NFL Preview - Jacksonville (2-9) at Buffalo (4-7)|
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Chad Henne ... come on down.
You're the next contestant on the NFL's long-running game show, "Play well
enough in the final few weeks of the season and the quarterback job is yours!"
A washout in Miami after four decidedly-less-than-Marino-like seasons with the
Dolphins, Henne made his way up Florida's Atlantic Coast to land a gig with
the Jacksonville Jaguars which began with him backing up last year's first-
round draft pick, Blaine Gabbert.
But since Gabbert was shelved with a shoulder injury a few weeks back, the
former second-round selection out of Michigan has looked every bit the part of
an NFL first-stringer.
The next reel of his 2013 audition tape comes on the road this weekend against
the Buffalo Bills.
In two games, Henne has completed nearly 56 percent of 59 passes, thrown for
615 yards and six touchdowns and has just one interception while jolting what
had been a by-all-accounts dreadful Jacksonville offense.
The Jaguars nearly toppled one-loss Houston in his initial fill-in time for
Gabbert on Nov. 18, then scored their second win of the season last week with
a 24-19 defeat of Tennessee.
In the win, Henne was 17 of 26 for 261 yards, two TDs and the one INT. And in
two games with him, the offense has averaged 30.5 points and 289.5 total
yards. Without him through nine games, the averages were 14.1 and 263.6,
"He's made some good throws and some good reads for us," Jacksonville coach
Mike Mularkey said. "He, too, has things he can get better at in both games
that he's played so far, but he's being very smart with the ball, especially
in the pocket."
Wideouts Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon combined for nine catches, 167 yards
and two touchdowns against the Titans. Shorts broke a Keenan McCardell/Jimmy
Smith franchise record against Tennessee with his fourth catch of the season
of 50 yards or more, while Blackmon, a first-round pick in April, had seven
catches for 236 yards against Houston.
Also with Henne, veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis has seven catches for 96
yards and two scores.
"It just seems that everything is clicking right now," Blackmon said.
Passing has been a necessary outlet for the Jaguars in the prolonged absence
of running back Maurice Jones-Drew with an injured foot. His fill-in, Rashad
Jennings, has gone for just 2.8 yards a carry.
On the other side, Buffalo's defense has ugly season-long averages of 29
points and 380.5 yards allowed per game, but they've solidified recently in
games against Miami and Indianapolis -- holding the pair to a combined 34
points and less than 500 total yards.
Injuries could play a role this week with the iffy statuses of ends Chris
Kelsay (neck) and Mark Anderson (knee) and cornerback Aaron Williams (knee).
Buffalo has lost four of five and is close to falling out of the playoff race
for a 13th straight season.
"I don't really want to project or talk about the next however many games we
have left," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "It's all about 'Go get back to
work and try to win next week.' It's all we can worry about."
Fitzpatrick threw for 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a seven-
point loss at Indianapolis last week. Wideout Steve Johnson was the recipient
of six balls for 106 of those yards while reaching triple digits for the first
time this season.
On the ground, C.J. Spiller got to 107 yards, marking the sixth straight week
he's generated at least 100 from scrimmage. It's the longest such streak for a
Bills player since Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas in the early 1990s.
Still, while the defense has improved, an offense which had been prolific
through four games has seen its points and yards drop significantly since. In
its last 25 red-zone opportunities, Buffalo has failed to score four times and
actually reached the end zone only nine, while settling for 12 field goals.
In fact, it's 45.7 percent red-zone touchdown rate overall is 25th in the NFL.
The Jacksonville defense, with 28 points and 410.5 yards allowed per week, has
been no stalwart either, but reinforcement arrived this week in the form of
two-time Pro Bowl end Jason Babin, who was picked up after being waived by
Babin had 18 sacks for the Eagles last season, but just 5 1/2 this year.
"We're trying to win and we're doing whatever we can to improve our roster,"
The all-time series is tied, 5-5, but the Jaguars have won three of the past
four games, including a 36-26 triumph in Buffalo in 2010. Bills coach Chan
Gailey is 0-1 against Jacksonville and Mularkey has never faced the Bills,
whom he coached in 2004 and 2005.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Bills have struggled to limit any opponent's ground games, as evidenced by
the 147.3 yards they allow each week -- 31st in the league -- but they may not
have to raise the level much against a dinged-up Jaguars rushing unit.
Without Jones-Drew, Jennings has been a relative non-factor and Jalen Parmele
injured a leg last week, which doesn't help. With that threat reduced
significantly, expect Buffalo to position more personnel to stop Henne, whom
they're intimately familiar with after facing him twice a year with Miami.
The most optimistic pickers believed in Henne enough last week to select the
Jags to beat the Titans and they were ultimately rewarded. More may climb on
board this week in Buffalo, but the prospect of a road game in iffy weather
against a foe familiar with Henne's game is an iffy proposition. The guess
here is the he reverts back to form enough to give the Bills a close one.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 17, Jaguars 14
11/29 13:12:15 ET