Here are several notes and observations from Week 8 in the AFC East:
Now that the Buffalo Bills gave quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick $59 million, it's time to pay tailback Fred Jackson. He's done everything right in Buffalo and is popular with the fans. Yet, Jackson has never been treated very well by the Bills' organization. There's always a player put in front of Jackson (Marshawn Lynch) in Buffalo or nipping at his heels (C.J. Spiller). Still, Jackson continues to produce and is on pace for more than 1,600 yards rushing this season. He is my pick for Buffalo's Most Valuable Player thus far. Buffalo has Jackson under contract through next season at a bargain rate. Jackson's age (30) probably is the biggest deterrent.
Bills first-round pick Marcell Dareus looked phenomenal making his first start at nose tackle. With Kyle Williams (foot) injured and the defense struggling, Buffalo's coaching staff experimented with Dareus during the bye week and changed his position. The result was his best performance of the season. Dareus fought off various double teams to record four tackles and 2.5 sacks. Williams will be out for an extended period and possibly the season. Therefore, Dareus should get comfortable in his new role.
The New York Jets traditionally struggle after bye weeks under head coach Rex Ryan. New York is winless (0-2) under Ryan after byes since 2009, and the offense has been the biggest issue. Ryan's Jets have come out rusty after two weeks off and average just 11 points per game. New York was shutout last season by the Green Bay Packers, 9-0, in one of the Jets' ugliest games of 2010. The Jets have to come out much sharper Sunday against Buffalo.
The blueprint on beating the New England Patriots is clear. It involves pummeling the defense and trying to keep Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from having a monster game. In New England's two losses, Fitzpatrick of Buffalo and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 734 combined yards. Brady was turnover-prone against Buffalo and didn't get many big plays against Pittsburgh -- leaving New England defenseless. Not every team can follow this blueprint. But any team with a quality quarterback and a defense that plays well enough now has a shot against the Patriots.
Expect the focus now to shift to Belichick's personnel decisions. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss put it best: Belichick might have lost his fastball defensively. New England's drafts have not been consistent. Belichick also has made some curious roster decisions recently, including the release of cornerback Leigh Bodden and putting fellow corner Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve this early. There is no doubt Bodden could've helped the Patriots against Pittsburgh. Also, Dowling cannot help New England, even if he's healthy later in the season. Belichick knew his secondary was struggling and intentionally killed the depth of one of his weakest units. Bbelichick has no one to blame but himself.
I saw some good and bad this week with Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano. Starting with the bad, I've seen too many games, like Sunday’s loss against the New York Giants, where Sparano coaches not to lose. Miami had control of the game for three quarters but took its foot off the pedal in the fourth in an effort to not make the big mistake. Instead, Eli Manning and the Giants gradually climbed back into the game with 10 straight points after Miami's offense shut it down and the Dolphins' defense played so far off receivers it was easy to make completions. Sparano's in-game decisions are not the best and a big reason why he's lost 10 in a row.
Now for the good: Even in defeat, Sparano is making a case to continue coaching out the season. The Dolphins played their best games the past two weeks. Miami isn't winning, but the team certainly hasn't quit. That is a tribute to Sparano, who isn't letting his shaky job status impact the team. He is not Miami's long-term solution at head coach. That much is clear. But he is a likable coach and his players continue to fight for him.