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NFL Preview - Miami (2-4) at N.Y. Jets (4-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - For the Miami Dolphins, it was a snippet of life as the New York Jets.
For 30 minutes last weekend, Coach Tony Sparano and Co. were the talk of the NFL, staring down an unbeaten New Orleans Saints team en route to a 14-point lead at intermission.
But, as the Jets' dive from 3-0 September to 1-3 October shows, reality can be awfully turbulent.
The Dolphins were gashed for 302 yards and 36 points in the final two quarters, winding up with a 12-point loss that ended a two-game win streak, dropped them to last place in the AFC East and riled up the cynics who'd seemed to disappear after defeats of Buffalo and New York.
"The Dolphins' wounds today are deep, and they are self-inflicted, and that's the worst part of it," Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote wrote Monday. "It isn't just the 46-34 home loss to the New Orleans Saints or the 2-4 season record that results. It is that Miami had one of the NFL's best teams on the ropes, staggered, but it was the Dolphins who buckled and fell.
"There are no excuses for that - at least none a good team would dare offer. A punch to the team's heart, this one was. Defeats like this one devastate and demoralize. It is hard to imagine the season has much life left now in terms of a playoff possibility. It is easier to imagine Sunday as the unraveling point."
Five days before the game, Cote sounded a little different... even waxing optimistic about the Dolphins' chances to appear in a February title game bound for their home stadium.
"Thinking Super Bowl might sound ludicrous at 2-3, but Miami does control its fate in the AFC East, as the only division team without a loss," he said. "Three more victories in a row, a huge task but plausible until proved otherwise, would put that hometown Super Bowl in faint view for the first time, and make it begin to seem almost within reach, too."
With a reversal like that, if not for the palm trees and trade winds, you'd swear you were in Newark.
As Miami's rivals can attest, the treatment in suburban Gotham is little easier.
After lauding rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez as "A Star is Born" after a Week 1 win in Houston, the New York Daily News devalued him to "Broadway Schmo" on its back page following a 16-13 loss to Buffalo that dropped the team back to .500 in Week 6.
Last week, even in the wake of a win in Oakland during which Sanchez completed 60 percent of his passes and emerged without a turnover, post-game commentary centered on CBS's spying of him munching a hot dog on the sidelines during the fourth quarter.
The treatment continued to Thursday, with a piece from beat writer Rich Cimini posted under the headline: "New York Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez makes food donation after Hot Dog Gate in Oakland."
In it, Jets coach Rex Ryan - who appears to have met very few hot dogs he didn't like - chimed in with his own scolding as well.
"I'm an old-school football guy," he said. "You're playing a great game of football. I know you're hungry, whatever, but leave that for the fans. You can go in the locker room and eat afterwards. I was disappointed."
The Jets hold a 46-40-1 lead in their all-time regular season series with Miami, including their 31-27 Monday night loss at Land Shark Stadium in Week 5. The teams embarked on an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. Gang Green was a 20-14 winner when it traveled to Dolphin Stadium in Week 1 of last season, and was officially knocked out of the AFC East race with a 24-17 loss to the Fins in Week 17. That result snapped a four-game losing streak for the Dolphins in series road games.
In addition to their regular season history, the Jets and Dolphins met in the 1982 AFC Championship, which went to Miami by a 14-0 score.
Sparano is 2-1 against the Jets as a head coach, while New York's Ryan is 0-1 against both Sparano and Miami as a head coach.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Just a hunch here, but there's a chance Miami might go to that "Wildcat" thing once or twice. The team's paradigm-shifting offensive set ran roughshod over the Jets in the teams' first meeting on Oct. 12, in which Ronnie Brown plunged in from 2 yards out with six seconds remaining. Brown carried 21 times for 74 yards and completed a pass for 21 more in the first go-round, while backfield mate Ricky Williams averaged 6.2 yards per carry over 11 attempts. The game was start No. 1 in the brief career of quarterback Chad Henne, who took over when Chad Pennington went down for the season with a shoulder injury. Henne was positively Marino-like in completing 20-of-26 passes for 241 yards against New York, but moved closer to Joey Harrington territory last week with an 18-for-36 effort that yielded no touchdowns and saw him intercepted twice. Among the targets, much talk this week has focused on the role of heralded former first- round draft pick Ted Ginn Jr., who didn't work with either the first- or second-team offenses during the media portion of Wednesday's practice. Ginn has five catches for 77 yards in the team's last four games.
To be sure, the trash-talking Jets are still smarting from the beat-down in Miami, which marked the first time an opponent had gone up and down the field against them after previously stellar performances against Houston, New England, Tennessee and New Orleans. Though he's since been lost for the season with a knee injury, mammoth tackle Kris Jenkins referred to the loss as a "big dose of shut up." They've collectively tightened the ranks since, allowing three field goals and a touchdown a week later against Buffalo, then blanking the Raiders last week while recording three sacks - all by linebacker Calvin Pace - and forced four turnovers. It was New York's first shutout since Dec. 14, 2003 against Pittsburgh. For the season, the Jets are allowing an average of 297.6 yards per game and 4.8 yards per play. They're led statistically by Pace's three sacks and two interceptions by cornerback Darrelle Revis. Linebacker David Harris, who is second in both sacks (2.5) and interceptions (1), leads the team with 60 tackles through seven games.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
After already experiencing the roles of high school superstar and college phenom, as well as professional hero and goat, Sanchez tried a "game manager" cloak on against Oakland and seemed to thrive. His aforementioned numbers lifted him to a 52.8 percent completion rate on the season, though he's still thrown just six touchdowns against a league-worst 10 interceptions - eight of which came in two games against the Bills and Saints. In his reduced role, the USC product spent most of his time handing the ball to either Thomas Jones or rookie Shonn Greene, who combined for 265 yards and helped the Jets become the first team with 300-plus on the ground in consecutive weeks since the 1975 Buffalo Bills. It didn't come without a price, however, as versatile Leon Washington was lost for the season with a gruesome compound fracture of the right leg. Greene, a rookie from Iowa, figures to see consistently increased playing time, while the Jets signed ex-Pro Bowler Justin Miller as Washington's fill-in on kick returns. Among the receivers, extra wideouts David Clowney and Brad Smith are still listed as questionable, though starters Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are expected at full strength after nursing injuries the last two weeks.
The question largely comes down to which Dolphin defense will show up - the one that held prolific New Orleans to just 10 points in the first half, or the one that was exposed for big numbers in the second? One certainty is that veteran cornerback Will Allen will have no impact on the answer after a left knee injury against the Saints shelved him for the season and prompted Miami to sign linebacker William Kershaw to fill out the ranks. First-round draft pick Vontae Davis will likely step into Allen's starting spot at left corner, giving the Dolphins two rookies at that position, with second-round pick Sean Smith on the right side. Also on the dinged-up list defensively are tackle Jason Ferguson (foot) and linebacker Channing Crowder (shoulder), both of whom are listed as questionable for Sunday. Statistically speaking, the Dolphins have allowed 320.2 yards per game through six games and 5.7 yards per play, eventually resulting in an overall 152-146 deficit on the scoreboard - a gap which widens to 142-108 when a 28-point defeat of Buffalo is eliminated. Veteran Jason Taylor has 5.5 of the team's 17 sacks, while the injured Allen's two interceptions lead the unit. Yeremiah Bell is tops in tackles with 43, followed by Gibril Wilson with 37.
With inexperienced quarterbacks fighting turnover bugs, the runners will take center stage. Brown and Williams for Miami and Jones and Greene for the Jets are must-plays if you have them. Anything outside of that on either offense is a hunch bet. And with the sometimes balky quarterback play goes the chance that a defense will shine, so proceed with only mild caution in using either the Dolphins' unit or New York's. After the teams combined for 58 points last time, either kicker should be busy, too.
If revenge and shell-shock are any factor, the Jets have a pair of advantages. Coming home to what ought to be a raucous New Jersey crowd will help with the former, while the Dolphins' reaction to last week's post-half meltdown will address the latter. In the larger picture, it's another chance for defensive guru Ryan to prove his worth after the ugliness in south Florida.
Score one for motivation by shame.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 24, Dolphins 14.
10/29 14:04:18 ET
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