NFL Nation: Patriots-Bills 122009

Buffalo's Edwards, McGee done for year

December, 22, 2009
12/22/09
11:16
AM ET
Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards and cornerback Terrence McGee get to turn the page on a miserable season two games early.

Edwards
Edwards
McGee
McGee
NFL sources confirm Edwards and McGee are done for the year after getting hurt in Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots. The Bills already have 16 players on injured reserve, and Buffalo Sports Daily reports safety Bryan Scott might be added to the IR with a concussion.

Edwards came off the sideline in the fourth quarter relieve an ineffective Ryan Fitzpatrick and took four snaps. Edwards was sacked twice (but was facemasked), threw a completion for minus-1 yard and an incompletion. The second sack came on third-and-11. Edwards hobbled off the field and didn't return.

The injury ends a tumultuous season for Edwards. He became a pariah among Bills fans for his unwillingness to throw downfield. He was saddled with the nickname Captain Checkdown. Edwards suffered a concussion in Week 6 and missed the next two games.

But one of interim coach Perry Fewell's first moves when taking over for the fired Dick Jauron was to replace Edwards with Fitzpatrick as the starter.

Edwards' final stat line for the year: seven starts, 60.1 completion percentage for 1,169 yards, six touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 73.8 passer rating.

McGee, the Bills' top cornerback, has shoulder surgery scheduled for Wednesday. He had minor knee surgery during the bye week and missed three games. Right cornerback Leodis McKelvin went on injured reserve after three games.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 22, 2009
12/22/09
11:02
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Rex Ryan, Jets coach: Everybody in the stadium knew Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez was the target on that fateful fourth-and-goal play with 1:38 left, but Ryan's defense still couldn't stop it. Moments later, Ryan blew up at referee Ron Winter, then walked into his postgame news conference and declared his team has been eliminated from the playoff hunt. Except they haven't been.

2. Chad Henne, Dolphins quarterback: Henne threw for a career-high 349 yards and guided the Dolphins to a 15-point, fourth-quarter rally and forced overtime in Nashville. But he threw the last of his three interceptions three plays into sudden death, frittering the hallowed first possession. The Titans kicked the winning field goal four plays later.

3. Mark Sanchez, Jets quarterback: A game away because of a knee injury didn't seem to help Sanchez settle down. The rookie came back Sunday and threw three interceptions, his fourth game with at least three in 13 NFL starts. His 20 interceptions are second in the league. He ranks 29th in passer rating.

Rising

Moss
AP Photo/David DupreyNew England's Randy Moss rebounded with a strong game against Buffalo.
1. Randy Moss, Patriots receiver: Under fire for perceived lollygagging, Moss had a strong game against the Bills. Tom Brady threw for just 115 yards, but Moss generated 113 yards and scored a touchdown. He finished with a game-high five receptions for 70 yards and drew another 43 yards on a Bills pass interference near the goal line.

2. Patriots pass rush: Without nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive ends Ty Warren and Myron Pryor, the Patriots rung up a season-high six sacks. Outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain recorded three of them. Bills quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards both suffered ankle injuries.

3. Fred Jackson, Bills running back: Jackson, the supposed backup to Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch, is 189 yards from the coveted 1,000-yard milestone. Not bad for an undrafted Division III player who came up through the arena bush leagues. Jackson rushed 15 times for 80 yards against the Patriots. He also caught four passes for 32 yards and returned four kickoffs for 108 yards.

Moss speaks little, says a lot

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
8:36
PM ET

AP Photo/ David DupreyPatriots receiver Randy Moss bounced back from criticism with five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in a victory over the Bills Sunday.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Randy Moss breezed through a side door and began addressing reporters before he reached the microphone. So focused was he on making a statement, he tripped as he stepped onto the podium.

"I'm gonna make it real brief," Moss blurted shortly after the New England Patriots breathed in a therapeutic 17-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills. "Y'all had all two weeks to do all y'all's talking. Let me do mine."

Moss, in a black stocking cap and a natty trench coat over a designer suit, leaned his right elbow on the lectern for effect, like a judge about to lecture a defendant before sentencing.

"I'd like to really thank ..." Moss paused, stroked his beard and started again. "It's been really a tough couple of weeks, but you move on. That’s the nature of the game. So I'm happy that we got this victory. I appreciate all the support from my true fans, the players, the coaches, my family and loved ones.

"I've been in this league 12 years, man, and I've been through a lot. And these shoulders that I have on my body, you can put the earth on it. So just to let you know, I bounce back. I appreciate it."

The gallery didn't ask a question. Moss bolted stage left and out the door.

In those 45 seconds, Moss didn't say much.

He didn't have to. He revealed plenty.

Moss was hurt by the onslaught of criticism he has faced over the previous dozen days, and Sunday provided deliverance.

Moss generated 113 yards for the Patriots and scored their first touchdown, a sweet tippy-toe grab in the back of the end zone. He finished with a game-high five receptions for 70 yards and drew another 43 yards on a Bills pass interference near the goal line.

"My father always said, 'Tall trees experience high winds,'" Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "He's been at the top for a long time. When it doesn't go right, that's just part of the profession.

"Randy's mature enough to handle that. He's a fighter, and he came out today and really made some great catches for us. Missed him on a couple of deep ones that certainly I wish we would have hit. But he was running his butt off today."

Moss had been called a quitter, a dog, a malcontent.

With the Patriots enduring three losses in four games, Patriots coach Bill Belichick booted Moss and three other players from Gillette Stadium on Dec. 9 for showing up late for a meeting.

Four days later against the Carolina Panthers, Moss caught one pass and fumbled it away, appeared to give less than full effort on a Brady interception and committed a false start. Panthers defensive backs Chris Gamble and Chris Harris proclaimed they made him submit.

A pair of future Hall of Fame receivers, Jerry Rice and Cris Carter, publicly ripped him as a lollygagger. We should have known, the media declared. He was trouble in Minnesota and Oakland. It was bound to happen in New England too.

A cancer, this guy.

Through it all, Moss said nothing. He had no answers, no words to defend himself.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft defended him. So did head coach Bill Belichick, who uncharacteristically took shots at Gamble and Harris as guys who haven't won enough games this year to have a credible opinion.

NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell and ESPN’s Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge -- with access to the sacred coaches' tapes -- were unanimous in their defense of Moss. They insisted he gave a high effort against the Panthers, but those voices didn't make nearly enough noise amid the condemnation.

A productive game would be Moss' only response.

The Patriots wanted him involved right away. They went deep to him twice -- and quickly. Brady fired a long ball too far down the left sideline on their sixth play. That pass interference chunk came on the first possession of the second quarter.

Despite facing the NFL's worst run defense, the Patriots wanted to help Moss prove a point.

"He's a competitor, and he wasn't happy with his performance the week before," Patriots receiver Wes Welker said. "He came out there and showed why he's one of the best to play the game. There's no doubt in my mind or anybody else's that he was going to bounce back from last week and have a great game."

Moss caught more flak than passes over his four previous games. He made six catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns. OK numbers for Chansi Stuckey or Josh Reed, not for one of the greatest receivers there ever was.

But on Sunday he came through. His afternoon wasn't prolific, but in sub-freezing conditions and with the Patriots desperately seeking their first true road win of the year, he made his presence felt.

Brady threw for only 115 yards. Laurence Maroney averaged 3.5 yards a carry.

Moss' shoulders didn't have to carry the earth Sunday, but he carried his offense again.

Atlas shrugged off the past two weeks.

"He always wants to prove something," Brady said. "He's a very competitive guy. The way he played today, he made some tough catches in traffic, made some nice catch-and-runs. He did a great job."

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 17, Bills 10

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
4:04
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- So much for the New England Patriots being vulnerable.

At least not so vulnerable they would lose to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

With all of the problems the Patriots have dealt with in the past few weeks, and a sizable chunk of their starting lineup unable to play, their win streak over the Bills appeared to be in jeopardy.

The Bills put together a valiant opening series, marching 13 plays in 9:24 to kick a field goal. An upset vibe pulsed through Ralph Wilson Stadium.

But those would be the only points the Bills would score until their final drive. The Patriots had only nine first-quarter snaps, but took control in the second with a pair of touchdowns and went on to win 17-10. It was New England's 13th straight victory over the Bills.

The victory ensured the Patriots would remain in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The margin was increased with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets both losing on Sunday.

The Patriots notched their first true road victory of the year and have won back-to-back games for the first time in over a month.

Buffalo was generous with the penalties. In the first four games after Perry Fewell took over as interim coach, the Bills committed six, three, one and three penalties. They had eight for 104 yards -- in the first half.

Two of those penalties -- a 43-yard pass interference and a 21-yard pass interference -- led to New England's second-quarter touchdowns.

Patriots running back Laurence Maroney was the workhorse on one of Tom Brady's least-productive days. Maroney ran 23 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Brady completed 11 of 23 attempts for 115 yards -- 11 more than the Bills gave up in the first half on penalties alone -- and a touchdown. Randy Moss caught five passes for 70 yards and the touchdown.

The Patriots' pass rush was wonderful against the Bills' patchwork O-line. Tully Banta-Cain recorded three of their six sacks.

Buffalo couldn't capitalize on the absences of New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive ends Ty Warren and Myron Pryor. Fred Jackson rushed 15 times for 80 yards, but Buffalo increasingly had to open up their passing game.

Halftime observations in the AFC East

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
2:52
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With all three AFC East games happening simultaneously, let's take a halftime spin around the division.

If all of these scores hold up in the second half, then the AFC East picture will come into clearer focus.

Here in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the New England Patriots are taking care of the Buffalo Bills thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties that made both touchdowns easier than they should've been.

A 9:24 field goal drive for the Bills to start the game left the Patriots with only nine offensive plays in the first quarter. The Patriots have 130 yards from scrimmage, but the Bills gave them an additional 64 yards in the second quarter on those pass interference calls near the goal line. They set up a 13-yard Randy Moss touchdown catch and a 1-yard Laurence Maroney run.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has only 68 yards passing. Maroney leads them in rushing with 40 yards. Bills running back Fred Jackson, meanwhile, has 69 yards on 11 carries, but the Bills haven't been able to get into the end zone.

The Tennessee Titans are putting a damper on the Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes. The Titans lead 17-6 in Nashville.

Dolphins back Ricky Williams has 55 yards, putting him over the 1,000-yard mark. Chad Henne was having a respectable first half, completing 10 of 16 passes for 120 yards, but he threw an interception in the closing seconds of the half at the Titans' 34-yard line, squandering a field goal possibility.

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has thrown two interceptions, but one big play has them ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, 7-3. The Falcons have one of the worst pass defenses in the league, allowing quarterbacks to compile a 98.2 season passer rating against them.

The Falcons have taken away the run, holding Thomas Jones to 30 yards on a dozen attempts. But the Jets are ahead because Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards on a 65-yard bomb.

Moss making presence felt

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
2:07
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- On a day when the New England Patriots otherwise might be content to stomp the Buffalo Bills' feeble run defense, Randy Moss has made the loudest statement so far.

Moss
The Patriots didn't have a single passing yard until more than two minutes were gone in the second quarter. That's when Moss tippy-tapped his feet in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.

The Patriots have a 7-3 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. Of their 86 total yards, Moss has 38 of them on three receptions. He also drew a 43-yard pass interference penalty to set up his touchdown.

Greetings from The Ralph

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
12:41
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium are cold and gray for Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

But at least the snow that has socked in the rest of the Northeast has stayed away.

In watching the doppler Saturday night, I found it amusing how this gargantuan white sheet was covering five states, but as it approached Buffalo, some mystical force field on the eastern rim of Lake Erie seemed to be batting it away with ease.

So no snow here, folks. Based on the flags atop the stadium and the streamers on the goal posts, the wind seems tolerable for now.

The Patriots already announced all the surprises from their inactive list Saturday night.

Particularly noteworthy about the Bills' inactive list is that receiver Terrell Owens isn't on it. Owens missed practice Thursday and Friday with an illness.

The complete rundown of scratches reads thusly:

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Bills O-line a comedy of calamities

December, 18, 2009
12/18/09
4:27
PM ET

Luc Leclerc/US PresswireCoach Sean Kugler has struggled all season to field a healthy offensive line.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The past few months, Boise State coach Chris Petersen has been on the phone with Sean Kugler frequently, much more than with other former assistants.

The pace gets too hectic for chitchat once training camp begins in July, morphs into the preseason and hurtles headlong into four months of incessant tension.

Yet Kugler, the Buffalo Bills offensive line coach, and Petersen keep finding the time to check in. The conversations are a necessary catharsis.

Every call, it seems, Kugler has another horror to share.

"A couple times," Petersen said, "I'm like, 'You've got to be making this up.' All the guys that he's lost ... It seems one thing just leads to another."

What has transpired on the Bills' beleaguered offensive line has been symbolic of the team's woebegone season. As receiver Terrell Owens has repeatedly pointed out, the line's problems are the reason the offense hasn't been what everyone hoped.

Buffalo's football operations department left the line woefully inexperienced at the start of the year, and it deteriorated from there. It's the NFL's most-penalized unit. One of the five has started all 13 games at his position. Four who've started are on injured reserve. Kugler has patched together seven different starting combinations and could assemble an eighth Sunday against the New England Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

On top of that, the Bills fired the man who brought Kugler back to the NFL. In mid-November, the club dismissed Dick Jauron, a man Kugler had become close with while assistants with the Detroit Lions.

"This has been extreme," Kugler said, mustering a slight, weary smile. "I tell these guys, 'You're going to look back on it one year and laugh. That's all you can do. You just can't sit there and dwell on it. You have to keep grinding.' "

Center Geoff Hangartner doesn't see the humor.

"I'm not laughing right now," said Hangartner, who signed with the Bills as a free agent in the offseason. "It's not funny. It might be a little while before you can kind of see the comedy in what's going on.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody."

Hangartner is the only member of the offensive line who can put the season in proper context. He's the one who has been in the same spot every game. The rest is a collection of rookies, reserves, street free agents and, with Wednesday's acquisition of Richie Incognito, a waiver-wire pickup.

"I walked into the training room one day," Hangartner said, "and there were four offensive linemen, lying on the tables all next to each other. All starters at some point in the season.

"For lack of a better phrase 'Holy [expletive]! Look at that right there! That's a starting offensive line, just lying on a table!' I feel like a survivor. Crazy."

That the Bills have won five games, including two of their past four games, is amazing given their offensive line's travails. A unit that committed eight false starts in Week 5 actually has curtailed its penalties while chaos has intensified.

Kugler must get some credit for that.

"I've never even heard of anything like this," Hangartner said. "Koogs has done a good job of keeping us together."

The Bills traded away two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and failed to replace him. They went into camp with not a single lineman in the same spot as he was in last year. They moved veteran right tackle Langston Walker from right tackle to left tackle, and then cut him days before the season began.

Kugler opened the season with a combined 56 NFL starts across his line. Then the injuries, one after another, started coming. By Week 6, their starting lineup was down to 47 starts among them.

"It's hard enough when you have to lose one guy," Petersen said. "You lose all those guys and their backups, it makes you feel like 'This isn't fair.' It's hard enough to win games when you've got all your troops in line.

"I know Sean's frustrated. Those are hard things to go through in terms of your professional career, not only what's happened on the line, but with Coach Jauron, who he loves and respects so much. ... I just think it says it all about him as a coach and a person to fight as hard as he's been fighting. They're still winning games."

Kugler was a tackle at Texas-El Paso during some bleak years. In a 1988 USA Today article, with the Miners at an astonishing 8-1, Kugler recalled how humiliating it'd been in El Paso.

"You used to go into a restaurant and people would ask you if you played football,'' Kugler told USA Today. "You'd say, 'Naaah. I'm a construction worker.' "

He can't get away with that in Western New York now.

"No," Kugler said Wednesday at the Bills' field house. "I'm a fireman now."

The ability to laugh, Petersen said, is what's keeping Kugler sane.

Kugler spent one season as the assistant head coach at Boise State, and it was a ripsnorter. The Broncos were the lone undefeated Division I-A team in 2006. They finished 13-0 with a victory over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl, one of the most scintillating finishes in college football history. Despite being BCS outsiders, the Broncos finished No. 5 in the country.

Boise State was building something special, but when Jauron called, Kugler couldn't refuse the offer.

The reason Kugler can't pass himself off as a construction worker or fireman around these parts is because he's from here. A native of nearby Lockport, N.Y., he grew up a passionate Bills fan. His grandmother's house was close enough to the stadium that he could park there and walk to the games. His wife is from the area. His two sons play at Orchard Park High.

That has made the season more trying for Kugler. He left a rising Boise State program to come home and achieve greatness alongside a treasured colleague. Nothing resembling that has occurred.

"It stings even more when you lose," Kugler said. "You understand the mentality of the people around here and how much it means to them when the Bills win. So you want to win."

Whether Kugler sticks around next year is uncertain. The Bills haven't made a permanent hire to replace Jauron. The next head coach might bring an offensive coordinator with him or simply want to clean house of an organization that hasn't reached the playoffs in a decade.

Whatever transpires, Kugler will look back on the season and laugh -- if only to keep from crying.

"I'm proud of those guys," Kugler said. "It's been difficult. You feel bad because as an offensive line you want to do more for the team. I know those guys are giving everything they've got. As a coach, I can't ask for more."

Final Word: AFC East

December, 18, 2009
12/18/09
4:03
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:


Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireTerrell Owens only had two receptions for 46 yards when he faced the Patriots during Week 1.
Terrell Owens and Lee Evans have to be amped to face the Patriots secondary. Owens and Evans combined for a measly five receptions and 71 yards on opening night at Gillette Stadium. I wouldn't be surprised if each posted numbers better than that in Sunday's rematch. Trent Edwards, aka Captain Checkdown, was Buffalo's quarterback then. The relatively freewheeling Ryan Fitzpatrick is heaving it now, and the Patriots secondary has been giving up mammoth gains in recent weeks.

What is the opposite of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object? That would be Mark Sanchez facing the Atlanta Falcons' pass defense. Something has to give -- and give and give and give. Jets coach Rex Ryan announced Sanchez will return from a knee injury and start Sunday at the Meadowlands. Sanchez's interceptions have cost the Jets a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but the Falcons have the 30th-ranked pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a cumulative 98.2 passer rating, second-highest in the league.

The Dolphins haven't seen anything like Chris Johnson this year. The Dolphins' run defense did a tremendous job shutting down Maurice Jones-Drew last week, but their task on Sunday looks virtually impossible based on Johnson's weekly numbers. He is averaging 5.8 yards a carry and 147.1 yards over his past seven games with nine touchdowns. Good luck with that.

An on-field response from Randy Moss might not be forthcoming. Moss was called out by Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, and two Panthers defensive backs essentially for quitting. Moss also has been defended by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and multiple film dissectors. But Moss might not get a chance to make his statement Sunday against the Bills, who own the NFL's worst defense against the run and fifth against the pass.

If the Bills defeat the Patriots on Sunday, then interim coach Perry Fewell gets the job. The last Bills coach to beat the Patriots was Gregg Williams on opening day 2003. The Patriots have won a dozen straight games, but what better way for the Bills to mark a mostly irrelevant season by ending that drought? The Bills haven't made the playoffs in a decade. This will be their Super Bowl, and a victory would give the Bills plenty of justification to stick with Fewell.

Bills captain irate over Incognito move

December, 16, 2009
12/16/09
10:59
PM ET
Hey, Richie Incognito!

Welcome to the Buffalo Bills!

Or not.

Incognito
Mitchell
The Bills on Wednesday claimed Incognito, a guard with a filthy reputation, off waivers from the St. Louis Rams.

One of the Bills' captains was livid with the move.

Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell, on injured reserve since mid-October with a shredded knee, tweeted a resounding blast about Incognito. Mitchell's passage was confirmed as authentic by a source close to Mitchell.

"BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT THIS YR. THE GUYS A BUM. DIRTY AND ALWAYS WILL BE. REALLY WISH I WAS PLAYIN RITE NOW. SERIOUSLY... I KNO WE'RE N NEED OF OLINE BUT THIS GUY ..."

Mitchell finished his thought with an accusation not suitable for a family blog -- or a nightclub restroom wall.

Mitchell later apologized on his Twitter page, writing (not in all caps, so he must have been calmer):

"I said what I said bout iggy and it's over. Everything else will b handled n house. We've had our moments b4 when KC played SL. I was wrong 4 startin sumthin. Shouldve saved it."

Incognito has committed 11 personal fouls since 2006. The Rams had enough of his act when he was called for two personal fouls in Sunday's game and engaged in a verbal confrontation with head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Incognito's contract is up after the season, so there's a good chance he and Mitchell never will square off on the practice field.

Faulk says Patriots vulnerable all along

December, 16, 2009
12/16/09
4:05
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk didn't sidestep the question.

Faulk
David Butler II/US PresswireKevin Faulk said the Pats need to "do whatever it takes" to separate themselves in the AFC East.
He admitted the big, bad New England Patriots -- commonly projected to win the Super Bowl this year -- are vulnerable.

And that's not just lately. Faulk claimed they've been susceptible all along.

"It's funny," Faulk said about the recent media scrutiny the Patriots have drawn, "because it doesn't even matter because before all of this was said or before all of this was done, we were all of that.

"We were vulnerable. We were beatable. But it's just that guys weren't talking about it."

Faulk talked about it on a conference call with Western New York reporters in advance of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots have lost three of their past five games.

"Now that we've lost a few games, guys are talking about it," Faulk said. "Everybody is going to lose a few games. It's football. It's professional football. You are going to have your teams where some are great through the course of the year, like the Saints and the Colts this year. But everybody can't beat us."

Faulk was asked if he considers the Patriots vulnerable even after beating the Carolina Panthers on Sunday to prevent a three-game losing streak.

"By the way we're playing? Yes. By the way we are playing as a football team, yes, we are vulnerable.

"I think that's why you practice each and every day, to get better at the things you're not good at."

Vulnerable with a one-game lead in the AFC East and three games to play is not the best position for a team to be in. How do the Patriots intend to separate themselves?

"Whatever we have to do," Faulk said. "Whatever you have to do as a football player, as a football team to win a football game, that critical possession, that critical moment in the game, whatever it is, you have to be better than that guy you're lined up across from."

An early look at AFC East MVPs

December, 16, 2009
12/16/09
12:41
PM ET
Wes Welker, Darrelle Revis & Ricky WilliamsAP PhotoWes Welker, Darrelle Revis and Ricky Williams are in the running for AFC East MVP.
With three games remaining in the regular season and the AFC East standings so crammed, there are a lot of monumental plays to be made.

Even so, let's take a look at the top five candidates for the division's MVP -- at the moment. I will update the list each week until the season is over.

You'll notice there are no Bills on the list. I considered running back Fred Jackson and rookie safety Jairus Byrd. Either would be the team's MVP, but the best player on a losing club doesn't make my list ahead of the best player on a postseason contender.

1. Wes Welker, Patriots receiver: He missed two games with an injury but still leads the NFL with 105 catches and is second with 1,158 receiving yards. He is Tom Brady's go-to target and makes the offense hum.

2. Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback: He's the best defender on the league's best total defense and best passing defense. Revis has evolved into one of the game's top two or three shutdown cornerbacks. He might be best of them all. His coverage allows the Jets to take risks elsewhere on the field.

3. Ricky Williams, Dolphins running back: When top running back Ronnie Brown suffered a broken foot in Week 10, everyone assumed the Dolphins' offense was doomed, that a 32-year-old wouldn't be able to shoulder the load. Williams has rushed for over 100 yards four times in his past five games and is 25 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.

4. Thomas Jones, Jets running back: He's the foundation for the NFL's top-rated rushing offense. Jones is second to Chris Johnson in AFC rushing with 1,167 yards. Jones is tied for third in the league with 11 rushing touchdowns.

5. Vince Wilfork, Patriots nose tackle: It's difficult to measure the worth of an elite nose tackle. They don't record many tackles or sacks. They're often occupying two, sometimes three blockers. Without Wilfork, however, the Patriots' defense would be a disaster.

Film guru sees nothing amiss with Moss

December, 16, 2009
12/16/09
11:04
AM ET
Condemnation is rampant regarding Randy Moss' effort level.

Opponents, pundits and former players have been disparaging in their remarks after Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

[+] EnlargeMoss
Ronald C. Modra/Getty ImagesRandy Moss has taken some heat for his perceived lack of effort in Sunday's game against Carolina.
The Patriots won, but Moss caught only one pass and fumbled it away. He also appeared to give up on a pass the Panthers intercepted. Critics have been piling on since.

Boston Herald reporter Ian R. Rapoport has found a dissenting voice, a man known as one of the preeminent game film breaker-downers.

Greg Cosell, a 31-year veteran of NFL Films and executive producer of ESPN's "Edge NFL Matchup," watches more film than Gene Shalit and Leonard Maltin combined.

Cosell examined the tape from Sunday and didn't notice anything troublesome about Moss' effort.

"The general answer to your question is, I thought it was no different from Randy Moss than in any other game," Cosell told Rapoport. "In fact, early on, I thought his effort on run blocking was very good. I think you have to see this game in the context of how the Panthers chose to play defense. Before the snap, the Panthers removed Randy Moss from the game. That's why he wasn't targeted, not because he 'shut it down.' That had nothing to do with anything."

Cosell explained the Panthers played zone with a safety over Moss to remove him from the game and leaving Wes Welker one-on-one.

In Rapoport's story, Cosell also gives his take on Moss' effort on each of the most disconcerting plays: the fumble, the interception and a key drop. It's highly recommended reading.

In writing this entry, I came across this 2003 New York Times profile on Cosell. The story explains what makes him more of an expert than most players.

"How do I say this without coming off as too arrogant or dismissive?'' Cosell told the New York Times. ''The players are in the loop their whole careers, but then they leave for TV and slowly they stop looking at films and rely on their memories.

''Here, every week, we get the coaches' tapes, the ones the coach and his assistants study. I look at them over and over every week for 'Matchup.' If I need to, I call the coach, too. It is like going to school in pro football every week. And I love pro football.''

Ones that got away in the AFC East

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
4:19
PM ET
During my segment Tuesday morning on ESPN's "First Take," host Dana Jacobson asked which game will be known as the most regrettable loss in the AFC East this year.

I threw several candidates out there and thought this would be a good space to take a closer look at the heartbreakers.

There still are three weeks remaining in the regular season, but only one more intra-division game: the New England Patriots at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

It's a safe bet one of the following -- listed by team and in order of pain inflicted -- will be known as the most costly.

New York Jets

Week 6 versus Bills: The Jets rush for 318 yards, but Mark Sanchez throws five of the Jets' six interceptions in a 16-13 overtime loss.

Week 5 at Miami Dolphins: The NFL's eventual No. 1 defense yields 413 yards and surrenders the last points in a fourth quarter that features five lead-changing touchdowns. Darrelle Revis, the NFL's best cornerback, gives up a 53-yard touchdown catch to Ted Ginn.

Week 8 at Dolphins: The Dolphins gain 104 yards from scrimmage but win because Ginn becomes the first in NFL history to return two kickoffs at least 100 yards for touchdowns in the same game. Jason Taylor adds a fumble return for a touchdown, and the Dolphins win by five.

Miami Dolphins

Week 12 at Bills: With a chance to get above .500, the Dolphins take a lead into the fourth quarter, and the game is tied with four minutes to play. But quarterback Chad Henne throws three interceptions in the final 2:43, and the Bills blow it wide open.

Week 2 versus Colts: The Dolphins amass 403 yards and hold onto the ball for an astounding 45:07. But 32 seconds after Dan Carpenter kicks a field goal to put the Dolphins up with 3:50 to play, Peyton Manning connects with Pierre Garcon for the winning touchdown.

Week 7 versus Saints: The Dolphins spring to a 21-point lead in the first half. The Saints salt it away, scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter to win 46-34. A victory over the Saints -- or the Colts in Week 2 -- would change the complexion of Miami's year.

New England Patriots

Week 13 at Dolphins: In the second quarter, Bill Belichick chooses to go for it on fourth-and-1 inside the Dolphins' 10-yard line and fails. Tom Brady throws a red zone interception in the fourth quarter. Carpenter kicks a field goal with 62 seconds to play. Dolphins win 22-21.

Week 10 at Colts: Belichick infamously goes for it on fourth-and-2 from New England's 28-yard line. The Patriots fail. Manning, with a short field, throws a touchdown pass four plays later for a 35-34 victory.

Week 5 at Denver Broncos: The Patriots lead 17-7 at the half, about as close to an automatic victory as you can get given their track record. But the Broncos score a touchdown with 5:21 remaining to send the game into overtime. Matt Prater's winning kick is the Broncos' first lead of the day.

Big move: Belichick stands up for his boys

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
2:44
PM ET
In a classic maneuver that could swing sentiment in the New England Patriots' locker room at just the right time, Bill Belichick unleashed a couple of uncharacteristically colorful salvos at Carolina Panthers defensive backs Chris Gamble and Chris Harris for ridiculing one of his guys.

Belichick
Gamble and Harris were critical of Patriots receiver Randy Moss, essentially claiming they got him to quit on plays Sunday in Gillette Stadium. The Patriots beats the Panthers 20-10, but Moss had one catch for 16 yards and a lost fumble.

"My response would be that's a lot of conversation coming from a team that just lost another game," Belichick said at his Monday news conference.

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss attended Belichick's Q&A session, which included defense of Moss and another shot at Gamble and Harris later.

"I have a lot of respect for Randy," Belichick said. "I think he's one of our best players, and I think if you watch other teams defend him and watch other teams play against him, they think the same way -- other than these two guys from Carolina after they lost another game. I guess they don't think that way. They haven't won a lot of games now."

So the message that will resonate with the younger players in the Patriots' locker room is this:

Bill might be tough on us, but when an outsider wants to make an example of us, he'll have our backs.

Next up for the Patriots: the Buffalo Bills, who won't be sending Gamble or Harris a Christmas card this year.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFL SCOREBOARD