NFL Nation: Saints-Dolphins 102509

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

A few days ago, I asked readers to submit their votes for the most absurd AFC East outcome through the first half of 2009.

 
 AP Photo/Mike Groll
 The ugly Buffalo-Cleveland game in Week 5 was a tough loss for Bills fans to endure.
While the comments section beneath that blog quickly turned into a trash-talking session between New York Jets and Miami Dolphins fans, a few readers actually attempted to make cases for the game they felt was supremely ridiculous.

The most compelling cases were made for the Week 5 disaster between the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

That catastrophe deserved to end in a tie, but the Browns won 6-3 thanks to a muffed punt deep in Bills territory in the final minutes. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson completed 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards. His 11.8 percent completion percentage was the second-worst for a winning quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger.

Coming in second was the Indianapolis Colts' 27-23 victory over the Dolphins in Week 2. The Colts became the first team since time of possession became an official stat in 1970 to win while holding the ball for less than 15 minutes. The Colts ran only 35 plays.

Here are some of the better submissions on the subject:

Jesse in Omaha wrote into the AFC East mailbag that the Browns-Bills game "was the lowest point I've had as a fan in a long time. Even if I were a Jets fan during the loss to the lowly Bills, at least I could stand by the fact that the opposing team tried to win the game. I'm not convinced Cleveland wanted to beat Buffalo that day."

In the comments section, glui8 declared the Browns-Bills was, "hands down, the most absurd result. Not only was it the worst football game I've ever seen played, whether it be Pop Warner, high school, college or pro, but the losing team (and this is the reason I'm picking it as the most absurd) got beat by a quarterback that completed two, yes, two passes for a whopping total of 23 yards. THAT IS ABSURD and, in my opinion, is way worse than any of the other games nominated."

DolflyerpacerV316 added: "Gotta be the Browns-Bills game. Seriously, they lost to the Browns? Who does that? How they only scored three on the Browns is the first mystery, but losing to them? That just defines absurd!"

Also in the comments section, mrf042579 weighed in: "I'm going to have to vote for the Colts-Dolphins game. As a Bills fan, I am tempted to vote for any of their games, but in all honesty, how do you lose a game when your opponent runs 35 plays and has the ball less than 15 minutes?"

There was no doubt in stevejdolphin's mind: "It was easily the Dolphins-Colts game. I watched that game, and the way the Dolphins completely controlled the pace of the game while their offense was on the field was incredible. This also needs to be put in perspective with all the coaching changes the Colts had in the off-season. This was the second week of the season, and the Colts had struggled the week before against the Jaguars. They didn't have their second-best receiver in Anthony Gonzalez. For Peyton Manning to pull out a win with everything stacked against him is impossible. It happened and it was without a doubt the most absurd AFC East result."

SportsFan1236 made the case for another game, going with the Dolphins frittering a 21-point first-half lead against the Saints: "They went from dominant to dominated. Sorry, but that was the most pathetic loss of the year. To lose a game in a final minutes is bad, but to lose your momentum and such a huge lead right before half is horrible. Could have beat one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the league and choked it away."

To refresh your memories, here are the thumbnails from the other runners-up:

Week 1: Patriots 25, Bills 24. The Bills don't trail for almost 59 minutes, but Leodis McKelvin fumbles a kickoff inside the final two minutes, setting up Tom Brady with a short field. Brady throws his second touchdown in a span of 1:16 to escape with a dramatic victory.

Week 4: Saints 24, Jets 10. The Jets' offense gives up more points than it scores and more points than its defense allows. The Saints score touchdowns on two of Mark Sanchez's four turnovers.

Week 6: Bills 16, Jets 13 (OT). The Bills allow 318 rushing yards, second-most in Jets history. Thomas Jones runs for the most yards of his career, setting a Jets record. His 210 yards are the fifth most in a defeat since the merger. But the Jets throw six interceptions, five of them by Sanchez.

Week 7: Saints 46, Dolphins 34. The Dolphins hold a 21-point lead for the first 29 minutes of the game but collapse the rest of the way, giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter to become the first team in 22 years to blow a 21-point lead and lose by at least a dozen.

Week 8: Dolphins 30, Jets 25. A sublime Jets defense holds the Dolphins to 104 total yards (third fewest in franchise history) and 1.9 yards per pass attempt. The Dolphins score one offensive touchdown, but two Ted Ginn kickoff returns and a Jason Taylor fumble return -- all in the third quarter -- make the difference.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Nowhere else in sports have stats been more irrelevant than in the AFC East, where illogical verdicts have been rendered on a near-weekly basis.

The Miami Dolphins have had their share but came out ahead for a change Sunday by gaining 104 yards in a victory over the New York Jets, just the latest in a growing collection of incredible results relative to the box score.

There have been enough of these crazy outcomes to put them up for a vote. Take a look at the seven candidates below and then submit your vote and your reasoning in the comments section. I will tally them up and compile the most compelling arguments for a blog entry later in the week that reveals your pick for the most absurd game through the first half of the 2009 season.
 
 Geoff Burke/US Presswire
 There have been several outcomes in the AFC East this season, including the Jets’ Week 6 loss to the Bills, that defied statistical probability.


Not sure if this explains anything, but I attended six of the seven games.

Week 1: Patriots 25, Bills 24. The Bills don't trail for almost 59 minutes, but Leodis McKelvin fumbles a kickoff inside the final two minutes, setting up Tom Brady with a short field. Brady throws his second touchdown in a span of 1:16 to escape with a dramatic victory.

Week 2: Colts 27, Dolphins 23. The Colts run only 35 offensive plays because the Dolphins hold the ball for an amazing 45:07. But the Colts average an obnoxious 10.7 yards per snap and 12.3 yards per pass attempt, becoming the first team to win with a recorded time of possession of less than 15 minutes.

Week 4: Saints 24, Jets 10. The Jets' offense gives up more points than it scores and more points than its defense allows. The Saints score touchdowns on two of Mark Sanchez's four turnovers.

Week 5: Browns 6, Bills 3. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson starts, plays the entire game and completes two passes for 23 yards. His 11.8 completion percentage is the second-worst since the NFL-AFL merger for a winning quarterback with at least 15 attempts.

Week 6: Bills 16, Jets 13 (OT). The Bills allow 318 rushing yards, second-most in Jets history. Thomas Jones runs for the most yards of his career, setting a Jets record. His 210 yards are the fifth most in a defeat since the merger. But the Jets throw six interceptions, five of them by Sanchez.

Week 7: Saints 46, Dolphins 34. The Dolphins hold a 21-point lead for the first 29 minutes of the game but collapse the rest of the way, giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter to become the first team in 22 years to blow a 21-point lead and lose by at least a dozen.

Week 8: Dolphins 30, Jets 25. A sublime Jets defense holds the Dolphins to 104 total yards (third fewest in franchise history) and 1.9 yards per pass attempt. The Dolphins score one offensive touchdown, but two Ted Ginn kickoff returns and a Jason Taylor fumble return -- all in the third quarter -- make the difference.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Falling

Ginn
1. Ted Ginn, Dolphins receiver: All signs point to the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft watching a lot more plays from the sideline while rookie Brian Hartline gets more snaps. Nobody on the roster possesses Ginn's speed, but half the roster has better hands. It would be hard to find another Dolphin who can't maintain better focus.

Ginn was sensational in getting behind Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis for a 53-yard touchdown to help beat the Jets in Week 6. But the bobbles and timidity have irked the Dolphins far too often. Saints safety Darren Sharper snagged one of his drops and returned it for a touchdown Sunday. Ginn flubbed another pass that would have been a first down with three minutes left in the game.

Owens
2. Terrell Owens, Bills receiver: Bills fans are about done with T.O. Through seven games, he has 18 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown. Those stats can be explained away by erratic quarterback play and general offensive chaos.

Not even the most ardent Owens apologist can excuse the continual drops and what appears to be a lack of effort on some plays. And if he's not dogging it, then Owens has lost a step and simply is showing his age.

Mankins
3. Logan Mankins, Patriots left guard: He went into Wembley Stadium with one penalty all season. Mankins committed four penalties in an easy victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- three false starts and one holding.

One of his false starts turned a third-and-1 into a third-and-5 the Patriots failed to convert. Mankins' holding penalty put the Patriots in a second-and-20 situation. Two plays later, the Buccaneers sacked Tom Brady.

Rising

Greene
1. Shonn Greene, Jets running back: In his first substantial NFL action because Leon Washington went down with a broken leg, Greene showed why the Jets traded up so they could open the second day of the draft with the hard-charger from Iowa.

Greene stepped in and propelled the Jets to their second straight 300-yard rushing game with Thomas Jones. Green recorded the third-best performance by a rookie running back in Jets history: 19 carries for a game-high 144 yards and two touchdowns. His 6.7-yard season average ranks third among all NFL backs with at least seven carries.

Byrd
2. Jairus Byrd, Bills safety: He's just a rookie, but the son of former Chargers defensive back Gill Byrd has been a revelation for a team that hasn't had many players step up on a regular basis.

Jairus Byrd has five interceptions, all in the past three games. The only player with more is Saints star Darren Sharper. Byrd, a second-round pick out of Oregon, intercepted Jake Delhomme twice Sunday to help the Bills win their second straight game.

Pace
3. Calvin Pace, Jets outside linebacker: Pace finally had his big welcome-back game. He served a suspension the first four games of the season. The Jets lost his first two games back. They won big on Sunday, and Pace was a factor.

All he did was record three sacks, two forced fumbles and pass defensed. He unofficially was credited with a team-high seven tackles.
 
 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 Dolphins coach Tony Sparano called the timeout that helped the Saints get back into the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Everything was going right for the Miami Dolphins. Almost everything. Enough of everything to be in total command over the New Orleans Saints.

The Dolphins were forcing turnovers, ripping off untouchable runs, wringing the league's best quarterback and most powerful offense Sunday in Land Shark Stadium.

The Dolphins were working over the mighty Saints, up by 21 points heading toward halftime.

"It was ours," Dolphins running back Ricky Williams said of the momentum, a surge he helped create with touchdown runs of 4 and 68 yards on back-to-back carries in the first quarter.

Then the Saints hit one play. Drew Brees threw deep down the seam to Marques Colston for a 20-yard gain. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field. The replay booth reviewed it, and found Colston was down at the 6-inch line with five ticks left. The Saints had no timeouts. The clock would start running as soon as the ball was set. Kicker John Carney and holder Mark Brunell were taking their marks.

But the Dolphins called a timeout. What a break for the Saints. Brees and the rest of the offense charged off the sideline like a scene out of "Braveheart." Brees crashed into the end zone -- not for a field goal, but a touchdown -- with two seconds left on the clock.

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A game-changing touchdown. The type of touchdown that boomerangs momentum. The type of touchdown that was worth so much more than four bonus points.

"It was a turning point," Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell said. "They got seven points instead of three. That hurts, too. I don't really know what happened in that situation, but it happened.

"It ended up turning out pretty bad for us in the second half."

New Orleans dominated, crumpling up Miami's hopes like a candy wrapper.

Thirty-six points later, the Saints finished well ahead of the Dolphins, 46-34.

"It just seemed like they took off," Bell said.

Dolfans will look at each result that makes up their team's 2-4 record and justify they should be 4-2, with a pair of victories over otherwise undefeated opponents. The Saints (6-0) and the Indianapolis Colts are among the elite this year, and the Dolphins should have beaten them both.

Yet they did not. As Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells once famously said, "You are what your record says you are."

The Dolphins choked away those games on their home field. Both defeats were epic in how they unraveled.

No team this year has blown a 21-point cushion and lost. The last time a team led by at least 21 points but lost by at least a dozen was 22 years ago, when the Saints beat the San Diego Chargers 41-24 after trailing 24-3.

The Colts loss was historic. They failed to win despite holding the ball for 45:07, the greatest time of possession for a loser since the stat became official in 1977.

Maybe the Dolphins are the NFL's best 2-4 club. They certainly were the best 0-3 team when they stumbled out of the gate.

The Dolphins have shown flashes of playoff-caliber football. They'll compete all season long, but if they think they're good enough to give away points and make the playoffs, they need a reality check.

They self-destruct. They miss way too many tackles (look up footage of safety Gibril Wilson) and drop way too many passes (Ted Ginn at the top of the list). They get eaten alive by tight ends. Young quarterback Chad Henne won't always play like an All-Pro (two interceptions returned for touchdowns Sunday). The Wildcat isn't unstoppable (Ronnie Brown: 16 carries for 48 yards). They commit too many silly penalties. Their injury list is growing. Top cornerback Will Allen left the game with a knee injury and reportedly will miss the rest of the season.

And on Sunday their coach made a rare gaffe that might have cost them the game.

Tony Sparano called the timeout that helped the Saints get back into the game.

"We played pretty well in the first half except for the last drive and kind of gave away some momentum there, allowed them to get a touchdown," Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "They should have had only a chance for a field goal there."

The Saints won much more comfortably than by the four points the Dolphins allotted them two seconds before halftime. But Sparano's decision to call a timeout and allow the Saints' potent offense back on the field was significant.

"If you could've been in here at halftime," Brees said of the Saints locker room, "it was 'Hey, we have them right where we want them.' To get to the six-inch line and come out of with a field goal would have been disappointing."

Saints coach Sean Payton said he intended to kick the field goal. Carney and Brunell were on the field for what they hoped would be an extra point, but when the replay spotted the ball outside the goal line and referee John Parry announced the clock would run as soon as the whistle blew, nobody in a black jersey flinched.

But Sparano did. He was emphatic in ordering linebacker Channing Crowder to call a timeout because "we wanted to be in the right personnel, and we called a time out to bring in the right personnel," Sparano said, even though he should have waited to see if Brees would sprint off the sideline to stop the clock. Brees wouldn't have.

"We were getting lined up," Carney said.

Brees claimed they were going to run it all along, but that comes off as wishful lobbying on his part. Besides, with the ball on the goal line and players on the sidelines not permitted to stand beyond the 35-yard line, all of the Saints offensive players would have needed to be world-class sprinters to get on the field, in formation and set for a second to either run a play or stop the clock.

"If no one calls timeout," Payton said, "they're going to whistle it ready for play and it's got to be snap, hold, kick. ... We were prepared to kick it initially. Obviously, we had enough time after the timeout was called to give some thought to that and change our minds."

Given the final score, would 24-6 at halftime been any safer for the Dolphins than 24-10? Does the second half fall apart the way it did if the Saints don't find a spark? There was an evident flicker after Brees plunged into the end zone. He reacted as though he were auditioning for the WWE.

"That is how they get hot," Dolphins nose tackle Jason Ferguson said. "So that's what they did."

There's no guarantee Carney even makes the field goal. He missed an extra point later in the game.

But the touchdown happened. Both sides believed it swung momentum and transformed the game.

"We can't give a team that chance, and this is our second time getting a learning experience from that," Ferguson said. "I am sure it's in our heads, but we have to fix it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Drew Brees looks very un-MVP-like.

The Miami Dolphins are giving Brees fits here at Land Shark Stadium. The New Orleans Saints quarterback has thrown two interceptions, one that sailed long to Dolphins safety Tyrone Culver and nearly returned for a touchdown, and another that was tipped at the line by blitzing safety Gibril Wilson and caught by linebacker Reggie Torbor.

The Dolphins turned both interceptions into touchdowns and lead 24-3 with 8:55 to go in the first half. Brees has 22 yards passing.

Ricky Williams, who scored on back-to-back carries, punched it in one play after Culver's interception to put the Saints behind on the scoreboard for the first time this year. Williams also scored on a career-long 68-yard dash one Dolphins snap later.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 23, 2009
10/23/09
4:07
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Mark Sanchez is coming off of a five-interception game against the Bills.
Mark Sanchez better outperform JaMarcus Russell. In 20 years, Sanchez can only hope he looks back on last Sunday's five-interception nightmare as the worst day of his NFL career. But in reality, the New York Jets rookie will have many more opportunities to turn in a worse performance.

This week, Sanchez will be on the same field as Russell, the embodiment of awful quarterbacking. Russell, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007, already has been slapped with the "bust" label. If Russell outplays Sanchez, Jets fans will be calling for Kellen Clemens.

The key to victory for the Buffalo Bills is getting Jake Delhomme to throw. But can they? Delhomme and Sanchez are tied for the NFL lead in quarterback turnovers with 10 interceptions and two fumbles apiece. The Bills' defense proved it could catch when it snagged five interceptions -- and another on special teams -- against the Jets.

The problem, though, is that Delhomme might not throw often enough. The Carolina Panthers can run, and the Bills own a run defense that's projecting among one of the worst in league history. The Bills are allowing an average of 181 rushing yards a game. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have the Panthers ranked eighth in rushing offense.

The New England Patriots have recorded consecutive shutouts only once in franchise history. Not to jinx the Patriots' defense, but they would match a club record Sunday by blanking the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Wembley Stadium. The only other time the Patriots have recorded back-to-back shutouts was in December 1982 against the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.

The Patriots are facing their second straight winless opponent. They shelled the Tennessee Titans 59-0 last week in Gillette Stadium. Next up is a team that averages 14.8 points per game, 27th in the league. The New York Giants shut out the Buccaneers at home in Week 3.

The Dolphins need to hit the turf running out of their bye week. There won't be any time to wade back into the season. They get to play the undefeated New Orleans Saints.

The Dolphins had built up some nice momentum. After an alarming 0-3 start, the Dolphins climbed back to divisional relevance with confidence-restoring victories over the Bills and Jets.

Just as the Dolphins were getting rewarded for their efforts, the NFL forced them to take a Sunday off. The extra week of first-team reps no doubt will help quarterback Chad Henne get comfortable in the starter's role. But the Dolphins must avoid a slow start against the Saints and pick up where they left off.

Kris Jenkins' absence will force systemic changes to the Jets' defense. The behemoth nose tackle was so big he has his own gravitational pull. With Jenkins out of the lineup, the Jets' constellation will shift around, probably gravitating more to a 4-3 than the 3-4 scheme he anchored.

Jenkins is irreplaceable, and with nose tackle the keystone of a 3-4 defense, the wise move will be to change the front. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is a former defensive end.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Throughout the offseason, the commonly held belief among football observers was that defenses would catch up to the Wildcat offense and render it useless.

 
 AP Photo/J. Pat Carter
 Ronnie Brown is averaging 7.2 yards a play in the Wildcat formation.
Stats indicate otherwise.

The Miami Dolphins aren't staying just one step ahead of the competition. They're pulling away based on the numbers heading into Week 7.

In their six games, the Dolphins already have used the Wildcat about half as much as they did all last year, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams averaging more yards per carry.

"We have seen everything," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said of how defenses are lining up to snuff the Wildcat. "We have seen pressure. We have seen people making a conscience effort to set the edges of the defense, and we have seen people stack the box.

"It is crowded, but we have seen people leaving a safety in the middle of the field, thinking that what the answer is to us not throwing the football, people not worried about us throwing the football. Even fronts, odd fronts, we have seen it all -- over-shifted fronts. It is just a bunch of different things."

And none of it is working.

ESPN's Next Level stat crew keeps track of all that Wildcattiness and tells me Brown is averaging 7.2 yards a play (27 attempts for 194 yards), while Williams is averaging 6.2 yards per play (14 attempts for 88 yards).

Last year, Brown averaged 5.8 yards on 55 attempts. Williams averaged 5.6 yards on 27 carries.

Sparano recently said it all comes down to misdirection and not being able to key on any lead blocker. For example, defenses can't detect what's coming by watching the fullback because, in most cases, there isn't one.

"I think the Wildcat -- it takes you away from some of those things and gives you the misdirection," Sparano said. "In other words, you are not going to follow the fullback in the Wildcat and get the answer.

"Those kind of things, the kind of misdirection and the use of it -- strongside run, weakside run, downhill run -- I think that is what makes it most effective."

As for the criticisms from players such as New York Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace -- he said "I can't respect that stuff, all that Wildcat. We're in the NFL. Don't come here with that nonsense" -- Sparano's not about to apologize for a strategy defenses not only are failing to prevent, but also are getting worse at containing.

"I could care less what other people think of it," Sparano said.

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