some of those situations you want to get to where you're going to be, well, you got to play hurt."

Most notable on the Patriots' injury list are four players who didn't practice Wednesday: running back LaMont Jordan (calf), linebacker Adalius Thomas (forearm), linebacker Eric Alexander (hamstring) and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (sick). Defensive end Richard Seymour (toe) was limited.

The New York Jets, who will play the unbeaten Tennessee Titans, went without linebacker David Harris (groin) and safety Eric Smith (head). Receiver Laveranues Coles (thigh), linebacker Jason Trusnik (knee) and kicker Mike Nugent (thigh) were limited.

The Buffalo Bills, who will visit the Kansas City Chiefs, missed five defensive players in practice: defensive end Aaron Schobel (foot), linebacker Marcus Buggs (ankle), cornerback Jabari Greer (knee) and safeties Bryan Scott (knee) and Donte Whitner (shoulder).

How is AFC East faring in Pro Bowl votes?

November, 18, 2008
11/18/08
7:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Brett Favre is the AFC's most popular quarterback in balloting for the Pro Bowl.

Favre ranks third among all NFL players with 402,514 votes in fan-based balloting, which continues until Dec. 9. Fan balloting counts for one-third of the process, with players and coaches also helping decide who goes to Honolulu.

Among AFC East players, what I found most interesting about the early returns is the dearth of Buffalo Bills among the top five at the various positions. Bills fans are passionate, especially when their team is winning, and online balloting began Oct. 13.

Here are the position-by-position results and how AFC East players rank within the conference:

Quarterback
1. Brett Favre, Jets (402,514)
Comment: He has almost 94,000 more votes than second-place Jay Cutler.

Running back
1. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (284,794)
4. Marshawn Lynch, Bills (154,637)
Comment: The Wildcat has helped propel Brown to prominence, but he's deserving without gadgets.

Fullback
3. Tony Richardson, Jets (70,237)
Comment: LeRon McClain of the Ravens is first with about 25,000 more votes.

Wide receiver
4. Randy Moss, Patriots (188,138)
Comment: Strictly on reputation. Jets receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are having seasons every bit as good.

(Read full post)

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