Bills still in first, but AFC East story far from over
MIAMI -- Reporters lowered their microphones, and the TV cameras went dark as the crowd dispersed from Langston Walker's locker.
But I wanted to ask the Buffalo Bills right tackle one more question about the tightening divisional race.
All of the AFC East teams played at 1 p.m. Sunday. The first-place Bills were the only ones to lose, beaten by the Miami Dolphins, no less, 25-16.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Joey Porter's Dolphins may be in last place in the AFC East, but they are far from out of the race after beating the Bills, 25-16, Sunday.|
"We're still in first place, aren't we?" Walker said as he extended the handle on his rolling suitcase and headed for the door. "End of story."
If only it were that simple.
This thing's just getting started.
The New England Patriots fended off the St. Louis Rams and are now tied with the Bills at 5-2. The New York Jets came back to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the final minute to pull within a game of the division leaders.
The Dolphins are 3-4, but have a lot more going for them than most last-place clubs. They're merely two games out of first place. They own the AFC East's best intra-divisional record at 2-1. They were one play away from beating the Jets and the Houston Texans.
"We can be right there, man," said Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter, who registered two sacks (one which led to a safety), forced a fumble and recovered another. "We can't lose the games we're supposed to win. The games we're supposed to win? This is the first close game that we pulled out.
"We could easily be sitting in a different situation. But it is what it is, and we're 3-4. We could easily be a [5-2] team. We're not supposed to be where we're at at 3-4. But we can't cry over that."
Plenty of time remains. Nine games per team, no less. The Bills, in fact, still have five divisional games left.
Sunday was the Bills' first divisional game of the season and the first of three straight.
They will play host to the New York Jets next Sunday in a game that could create a three-way tie for first place if the Jets win and if the Patriots lose at the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills then play at the Patriots on Nov. 9.
The Bills got off to their best start since 1995, but they could find themselves out of first place in a couple of weeks if they don't assert themselves in the division.
That Dec. 7 game against the Dolphins in Toronto looms as a very important one.
The Bills have forfeited home-field advantage to a divisional foe they already have lost to, thanks to the Sunday setback in Miami. The Dolphins won't need to worry about playing in the cold, the wind, the snow. The Rogers Centre roof almost certainly will be closed, creating as sterile of a road environment an opponent could hope to have.
The Bills are 3-0 in Ralph Wilson Stadium, and 2-2 on the road.
"We've got to win games on the road, especially in our division," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We can't just rely on being at home, in front of our fans to win big games. We have to be able to go on the road and win."
New England Patriots
The Patriots keep hanging around despite their injury-tattered roster. They've been playing without their starting quarterback all year, and didn't have their top three running backs and a defensive captain Sunday.
Still, the Patriots came from behind in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams to wedge themselves into a first-place tie with the Bills. The rally was Matt Cassel's first in which he overcame a fourth-quarter deficit.
The Patriots visit the Colts next week and then play three consecutive AFC East games: Bills at home, Jets at home, Dolphins away.
As the Patriots keep winning, they're reinforcing the internal belief they'll be fine. They are 5-2 or better for the third year in a row.
"We have been spoiled around here a little bit," Patriots fullback Heath Evans told reporters. "The way I look at it is we are starting to make better decisions. ... It seems like we are doing better things as a team.
"Position-wise, we are only good as long as we keep getting better. [A record of] 5-2 is nice, but it really doesn't mean much right now. November and December ... 10-2 would be lovely, but hopefully we can get to 6-2."
New York Jets
Boy, did the Jets need this one. And they very nearly blew it.
The Jets emerged from their bye with the juiciest three-game schedule. At the time, each of those opponents had one victory or zero. They split their first two games, keeping the Cincinnati Bengals winless and then losing to the Oakland Raiders in sudden death.
New York dodged what could have been a disastrous loss at home to lowly Kansas City. Brett Favre threw three interceptions -- one for a 91-yard touchdown the other way -- but was bailed out by a sensational Laveranues Coles catch with 65 seconds remaining for the go-ahead score.
The Jets' remaining AFC East schedule includes a trip to Orchard Park, N.Y., next week, a stop in Foxborough, Mass., on Nov. 13 and then home games against the Bills on Dec, 14 and the Dolphins in the regular-season finale Dec. 28.
Seven games into the season, the Dolphins are alive for a change.
The Dolphins played remarkably well on both sides of scrimmage. Chad Pennington had his first 300-yard game with Miami.
Ted Ginn, their beleaguered 2007 first-round draft pick, had his first career 100-yard receiving game. He went into Sunday with 177 receiving yards for the season and amasse
d 175 against the Bills.
The Dolphins' defense created four turnovers and tackled Mr. Fourth Quarter, Trent Edwards, for a safety -- all in the final frame.
"I don't see no reason why we can't play like we played today the whole year round," Porter said. "We got the guys to do it. We showed that today. We got playmakers on the field that can make plays all day long."
The Dolphins are the only AFC East team with two divisional victories, but they play only one more divisional game at home: Nov. 23 against the Patriots. They go to Toronto to play the Bills and finish against the Jets.
"Close game in our division, being able to win one of these things," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said, "just when it was leaking a little bit and you lost two [in a row], all of a sudden now these guys understand exactly what we've been talking about all week, all season. And they understand if we prepare well, we'll give ourselves a chance."