NFL Nation: Monday Night Football

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

December, 2, 2014
12/02/14
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and how he played in the Miami Dolphins' 16-13 win in Week 13:

Tannehill
Tannehill's performance against the New York Jets on "Monday Night Football" was parallel to the rest of the Dolphins' team: It was not pretty, but it was just enough to get a win. He threw for 235 yards and one interception with no touchdowns. His passer rating was a mediocre 77.7.

This was not one of Tannehill's better games, and against a quality team, it probably would have resulted in a loss. He nearly threw two interceptions during an ugly first half, but the Jets (2-10) dropped both opportunities. Tannehill also missed on two potential big plays with off throws deep to No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace.

But here is the biggest stat in Tannehill’s favor: He's 5-2 in his past seven starts. Still, Tannehill must play better in the next two weeks against the Baltimore Ravens (7-5) and New England Patriots (9-3) if the Dolphins (7-5) aim to remain in playoff contention.

W2W4: Miami Dolphins at New York Jets

December, 1, 2014
12/01/14
1:30
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins (6-5) will play a national, prime-time game against the New York Jets (2-9) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

Here are three things to watch from Miami's perspective:

1. Toughen up: Miami’s defensive coaches and players admitted they were pushed around in last week’s loss to the Denver Broncos. The Dolphins allowed a season-high 39 points, 201 rushing yards and four passing touchdowns. However, Miami’s fifth-ranked defense expects a bounce-back performance against the Jets. Physicality and poor tackling were not issues for the Dolphins until last week. They are out to prove last week's poor performance was an anomaly.

2. Rattling Geno: The Dolphins have had a tough stretch of opposing quarterbacks. They have faced Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks. Miami’s defense should get a relative respite Monday against the Jets' Geno Smith, who is one of the NFL’s lowest-rated quarterbacks this season. Smith was named the starter this week after losing his job earlier in the season. New York’s passing game has been a mess and is ranked dead last in the NFL. Miami’s defense generally plays well against the pass and should have success in this matchup.

3. Who’s at cornerback? The Dolphins will enter the game very thin at cornerback. Starter Cortland Finnegan is listed as doubtful and not expected to play with an ankle injury and second-year backup Jamar Taylor is ruled out with a shoulder injury. That leaves Miami with limited options at corner opposite Pro Bowler Brent Grimes. The team has to choose between rookie Walt Aikens or R.J. Stanford, who was just signed off the street less than a week ago. Expect the Jets to attack whichever player starts in what could be a possible weakness in the Miami defense.

It should be an interesting divisional game at MetLife Stadium. Be sure to check out ESPN.com's Dolphins page and follow on Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL throughout the day and evening for all the latest news.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Let's travel back two years ago with the Miami Dolphins: It is 2012 and no secret that they're in desperate need of a quarterback in the NFL draft. The Chad Henne fiasco just ended and Miami hired a new head coach in Joe Philbin, who needed a quarterback to start his program.

The Dolphins, along with most likely 31 other teams, had Robert Griffin III rated higher than Ryan Tannehill. In fact, many believed it was a reach when Miami selected Tannehill No. 8 overall after Andrew Luck and Griffin were taken off the board with the first two picks by the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. Both were viewed as future superstars, and Tannehill was more of a project with just 19 career starts at Texas A&M.

Tannehill
Griffin
However, three seasons later, the Dolphins are better off with Tannehill than Griffin. Tannehill will start his 44th consecutive game for Miami (6-5) when it faces the New York Jets on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.”

Things haven't been perfect, but Tannehill has gradually improved each season and is on pace for a career year in 2014. He has thrown for 2,582 yards, 20 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. His passer rating is 93.4.

Most important, Tannehill still offers hope that he can be Miami's long-term solution at quarterback. He's playing arguably the best football of his career with a 4-2 record over his past six games.

“Yeah, I think he’s been playing better,” Philbin said of Tannehill. “I think he's been playing better for probably even a hair longer than that. Certainly, he’s been throwing the ball accurately and doing a good job running the offense.”

Griffin’s chances of doing the same for the Redskins have all but disappeared since he was benched this week in favor of third-string quarterback Colt McCoy. Griffin struggled the past two seasons since returning from major knee surgery. He has a 13-20 record as a starter, including a 4-14 mark in 2013 and 2014.

Granted, Tannehill also must win more games. He is 21-22 as a starter. But Tannehill's individual stats are up across the board in assistant Bill Lazor's new offense. Tannehill also has Miami in playoff contention in December for the second consecutive season.

“I don't know exactly how my numbers look, [but] I feel more and more comfortable the more games we play,” Tannehill said. “The guys around me are making plays right now. The line is protecting me. The run game is going pretty well. So when the guys around you are making plays and you can just get them the ball in space, it makes it a lot more fun to be a quarterback.”

The Dolphins will have a decision to make on Tannehill's future soon. He's under contract next season and the team must decide if it wants to pick up Tannehill’s fifth-year option. Miami also can determine if it wants to work out a long-term contract instead. Those choices are all in play.

But the Redskins apparently made a decision that Griffin is not the long-term solution at quarterback in Washington. It’s an interesting contrast of two third-year quarterbacks -- just six draft slots apart -- heading in opposite directions.
Here are five things to keep an eye on Monday night when the Chicago Bears host the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field:

Pass rush: The Bears tied a season high with five sacks last week against Minnesota, and Julius Peppers produced his best performance of the season (2.5 sacks). Chicago racked up the sacks with aggressive and creative calls, and new addition Jeremiah Ratliff also contributed to the group in 23 snaps of action. He’ll play more Monday night against the Cowboys.

“I feel good. I feel stronger. I feel more balanced,” Ratliff said. “Everything’s holding up,and there haven’t been any complications. So I’m good.”

Obviously, the Bears need to dial up the heat even more against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has a penchant for making mistakes in the face of pressure.

Look for Ratliff to start inside next to Stephen Paea with Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside at the end positions.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/James D SmithStopping Dez Bryant will be key -- he had more than 100 yards against the Bears in the last meeting.
Run D: Believe it or not, the Bears fit the run well despite Adrian Peterson's reeling off 211 yards. The problem was that the Bears struggled to make tackles. That can’t happen against Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. Dallas wants to try to establish the run early, but if it can’t, the Cowboys won’t hesitate to resort to a pass-happy attack.

That’s a good thing because it’ll mean the Cowboys have become one-dimensional.

“We’re to the point now where we’re there to make the play,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We just have to finish. We’re not talking about missed fits as much now as we were talking about maybe a couple of weeks ago. Now, we have to be more physical at the point of attack; get off blocks. We have to make tackles. There may have been some improvements here and there, but not enough where I would say we’ve improved in that area.”

Bears CBs vs. Dez Bryant:Bryant caught eight passes for 105 yards against the Bears on Monday night football last season, and he’s sure to make some plays in this contest. The key is for the Bears to limit the back-breakers, the plays that sway the momentum and become game-defining moments.

Chicago’s safeties also need to chip in against Bryant.

“We need all the guys to do their jobs and realize Dez Bryant is an explosive player. So of course, we’re going to keep our eye on him,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We’re going to have to take away what they like to do so much whether we match [me] with him. If that give us a good chance to win, then I’ll be all for it.”

Short yardage:The Bears average nearly 400 yards per game on offense, but in short-yardage situation the club is horrid. Against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears failed to convert three third-and-1 situations, and on the season, the Bears own a 42 percent conversion rate on third and 1.

“It’s a physical element, but it’s also a mental element. You’ve got to be assignment-right. Our mistakes have not been a question of effort or being outmanned or anything like that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Ours have been simply the three or four times we haven’t gotten it done, whether it’s goal line or short yardage, we’ve just got to do a better job in making sure we’re blocking the right guys. We’re going to get out-physicalled at times; teams do. But we feel it’s more just making sure that assignment wise, we’re sharp. All five guys plus our tight ends, our backs all have to be doing the right thing and we haven’t gotten it done. It’s difficult to make a yard in this league like that, and we’ve got to do a better job.”

Bears WRs: Alshon Jeffery is coming of a franchise single-game record 249 yards receiving, and Brandon Marshall is one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers. So the duo should generate big numbers for the offense, provided the line protects quarterback Josh McCown adequately.

Dallas ranks No. 31 in the NFL in pass defense at (294.9) yards per games. So Chicago’s sixth-ranked passing attack should be able to light up the Cowboys. Marshall needs 10 yards receiving to make him and Jeffery the club's first receiving duo to gain 1,000 yards each in a season since 1995.

Marshall said he doesn’t like the matchup against Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, but the Bears will look for ways to free up the receiver by lining him up in different places.

“They’re good players,” McCown said of Dallas’ cornerbacks. “Both of them are bigger guys, good cover guys, good man-coverage guys for sure and talented. We always feel good about our matchups, but this week especially. These guys are good players and they’ve been causing turnovers, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Video: MNF schedule released

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
10:37
PM ET

Mike Tirico breaks down the 2013 "Monday Night Football" schedule.
“Monday Night Football” loads up on the NFC for 2013 with an emphasis on young quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III.

Griffin’s recovery from knee surgery will be the key variable for a Week 1 matchup between his Washington Redskins and Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field.

Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks and Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers each make two "MNF" appearances, but none against each other -- an upset given all the hype surrounding these NFC West rivals.

The Seahawks make their 2013 "MNF" debut on the road against the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 28 (Week 8). They face the New Orleans Saints at home in another "MNF" game, this one set for Dec. 12 (Week 13).

The 49ers make two "MNF" appearances, both in the final six weeks of the season: at Washington on Nov. 25 (Week 12) and home against the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC title game rematch Dec. 23 (Week 16).

Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego and Washington are the only teams appearing twice on a 16-week, 17-game MNF schedule featuring 21 appearances by NFC teams. That means Wilson, Kaepernick, Griffin, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers are the only projected starting quarterbacks set to appear more than once.

Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton are among the starting QBs scheduled to appear once. Five of the six teams not appearing on the "MNF" schedule -- Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tennessee -- hail from the AFC. Arizona also makes zero appearances.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the biggest games of the regular season will take place at Gillette Stadium when the New England Patriots (9-3) host the Houston Texans (11-1) on "Monday Night Football."

Here are three keys to watch in this game:
  • 1. Tempo, tempo, tempo: This game could come down to which team sets the pace. Great teams dictate tempo, and that is something both the Patriots and the Texans are very good at. New England runs a fast-paced, no-huddle offense that thrives on getting more offensive plays than its opponent. As a result, the Patriots lead the NFL in scoring and have the top-rated offense. Houston likes the set a physical tone by running the football. The passing game feeds off the run and is capable of making big plays through the air. Pace will be key for both teams.
  • 2. Big-game QBs: We know what Patriots quarterback Tom Brady brings to the table in big games. But Houston quarterback Matt Schaub is a major unknown in this area. This game, by far, will be the biggest of Schaub's career. He's never won a playoff game but this will be the closest thing to it considering how much is on the line. Schaub, who has been good this season, still needs to prove he can thrive under these circumstances. A win over Brady in Gillette Stadium will silence many of Schaub's critics.
  • 3. Home-field advantage: Speaking of Gillette Stadium, the Patriots rarely lose at home in December. New England is 22-1 at home in December since 2001, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The Patriots have won 19 straight, and their last home loss in December came a decade ago against the New York Jets. Gillette Stadium has been a house of horrors for opponents this time of year. New England has the best December home record in the NFL since 2001.

The AFC East blog will bring you all the latest from Gillette Stadium. Be sure to check back Monday night four our live chat in addition to postgame reaction. You also can get live updates by following on Twitter here and here.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:33
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:

Protecting Brady: The New England Patriots' biggest key to success is protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and they will have a tall task blocking the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football." Houston is third in the NFL with 36 sacks, and defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. New England’s pass protection has been up and down this season. Brady has been sacked in nine games, including last week when the Patriots allowed four sacks against the Miami Dolphins. Houston and Watt will be bringing the heat to disrupt Brady, and the Patriots have to do a better job of keeping Brady upright.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneThe Texans could have trouble finding room to run against Vince Wilfork, right, and the Patriots.
Focus on Foster: The Texans can beat you in a variety of ways, but their first option is the running game. Houston runs the ball more than any other NFL team at 34.4 attempts per game. Texans running back Arian Foster is fifth in the NFL with 1,102 yards and first with 13 rushing touchdowns. He is the engine for the Texans. In Houston’s only defeat, Foster rushed for 29 yards on 17 carries in a 42-24 loss against the Green Bay Packers. The Patriots have a physical front seven and are ninth against the run. So expect a war of attrition in the trenches.

Sanchez’s time to respond: New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez returns under center against the Jacksonville Jaguars after getting benched last week in the third quarter. This was a stern wake-up call for the four-year starter. Sanchez has a good chance to have a bounce-back game Sunday against the lowly Jaguars (2-10). The Jaguars are 28th against the pass and 31st against the run, which is tailor-made for the offensively inept Jets. New York coach Rex Ryan proved once that he’s not afraid to pull Sanchez if he’s playing poorly. Expect Sanchez to be on a short leash.

Martin vs. Smith: Miami rookie Jonathan Martin will make his first NFL start at left tackle Sunday at the San Francisco 49ers. Martin's reward: San Francisco pass-rusher Aldon SmithJake Long (triceps) for the season this week and put him on injured reserve. Long will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Martin has a four-game audition for the left tackle spot. If Martin does a good job, starting this week against Smith, the rookie could replace Long next season.

Buffalo's shift at center: The Buffalo Bills lost starting center Eric Wood for the next two to four weeks with a knee injury. If last season was any indication, this is awful news for the Bills. Wood is one of the top leaders on offense, but he has been injury prone. Wood missed seven games last season with an ACL tear, and the Bills were 1-6 without him. Buffalo has been working guard Kraig Urbik and rookie David Snow at center this week.

Wrap-up: Panthers 30, Eagles 22

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
11:43
PM ET

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 30-22 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night:

What it means: Suddenly, there’s a ray of hope that coach Ron Rivera might be able to keep his job next season. One win against a very bad team isn’t going to change everything and neither is a 3-8 record. But this may be a starting point for Rivera and his team to finish the season on a bit of an upswing. I don’t think Jerry Richardson wants to pull the plug on Rivera, but he needs to see some progress the rest of the way. There are several more games on the schedule that look winnable. If Rivera can win a few of those, he may have a shot to stick around.

Newton’s big night: Cam Newton always seemed to be at his best in big games when he was at Auburn. Maybe he should be in prime time more often. In his “Monday Night Football’’ debut, Newton was both efficient and explosive. He threw two touchdown passes and had two touchdown runs and didn't make any major mistakes.

What I liked: The Panthers showed they actually can close out a game. Squandering fourth-quarter leads had been a problem all season, but Carolina got the job done this time.

What I didn’t like: Carolina’s run defense. Philadelphia rookie running back Bryce Brown had a huge night, rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers haven’t been very good against the run since the latter years of John Fox’s tenure.

Unsung hero: Backup tight end Gary Barnidge caught the first touchdown pass of his career in the first quarter. He also recovered a fumble on a Philadelphia kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Milestone time: Carolina’s Steve Smith surpassed the 11,000-yard mark in career receiving.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Kansas City on Sunday.

Panthers-Eagles: It could be worse

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
2:53
PM ET
You have to look long and hard to find a worse "Monday Night Football" matchup than the contest between Philadelphia and Carolina.

Thankfully, the folks at ESPN Stats & Information did. The Eagles and Panthers are a combined 5-15 this season. That’s a .250 winning percentage.

But, believe it or not, this isn’t the worst game in the history of "Monday Night Football," although it’s pretty darn close.

Counting only matchups that came at least eight games into the season, the classic tilt between the 1-11 Chargers and the 3-9 Jets in 1975 (remember where you were that night?), ranks as the worst. The Chargers and Jets had a combined .167 wining percentage.

The only other matchup that was worse was a .200 winning percentage when the 3-7 Giants played the 1-9 Oilers in 1994.

Final Word: Panthers-Eagles

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
12:00
PM ET
Five nuggets of knowledge about the Monday night game between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles:

Hard road ahead. The Panthers are 1-3 on the road this season, but their three losses have come by a total of nine points. The game at Philadelphia is the start of a stretch in which the Panthers will play four of their final six games on the road.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Jeff Siner/Getty ImagesCam Newton has struggled in his second year in the NFL.
Sophomore slump. A quick look at Total QBR might be the best way to sum up Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s second NFL season. After ranking 17th in the league with a 55.0 Total QBR his rookie year, Newton ranks 29th this season with a 40.4 Total QBR. He’s had four games this season with a Total QBR lower than 20 after not having any games below that mark last season.

No need to blitz. The Eagles don’t blitz a lot to begin with. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team has rushed four or fewer defenders more often than the Eagles, who have used that tactic 80.5 percent of the time over the past two seasons. But the Eagles might be wise to scrap the blitz completely against the Panthers. Newton has struggled far more against a pass rush of four or fewer than he has against the blitz. Over the past two seasons, Newton has a minus-4 touchdown-to-interception differential when facing four of fewer pass-rushers (only three quarterbacks have a worse differential). Over that same span, Newton has a plus-8 touchdown-to-interception differential when opponents have blitzed.

Milestone time. In a season in which there have been few positive milestones, the Panthers should hit one Monday night. Steve Smith needs just 12 receiving yards to become the fourth active player with 11,000 receiving yards. The only players ahead of him are Randy Moss (15,124), Tony Gonzalez (13,988) and Reggie Wayne (12,711).

Fourth-quarter woes. Over the past two seasons, the Panthers have lost five games in which they’ve held a lead entering the fourth quarter. But the good news is the Eagles have squandered a fourth-quarter lead six times in that same span. The Eagles and Dolphins are tied for the league lead in losing games in which they led at the start of the fourth quarter over the past two seasons. The Panthers are tied for third with the Cleveland Browns.
New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden was a nice story until Friday. The NFL announced that Bolden, an undrafted rookie, is suspended four games for violating the league’s performance enhancement policy.

Bolden has missed the last two games with a knee injury. But before that, he rushed for 234 yards as a backup and averaged 5.4 yards per carry. He gave the Patriots an extra boost in the running game behind starter Stevan Ridley.

Bolden will miss the next four games against the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. He is eligible to return to New England for a "Monday Night Football" game against the Houston Texans on Dec. 10.

Saints don't need to blow up defense

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
4:25
PM ET
Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper, Steve SpagnuoloStacy Revere/Getty ImagesIt is not time for the Saints to give up on Steve Spagnuolo's defense in New Orleans.
It’s so easy to sit back, look at the numbers and say the New Orleans Saints simply need to blow up their defense.

They are the first team in NFL history to allow 400 or more yards in each of its first seven games. The 3,323 yards the Saints have allowed are the most through seven games since the NFL first started tracking total yards in 1933. The Saints also are the only team to allow 24 points in each game this season.

It’s clear Steve Spagnuolo’s defense isn’t working. The Saints should just scrap it and go back to what (dare we say it?) Gregg Williams ran, right?

Wrong. That’s the worst thing the Saints, who host the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football," could do for their future. Long before the bounty scandal broke, it became obvious that Williams had to go, and he did, leaving immediately after last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco.

When Sean Payton was making the switch, he realized the Saints needed something they’d never had in his tenure. They needed a consistently good defense.

“Listen, what we always win with around here is complementary offense and complementary defense,’’ said Joe Vitt, who is the interim head coach as Payton serves a season-long suspension. “There have been, quite frankly, a lot of times around here since ’06 that we have struggled some defensively.’’

Yep, the Saints struggled so badly on defense in 2008 that Payton fired close friend Gary Gibbs and replaced him with Williams, even though the two men knew going in that their personalities and egos probably would clash.

For one beautiful season, things clicked. Williams’ defense, while not shutting everyone down, produced a bunch of turnovers and big plays and the Saints won a Super Bowl. The next two seasons, the Saints got bounced in the playoffs because their defense wasn’t producing much.

Payton decided to, once and for all, fix his defense permanently. Hehired Spagnuolo, who came with a proven system.

It’s not working as it should yet, but this is about the long term now, because the Saints aren’t going to the playoffs this season.

“I think with the veteran coaches [like] Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, Ted Marchibroda, if you have dramatic changes and you have [radical] changes, that’s when panic sets in,’’ Vitt said. “All of a sudden you’re going to create a scheme that you have not worked on in OTAs, that you have not worked on in training camp, and all of a sudden all of the things that looked good in OTAs and looked good in training camp all of a sudden start to look bad right now. If you put that panic in, the players can smell the house burning before the match is ever lit.’’

Leave the panic up to the fans. The Saints have to keep their eye on the ball and work through this or else they'll never get back to being the powerhouse they've been in recent years.

Sure, Spagnuolo can make a few minor tweaks. But the best thing he can do right now is to implement his system fully. The Saints already have decided rookie DT Akiem Hicks is a better fit than veteran Brodrick Bunkley

If safety Roman Harper can’t handle the coverage duties of Spagnuolo’s scheme, maybe it’s time to find out whether Isa Abdul-Quddus can. If Will Smith and Cameron Jordan can’t generate a consistent pass rush up front, maybe it’s time to figure out whether Junior Galette and Martez Wilson can.

Even if the younger guys do show they fit in Spagnuolo’s system, that’s not going to change everything overnight. The Saints faced salary-cap issues and a lack of draft picks in the offseason, and that’s why they weren’t able to stock Spagnuolo’s cupboard with the players he needed.

They’re going to face similar restrictions in the next offseason, but general manager Mickey Loomis is smart enough to work around that. It’s best to use the rest of this season to find out which guys do fit Spagnuolo’s system.

Then, fill the remaining holes in the offseason.

This may seem like a lost season for the Saints. But Payton’s coming back next season and, if he has the kind of defense he’s always dreamed of, the Saints could be better than ever.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Surprising stat: The Falcons, who have been known for being great in the Georgia Dome for most of the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era, haven’t been very dominant at home this season. They’ve won their three home games by a combined 11 points. On the road, Atlanta has outscored opponents by 15 points per game.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/Mel EvansMatt Ryan is completing 78.8 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of each half.
Two-minute master: Here’s another sign that Ryan has taken a step into -- or near -- elite status. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has completed 78.8 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of the half (we’re talking both halves) this season. That’s the best percentage in the NFL. In his first four seasons, Ryan completed only 49.8 percent of his throws in those situations.

Historically bad: A lot of people thought the Panthers might make history this season. They are, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. The Panthers have lost five straight games, which gives them the longest active losing streak in the NFL. They're 1-6, and another loss would drop them to 1-7 for the fifth time in their history. Sad part is, the Panthers didn’t even hit 1-7 in their expansion year. But they started 1-7 in 2010, 2004, 2001 and 1998.

Another O-line shuffle: With All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks lost to a season-ending injury, the Bucs are going to have to make yet another change to their offensive line. That could slow rookie running back Doug Martin, who has been on a roll lately. Martin has averaged 4.5 yards when running to his left and 4.4 yards up the middle, but is gaining only 3.2 yards per carry when running to his right. Those numbers could fall, because whichever backup lineman the Bucs insert at left guard is likely to be a big drop-off from Nicks.

A positive note on the Saints: These have been tough to come up with this season. But this bodes well for the Saints on Monday night against the Eagles: The Saints have won seven straight “Monday Night Football’’ games. That’s the longest active streak in the NFL. The Saints also have won 11 straight games played in the month of November.

Seven-step drop: Are Dolphins No. 2?

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
1:30
PM ET
The New York Jets (2-2) still have a game to play on "Monday Night Football" against the Houston Texans.

But here are seven observations from Week 5 in the AFC East:

  • Are the Miami Dolphins currently the second-best team in the AFC East? It's a legitimate question five weeks into the season. Miami is 2-3 and tied with the Buffalo Bills (2-3) for the same record. The Dolphins could be in a three-way tie for second place with the Bills and New York Jets (2-2) later tonight after New York plays the undefeated Houston Texans (4-0). Miami has been the most consistent of the three teams this season. The Dolphins have been in every game except a Week 1 loss to Houston.
  • [+] EnlargeSean Smith
    Tyler Barrick/Getty ImagesMiami CB Sean Smith has proved this season that he can defend against the league's top receivers.
  • Miami's secondary is improving thanks to the increased contributions of cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reshad Jones. Both players are having career years. Smith is taking on the challenge of defending elite receivers and did a solid job defending Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green in back-to-back weeks. Miami has an interesting decision to make with Smith, who is a pending free agent and could command a sizable contract in 2013. Jones is improving and consistently is around the football. He made the game-clinching interception in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Miami’s front seven is very good. If the secondary catches up, Miami’s defense will be tough to beat this year.
  • Remember the recent talk about New England Patriots Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker being "phased out" of the offense? There was even speculation that Welker, who is in the final year of his contract, could be traded. Well, forget about it. Welker is back to being a very important part of New England’s offense. He caught 13 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos could not defend Welker, who had a career-best nine catches in the first half. Welker has stepped up big after injuries to tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and backup receiver Julian Edelman (hand). Even when those players return, Welker needs to keep a big role in New England. He had a funny comment to Comcast Sportsnet after the game. "Yeah it's kind of nice to stick it in Bill's face once in a while," Welker said jokingly of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "So this is definitely a good one."
  • The Patriots are clearly a well-conditioned team. Belichick has cranked up the tempo on offense and it impacts all three phases of the game. The Patriots are playing extremely fast and went virtually no-huddle the entire game against Denver. Not only must the offense be in shape, but the quick-strike offense also puts pressure on the conditioning of the defense and special teams. The Patriots showed no signs of slowing down. New England just needs to stay healthy and keep its quality depth.
  • I don’t know if the Buffalo Bills have enough heart to be a winner. This was one of my biggest concerns when I made the Bills my sleeper pick for 2012. Buffalo, on paper, is not 42 points worse than any team in the NFL. You have to factor in a lack of mental and physical toughness and inability to respond through adversity. Buffalo hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999. There were too many players in the locker room that don’t know what it takes to be a winner, especially together in Buffalo. The Bills have proved over and over that they are not a team that responds well in tough times. Last season the losses snowballed and went downhill. It’s still early. But after losing 45-3 Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers, you wonder if the Bills have enough to respond and turn their season around. They get rattled too easily. Buffalo has another gut-check game next week on the road against the Arizona Cardinals (3-1).
  • Do not be surprised if the New York Jets go after a wide receiver before the trade deadline. Monday’s game against Houston is a litmus test to see what the Jets have on offense for the rest of the season. If the receivers play well, New York may be comfortable with the group going forward. But if the Jets' passing game struggles, which is what I expect, then they will be in the market for a receiver. The Jets are a veteran team built to win now. Injuries to No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis mean the team is going nowhere fast. The Jets are proving this year they can no longer win with just defense. They need to score points.

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