NFL Nation: Channing Crowder
As part of the Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the AFC East:
Best hands, Davone Bess: Just to get a rise out of everybody, I could have gone with New York Jets receiver Braylon Edwards here. After all, he dropped only one ball last season on 98 targets and 53 receptions. But I couldn't bring myself to do it based on his track record. So I'm going with Bess, the Miami Dolphins' slot receiver, who drops one on occasion, but that's expected given his volume. The past two seasons, Bess has dropped 10 passes -- but on 233 targets and 155 receptions.
Best trash talker, Channing Crowder: Not many players would get into a verbal sparring match with an NFL coach, but the Dolphins linebacker gleefully engaged Rex Ryan two summers ago. Crowder's diatribes are enthralling, although sometimes dotted with malapropisms. After he accused Baltimore Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain of spitting in his face, Crowder went on a rant that invoked Anne Frank when trying to mock officials for being blind. He meant Helen Keller.
Best nickname, Meat: That's what the Jets call right guard Brandon Moore. Why is it the best nickname? I don't know. Because it makes me laugh when I hear it, I guess. Maybe because it reminds me of the dialogue between Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham."
Best intimidator, Darrelle Revis: He's not a snarling, frothing menace on the other side of scrimmage. But when it comes to eliminating top receivers, Revis is the best in the business -- and the opposition knows it. He causes dread in coaches, quarterbacks and receivers the week they play the Jets.
While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.
Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.
Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.
You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.
That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.
Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.
The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.
- Receiver Lee Evans, $3.275 million
- Cornerback Terrence McGee, $3.2 million
- Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, $3.195 million
- Defensive end Spencer Johnson, $3 million
- Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, $2.75 million
- Defensive end Dwan Edwards, $2.6 million
- Center Geoff Hangartner, $2.55 million
- Outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, $2 million
- Running back Fred Jackson, $1.75 million
- Defensive lineman Kyle Williams, $1.75 million
- Kicker Rian Lindell, $1.45 million
- Punter Brian Moorman, $1.425 million
- Cornerback Reggie Corner, $1.2 million
- Receiver Steve Johnson, $1.2 million
- Safety Bryan Scott, $1.15 million
- Linebacker Andra Davis, $1.1 million
- Receiver Roscoe Parrish, $1.025 million
- Safety George Wilson, $1.025 million
- Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, $1 million
Players under contract: 54
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2
- Nose tackle Paul Soliai, $12.47 million*
- Tackle Jake Long, $11.2 million
- Receiver Brandon Marshall, $6.5 million
- Tackle Vernon Carey, $4.15 million
- Safety Yeremiah Bell, $3.7 million
- Defensive end Randy Starks, $3.625 million
- Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, $2.7 million
- Inside linebacker Channing Crowder, $2.5 million
- Tight end Anthony Fasano, $1.9 million
- Cornerback Benny Sapp, $1.9 million
- Inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, $1.7 million
- Cornerback Will Allen, $1.5 million
- Safety Tyrone Culver, $1.25 million
- Fullback Lousaka Polite, $1.25 million
- Receiver Davone Bess, $1.013 million
- Kicker Dan Carpenter, $1.005 million
Players under contract: 55
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3
New England Patriots
- Quarterback Tom Brady, $5.75 million
- Cornerback Leigh Bodden, $3.9 million
- Tackle Nick Kaczur, $3.4 million
- Defensive end Ty Warren, $3.1 million
- Center Dan Koppen, $2.9 million
- Safety James Sanders, $2.8 million
- Tight end Alge Crumpler, $2.4 million
- Outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, $2.3 million
- Receiver Deion Branch, $2.2 million
- Receiver Wes Welker, $2.15 million
- Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, $1.7 million
- Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, $1.2 million
- Offensive lineman Dan Connolly, $1.025 million
- Inside linebacker Gary Guyton, $1 million
Players under contract: 60
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3
New York Jets
- Quarterback Mark Sanchez, $14.75 million
- Inside linebacker David Harris, $10.1 million*
- Cornerback Darrelle Revis, $6 million
- Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, $5.615 million
- Inside linebacker Bart Scott, $4.9 million
- Outside linebacker Calvin Pace, $3.855 million
- Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas, $3.2 million
- Guard Brandon Moore, $2.75 million
- Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, $2.425 million
- Center Nick Mangold, $2.26 million
- Defensive end Mike DeVito, $2.125 million
- Safety Jim Leonhard, $1.95 million
- Receiver Jerricho Cotchery, $1.8 million
- Defensive tackle Sione Pouha, $1.28 million
- Quarterback Mark Brunell, $1.25 million
Players under contract: 57
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6
What else is new, right?
Crowder made a surprising claim that sent Cameron Wake to the Internet. Wake logged onto NFL.com and clicked on the stats page.
"I actually checked," Wake said, "and there my picture was."
Wake saw his own face staring back at him. The photo accompanies the list of sacks leaders. He didn't know he was on top until Crowder informed him.
All at once, Wake's long, bizarre football journey reached another milestone in just his second NFL season.
The undrafted player who couldn't get invited to training camp as a rookie, who spent two years working as a mortgage agent and a fitness trainer, who underwent a name change along the way, who went to play in the Canadian Football League and then who, once making it to the NFL, got ripped by a star teammate for not being good enough, leads the league with 14 sacks.
"It just ... It's hard to explain in words what it means," said Wake, "coming from a guy literally sitting on the couch and watching games on Sunday and believing in the deepest part of your heart 'I can play this game and need an opportunity.'
"I thank the stars and my angels every day the Miami Dolphins gave that opportunity. Every time I step on that field I treat it as a blessing."
Wake's certainly headed for his first Pro Bowl and will be considered for the NFL's defensive player of the year.
"He might actually be the best option for defensive player of the year," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "Some of the other top guys like Trent Cole and Clay Matthews have slowed down, but Wake continues to get better."
Wake will have a great opportunity to pad his sack total Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. He collects a majority of his sacks from the offense's right, and that side of the Bills' line has been caved in.
"He is very, very quick, and he's relentless," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. "He has a good feel for it. He understands when he has leverage on a tackle, whether it's underneath the leverage or outside leverage. He's able to take advantage of it."
Wake turns 29 years old next month. That means he's entering his prime, but in many ways he's still in the developmental stage because of his strange but inspiring path to the NFL.
He went by the name Derek Wake when he was a linebacker and a captain at Penn State, aka Linebacker U.
But he wasn't much of a pro prospect despite raw athleticism. Nobody drafted him in 2005. The New York Giants signed Wake as a rookie free agent to play 4-3 stack linebacker. After one set of organized team activities in shorts, the Giants cut him.
Bill Sheridan, the Giants' linebackers coach at the time, can laugh (a little) about their gross misjudgment. Sheridan is Wake's position coach with the Dolphins now.
"I bet we never got to see him do one pass rush in that entire OTA," Sheridan said of Wake's brief look with the Giants. "We were trying to teach him how to play linebacker and pass drop. He never had a chance to demonstrate any of this.
"Obviously in hindsight that was very foolish on our part because we let him go."
You know who looks really foolish these days? Joey Porter.
Porter went on a media rampage the week before the Super Bowl 10 months ago, ripping into the Dolphins' organization for daring to give Wake some situational snaps last year ahead of him and Jason Taylor.
The Dolphins had no choice but to dump the inflammatory Porter. He eventually signed with the Arizona Cardinals and is tied for 38th in the NFL with five sacks. Taylor is tied for 55th with four sacks.
"If I got a dollar for all the naysayers and doubters that I've encountered in the last two, three years, I'd be a very, very wealthy man," Wake said. "I've had people that claim to be close to you, claim to be your friends, your family, coaches, teammates, everybody at some point all along the line has had something to say.
"But at the end of the day I had to stick to my goal, stick to my dream. I didn't really care if Joey Porter or anybody else said I couldn't do it. It was about me and going out there and saying 'I believe I can' and going out there and showing everybody I can."
They took a gamble with the swap. Wake was an unproven NFL commodity, while Porter led the Dolphins in sacks the previous two seasons. In 2008, Porter topped the AFC with 17.5 sacks.
"When you make a move like that and you move out veteran players and you put a guy into the lineup that obviously hasn't played a lot," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said, "from a coaching standpoint, it's always good to see him validate your convictions.
"We were just convinced the more than Cameron would play the better he would get. We just felt getting a young player in there with that kind of energy and athleticism was the right thing to do."
Wake arrived in Miami as a project, but an intriguing one. He was a superstar pass-rusher in two Canadian Football League seasons with the BC Lions, amassing 39 sacks and earning its defensive player of the year award both times. The Dolphins outbid the Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos for his services, giving him a five-year deal that was the richest in CFL-to-NFL history.
"Ability-wise, there aren't going to be too many guys in the league more blessed than Cam," Sheridan said. "But he can be a more dominant player on a down-in, down-out basis."
Wake's run-stopping and pass-coverage skills remain, as Sparano said, "a work in progress." But Sparano also said Wake's development in those areas "has been really remarkable."
That's why Wake can't be considered a situational player. He is an every-down player on the NFL's fifth-ranked defense.
"He is exceptional," Williamson said. "His run defense was a big problem before this season, but he has corrected that. And he is a stud pass-rusher. He turns speed into power very effectively, has a nice array of moves and is very quick and agile while also consistently hustling to the whistle. He's a real handful."
On a weekly basis, the NFL is discovering just that.
Even if he wasn't aware how great his sack numbers were until Crowder told him, Wake is showing how -- all along -- he knew more about himself than a lot of others assumed.
He can do this.
"It's been a crazy road, a long road," Wake said. "I just enjoy playing football and living the dream."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets have struggled to make plays on the field. Apparently, they've resorted to trying to make them on sideline.
CBS Sports replays showed Jets head strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi stick his knee out and lean toward the field to trip Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll, who was running down the sideline to cover a punt with 3:11 left in the third quarter Sunday.
Carroll crumpled to the turf with a knee injury. Dolphins trainers tended to him on the field during the commercial break. He limped off the field under his own power and eventually returned to the game. The Dolphins won 10-6.
"They're cheaters," Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder said. "They do what they do. They cheat. They talk junk. But we beat the hell out of them today.
"I wish they'd tripped me. I'd have broken that old man's leg. I didn't see anything. He stuck his leg out and tripped him? He should be ashamed of himself. A grown man from the coaching staff? That's high character."
Alosi is a 33-year-old former Hofstra linebacker who joined the Jets as a strength and conditioning intern in 2001. He worked for the Atlanta Falcons before returning to the Jets in 2006.
Alosi, in a statement released by the Jets, said he apologized to Carroll and Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano before they departed the stadium. Alosi also expressed his sorrow to Jets owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan.
"I made a mistake that showed a total lapse in judgment," Alosi said in the statement. "My conduct was inexcusable and unsportsmanlike and does not reflect what this organization stands for.
"I accept responsibility for my actions as well as any punishment that follows."
Before he met with Alosi, Sparano told reporters he would forward video evidence of the shameful incident to the NFL for a review.
"There was a player down on the sideline, and that's not good," Sparano said. "We're trying to take care of players in this game."
Dolphins defensive end Kendall Langford said of the trip: "That was bad. Unfortunately, he had to do that, and he really could have hurt Nolan. He could have ended his career with that. I think maybe somebody needs to do something about that as far as the league goes. I think he should get fined. We get fined for illegal stuff. Why can't the coaches?"
Upon seeing a photo of Alosi's trip, Dolphins inside linebacker Karlos Dansby railed for a suspension or even a permanent dismissal.
"That is dirty," Dansby said. "That is so dirty, man. Come on, man. That needs to be on Monday night [on ESPN segment] 'Come on, man.' Check this picture out. Freeze-frame it. Come on, man. No. 1, by far. That's dirty, low down. That's sad.
"Four games? The rest of the season? Suspend him, man. Get him up out of there. He's got to go, bringing down a whole organization like that. That's sad. You don't do a man like that."
Alosi also better be careful the next time he travels to Florida. Carroll's mother is the lieutenant governor-elect.
Carroll is a rookie cornerback, drafted in the fifth round out of Maryland. He had an interception in the first quarter to set up a field goal to give the Dolphins a 3-0 lead.
For their must-win game against the Cleveland Browns in Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins have scratched receiver Brandon Marshall, linebacker Channing Crowder and cornerback Al Harris.
The absences of Crowder and Harris might be more significant than Marshall. The Dolphins won without him last week in Oakland, and quarterback Chad Henne played one of his best games.
Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling is back from his Achilles injury and active for the first time this year.
For the Buffalo Bills' game at the Metrodome, guard Eric Wood, tight end Shawn Nelson and cornerback Terrence McGee are out, as expected.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will play, but receivers Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are out. So is right guard Steve Hutchinson. That might help Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams add to his sack total.
As NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert notes, the Vikings have just three receivers: Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo. Rookie quarterback Joe Webb could see some action as a target.
Sparano spoke about the alleged incident for the first time Monday and indicated he would forward video to the NFL. McClain denied spitting at Crowder, one of the NFL's most notorious trash talkers, who went on an epic postgame tirade in the locker room.
"It's upsetting to me," Sparano said. "There's a lot of things that go on in this game from a talking standpoint and trash-talking standpoint. I'm standing there on the sideline yesterday, and I had a player talking trash to me from the other team, and I didn't say one word to the guy.
"Now, that being said, that's part of the game. I get it. I mean, that's whatever floats your boat out there, OK? Really, I don't think it's part of the game, OK? But to some of them that’s what gets them going.
"But this whole deal here about spitting in somebody's face, nowhere in this game do I see any place for that. I just don't."
But in many ways, how the afternoon unfolded for the Dolphins was more alarming than one defeat to a formidable opponent.
The Dolphins are frustrated and confused and -- worst of all -- sounded like they were doubting themselves after the Baltimore Ravens thumped them 26-10.
Halfway into the season, the Dolphins are a .500 club that doesn't seem to know what it is or what it can be.
"I think it's obvious right now we can't beat the great teams," Miami receiver Brandon Marshall said. "We can't beat the good teams. I can't put my finger on it. We just shoot ourselves in the foot."
The Dolphins' losses are to each of the teams rated No. 1 through 4 in ESPN.com's latest Power Rankings. The New England Patriots, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers previously defeated them.
The schedule has been unkind, but Dolphins owner Stephen Ross predicted they would go to the Super Bowl. The Dolphins can't go 0-4 against the best teams in the league and consider themselves near elite.
On a day when the Cleveland Browns walloped the Patriots, a Dolphins' victory would have muddled up the AFC East standings.
But about a quarter into the game, the Ravens demonstrated they were in command.
Had Baltimore not continually frittered away opportunities, the score would have been much more lopsided. Baltimore was pathetic in the red zone, finishing with a touchdown once on seven trips.
The Ravens had the edge on offense, defense and special teams. They had the ball for 38 minutes, 22 seconds and rolled up 402 total yards. They doubled the Dolphins' 73 rushing yards. The Ravens didn't punt.
The Dolphins pride themselves on being a physical club, but they were dominated that way.
"We didn't tackle worth a crap," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said barely above a whisper. "We're a lousy tackling football team today, and we gave them opportunities by not getting people on the ground a couple times out there, didn’t execute calls properly, checkdowns to backs end up being big plays."
Ravens running back Ray Rice was virtually ignored by defenders a few times. Rice had a game-high seven catches for 97 yards in addition to his 83 yards rushing.
"It was a ridiculous performance by our defense," Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder said. Crowder's frustrations boiled over in the third quarter, when Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain allegedly spit in his face. McClain denied Crowder's accusation.
The Dolphins' offense was sensational on its first possession, and the effect should have been inspiring for a struggling crew that went into the weekend with the NFL's second-fewest touchdowns.
Ronnie Brown ran six times for 45 yards. His first two carries went for 12 and 14 yards. Brown capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, making it appear way too simple.
"We were knocking them off the ball," Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne said. "But then we didn't execute as well."
Brown had one more carry in the first half and two more in the second half.
The Dolphins didn't score another touchdown. They got inside the Ravens' 30-yard line twice more and managed one field goal. Late in the second quarter, they had a third down at the Ravens' 1-yard line and called a play-action pass. Henne's throw knuckled out of tight end Anthony Fasano's reach.
"That's a throw that I need to make," Henne said. "That was my fault. He was wide open."
Henne had a rough afternoon. He threw three interceptions -- not all his fault -- and didn't have a touchdown pass. Over his past three games, he has one TD and five interceptions.
Henne drew the ire of Miami's coaching staff three plays into the second half. On a third-and-10 play, he was forced to scramble and rather than fight for the first down, slid feet first for a 7-yard gain.
F-bomb screams about Henne's decision were audible from the Miami coaches booth adjacent to the press box.
Although the Ravens missed a field goal in the second quarter, they made more plays on special teams.
The Dolphins had 10 men on the field on a Ravens punt, leaving cornerback Cary Williams uncovered for a 13-yard first-down reception one play after the alleged spitting incident and subsequent skirmish. The Dolphins nearly gave up a safety on a kickoff return.
So what are the Dolphins? Are they a contender? Are they as average as their 4-4 record would suggest? Are they victims of a tough schedule?
Halfway into the season, they don't have a handle on any of those answers.
"We've been inconsistent all year, game to game, series to series," Marshall said. "We won't beat anybody playing the way we do with this up-and-down football. We've got to find solutions and eliminate these problems we're having."
He sounded a bit agitated and inserted a few too many profanities for the FCC's liking, but he otherwise was of good humor for a couple minutes. That was until South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Mike Berardino asked what seemed like a throwaway question about a third-quarter skirmish.
Crowder replied with an accusation that touched off fireworks in both locker rooms a half hour after the game ended. Crowder claimed Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain spat into his face.
"I just got told not talk about it, so I can't talk about it," Crowder said, then proceeded anyway. "But Le'Ron McClain spit in my face. He spit in my face. That's some real ho s---. So if you talk to him, tell him he's a ho. And if he ever comes to Miami, he's got to see me."
Crowder said referee John Parry's officiating crew wasn't sympathetic.
"Then they said something about they let [Dolphins linebacker] Karlos Dansby get away with a facemask the play before," Crowder said. "Who the f--- cares? A guy just spit in my face! I don't give a damn about Karlos pulling somebody's facemask. Like they didn't see [Dolphins quarterback] Chad Henne get hit twice when he slid. Yeah, a little Stevie Wonder and Anne Frank."
Crowder might have been done talking right then, but I had to ask what he meant by Anne Frank.
"Who was that? Is that the blind girl?" Crowder said.
Helen Keller, I suggested.
"Helen Keller," he said. "I don't know who the f--- Anne Frank is. I'm mad right now. F--- it. I'm not as swift as I usually am.
"That's the first time I've ever been spit in my face in my life. And that's the worst thing you can do to a man as another man, spit in somebody's face. Why would you do that? Why would you try to? Because you're scared of me? Really? Spit on me and then walk away real fast and let your team protect you? That's what he did."
McClain denied spitting at Crowder and admitted saliva might've flown out of his mouth while they were jawing, facemask-to-facemask.
McClain was smiling in an aw-shucks manner over the incident and did a good job of being diplomatic, noting Crowder probably was just frustrated about the loss.
Ravens receiver Derrick Mason had some choice words for Crowder, a notorious trash talker who once took on New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
"You have to be able in this sport to be able to back up what you talk, and for some reason this guy every time he says something he doesn't back it up," Mason said. "He's not a marquee player. I don't think they even want him on this team, but they have no one to replace him. So he has to be there.
"He's in the game, and he's getting knocked down. He's getting pushed out of the way. The guy is horrible. Honestly, the guy is horrible. He's probably a good guy. Not taking that away from him, but he's horrible. He's not a good football player. Honestly, he needs to go back and watch the film and humble himself and not say anything."
The New England Patriots have The Law Firm (running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis).
The New York Jets don't have a jurist, but they do have The Terminator (fullback John Conner).
The Miami Dolphins' locker room, meanwhile, has a direct line to the governor's mansion.
The gubernatorial race was among the tightest in Florida history and wasn't decided until Alex Sink conceded early Wednesday morning.
Nolan Carroll, a rookie from the University of Maryland, watched bleary-eyed from candidate headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.
"It was just nervewracking," Carroll said in a story by Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane. "They said it was probably going down to the wire. We were hoping they would call it early, but it just didn't happen."
Carroll has been getting besieged with legal suggestions from his teammates. Some want reduced taxes -- even though Florida has no state income tax.
Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder declared "legalize whatever's illegal and let the state run crazy."
To say that was the reason they couldn't close out the Pittsburgh Steelers, however, would be erroneous.
With the help of a fortuitous ruling on a Ben Roethlisberger fumble Miami appeared to recover, Pittsburgh escaped Sun Life Stadium with a 23-22 victory.
"We will take it and exit stage left," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Dolphins seemed to snatch the game with 2:28 to play. They were clinging to a two-point lead against the driving Steelers when safety Chris Clemons knocked the ball from Roethlisberger's grasp at the goal line. Dolphins linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis appeared to recover in the end zone, but video replays were inconclusive to referee Gene Steratore, and the Steelers retained possession.
Jeff Reed kicked an 18-yard field goal to give the Steelers a one-point triumph.
A Dolphins win would have been gargantuan. Given the Steelers' profile as one of the NFL's handful of elite teams, the Dolphins would've been mentioned as legitimate contenders.
Instead, the Dolphins returned to .500 and remained winless through three home games.
But Steratore's ruling wasn't the reason.
"It was a big play in the game, but it shouldn't have come down to that play," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win, but we didn't."
Not awarding Miami the fumble recovery is a convenient way to overlook a few issues that allowed the game to be decided by one bad break:
- Poor red zone offense.
- Poor two-minute offense.
- Poor third-down defense.
The Dolphins failed to score touchdowns despite starting their first possessions at the Steelers' 22- and 13-yard lines within the first 1:58 of the game.
Sparano bemoaned his offense's inability to get at least 10 points out of those glorious opportunities.
"We could be up 14-0 right off the bat," Dolphins left tackle Jake Long said. "But we didn't start fast enough. We've got to be better than that."
Each time, the Dolphins failed to convert a first down and didn't take any shots into the end zone. Ronnie Brown ran once for 1 yard. Ricky Williams ran three times for 0, 8 and 0 yards. Chad Henne threw two short incomplete passes.
"Field goals are great to have, but in this situation we needed touchdowns," Sparano said. "When you get down there with that many opportunities, you have to convert them into touchdowns. That's the bottom line."
Settling for a field goal would have been wonderful after Pittsburgh converted that controversial call into a late lead.
The Dolphins had 2:26 left to get Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter within field-goal range, but gained 4 yards on four plays against an injury-ravaged defense.
Carpenter made five field goals in the game and has a robust leg. He has made field goals from 53 yards and 50 yards this year. The Dolphins' offense should have been able to move the ball, especially with outside linebacker Lamarr Woodley and defensive end Aaron Smith sidelined with injuries.
The Dolphins work on their two-minute offense every practice. Sparano usually puts them into situations with a minute less than they had Sunday.
The Dolphins were out of timeouts, but they had the two-minute warning, a strong-armed quarterback, star receiver Brandon Marshall and pair of quality running backs.
"We felt strongly in that situation we'd be able to get the ball down the field and have plenty of time on the clock," Sparano said.
In the rain, Brown ran up the middle for 2 yards on first down. Henne got off a snap right before the two-minute warning and threw a quick pass. But tight end Anthony Fasano dropped it to set up a tough third down while wasting a precious clock-stoppage.
On third-and-8, Henne tossed to fullback Lousaka Polite, who gained only 2 yards and was tackled inbounds. Amid a heavy Pittsburgh pass rush on fourth down, Henne frantically got the ball out of his hands, but the ugly pass hit the grass.
Miami's offense wasn't alone in its struggles.
Pittsburgh moved the chains on third-down plays of 16, 11 and 9 yards. On third-and-5 from Miami's 43-yard line on the decisive drive, Mewelde Moore gained 29 yards on a dump pass. One play later, Miami defensive lineman Tony McDaniel committed an unnecessary roughness penalty to give Pittsburgh first-and-goal from the 4.
Pittsburgh converted six of its 15 third downs.
Steratore had nothing to do with a lot of problems Miami had Sunday.
"If you lose, you lose," Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder said. "You can make all the excuses, but our record's 3-3. There's not going to be an asterisk next to the third loss. Who cares? Good call, bad call, I don't know the rules. But we should've won. We never should have been in that situation. To put it in the ref's hands was our fault."
Brandon Marshall has showed flashes of why he's considered one of the NFL's biggest receiving threats. He can dominate a game. Davone Bess has become a top-notch slot receiver who's clutch on third down. Ronnie Brown is averaging 4.7 yards a carry, and Ricky Williams looks sensational, even though he isn't getting the same turn-back-the-clock attention as LaDainian Tomlinson. Defensively, cornerback Vontae Davis is forcing teams to throw away from him. Outside linebacker Cameron Wake is on pace for 12 sacks.
Cause for concern: A quarter into the season, the Dolphins still are searching for their offensive identity. They appear torn between being that run-dominant club of the past two years and a team that wants to sling the ball with Chad Henne and Marshall as the stars. Henne doesn't look too comfortable in the role yet. Also, the Dolphins remain attached to the Wildcat despite averaging less than 2 yards a try.
Special teams has been a glaring weakness. Head coach Tony Sparano made a move to correct that by firing coordinator John Bonamego and promoting assistant Darren Rizzi. They have two weeks to patch up their problems there. Pass defense has been another issue. While the Dolphins rank sixth in allowing only 181.5 air yards a game, that number is skewed. They faced Trent Edwards in Week 1, a bumbling Brett Favre in Week 2 and Tom Brady hardly had to throw in Monday night's 41-14 "Gong Show." The Dolphins still have trouble covering tight ends, and right cornerback Jason Allen is a liability on No. 2 receivers.
Time to heal: A week off will help Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long cope with the knee that has been bothering him. Rookie defensive end Jared Odrick, their first-round pick, should return from an ankle injury after the bye. Inside linebacker Channing Crowder is slowly recovering from a groin problem that has keep him off the field all season.
AccuScore forecast: The projection is for a 9-7 record. The Dolphins have a 10 percent chance to win the AFC East, and a 24 percent chance to get into the playoffs.
New England Patriots
- Running back Fred Taylor
- Running back Thomas Clayton
- Receiver Taylor Price
- Guard Nick Kaczur
- Guard Rich Ohrnberger
- Defensive lineman Kyle Love
- Outside linebacker Shawn Crable
- Cornerback Terrence Wheatley
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Running back Joe McKnight
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Tackle Wayne Hunter
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Outside linebacker Calvin Pace
- Inside linebacker Kenwin Cummings
- Cornerback Darrelle Revis
What it means: Both teams raised more questions than delivered answers. The Dolphins clearly were the better team, but their inability to pull away from an opponent that struggled all day should be disconcerting. The Dolphins dictated on defense for the most part, but on fourth-and-11 from their own 31-yard line, they yielded a 31-yard scoring strike from Trent Edwards to Roscoe Parrish with 5:13 left in the game.
What I liked: The Dolphins successfully played a ball-control game and were dominant on defense despite not having inside linebacker Channing Crowder (groin) and outside linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis (illness). The Dolphins held the Bills to 166 total yards. The Dolphins had the ball nearly 14 minutes longer than the Bills did.
The Dolphins had a balanced offense. Ronnie Brown rushed for 65 yards. Ricky Williams rushed for 62 yards. Brandon Marshall had eight receptions for 53 yards. Davone Bess had six catches for 51 yards.
Parrish was a weapon for the Bills. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely used Parrish in the offense and stripped him of return duties. Parrish finished with two receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown and had a 19-yard punt return.
What I didn't like: Bills coach Chan Gailey raved about his three running backs, but none of them cracked 20 yards against the swarming Dolphins' defense. Rookie C.J. Spiller ran six times for 7 yards. Edwards was third in rushing yards with 12 yards. The Bills were intent to throw, and that seemingly was just fine with the Dolphins.
The Dolphins, who have constantly tinkered with their offensive line, were shaky in pass protection against a team that overhauled its defense and was banged up. The Bills sacked Chad Henne three times.
Unsung hero: Brandon Fields dropped a punt on the Bills' 1-yard line with 1:48 to play and the Dolphins clinging to a 3-point lead.
Injuries of note: The Bills lost inside linebacker Paul Posluszny early in the third quarter to a knee injury. Despite missing four games last year, he led the Bills with 115 tackles. Posluszny has a checkered medical history. He played only three games his rookie season because of a broken forearm. He broke his arm again in last year's season opener. A prolonged recovery would be a crushing blow for Buffalo, who lost top backup inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell for the season to a foot injury.
What's next: The Dolphins begin a brutal stretch of games next week with the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome. That game is followed by five playoff opponents over the next six games, with the Pittsburgh Steelers the exception. The Bills play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Most notable is Chad Pennington officially assuming the No. 2 role ahead of Tyler Thigpen and the stand-down order to outside linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis, who might have started but woke up sick in the morning.
- Quarterback Tyler Thigpen
- Receiver Roberto Wallace
- Tackle Lydon Murtha
- Tackle Jeremy Parnell
- Outside linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis
- Defensive end Clifton Geathers
- Defensive end Rob Rose
- Inside linebacker Channing Crowder
1:00 PM ET San Diego Buffalo 1:00 PM ET Dallas St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Washington Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Houston New York 1:00 PM ET Minnesota New Orleans 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Baltimore Cleveland 1:00 PM ET Green Bay Detroit 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Oakland New England 4:05 PM ET San Francisco Arizona 4:25 PM ET Denver Seattle 4:25 PM ET Kansas City Miami 8:30 PM ET Pittsburgh Carolina