AFC East no longer a two-team race as Bills continue early-season charge
By: Athlon Sports | 9/26/11, 12:53 PM EDT
Going into this NFL season the general consensus among the so-called "experts" was that the AFC East would be a two-team race between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins lagging considerably behind. Well, to this point, the Bills aren't following the script, if you will, as they are atop the division standings joining the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and another team on the rise, the Detroit Lions, as the only undefeated teams remaining.
The Bills got to this point by beating the Patriots 34-31 on Sunday in Buffalo, snapping a 15-game losing streak to their divisional foe. Just like they did against the Oakland Raiders last week, the Bills came storming back after falling behind and basically beat the Patriots at their own game — plenty of offense and key turnovers.
Behind Tom Brady and Wes Welker, the Patriots jumped out to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bills never gave in and responded with 17 unanswered points, and then scored 17 more in the fourth quarter, capped off by Rian Lindell's game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired.
Brady (387 yards passing, 4 TDs) continued to add to his record-setting early-season numbers, as he broke the NFL record for most yards passing in the first three games. But he also was picked off four times, which matched his career worst for interceptions in a game. Three of the interceptions came in the second half, including one by Drayton Florence that was returned for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Ryan Fitzpatrick more than held his own against Tom Terrific as the recently-minted "Amish Rifle" threw for 369 yards and two scores of his own. More importantly, Fitzpatrick threw just two picks and directed the Bills' fourth-quarter comeback.
It's no surprise that the Patriots have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL as they lead the league in total offense and passing yards. What is surprising is that the Bills currently rank third (tied with the Dallas Cowboys who are playing the Washington Redskins tonight) in total offense, fourth in rushing yards per game and is No. 1 in points scored. That's a far cry from last year, when they finished 25th in total offense and 28th in points scored.
And while neither defense is anywhere near the top of the rankings right now in terms of total yards or points allowed, one thing that does have to be of concern for Bill Belichick is the fact that his Patriots are dead last in the league in passing defense. Through three games, the Pats have given up a mind-boggling 377 yards per game through the air. For comparison, the Jets have given up roughly half that many passing yards (189) per game.
And what of the Jets, you ask? Well Rex Ryan and Gang Green are licking their own wounds coming off a 34-24 defeat to the Raiders in Oakland. The Jets have been stingy when it comes to pass defense, but are having problems stopping the run as Darren McFadden gorged them for 171 yards on nine yards a carry yesterday.
Mark Sanchez has been fairly effective early on, but the Jets' inability to get anything going on the ground (100 total yards rushing, four yards per carry), meant Sanchez dropped back early and often to the tune of 43 pass attempts. The flip side of a pass-heavy game plan combined with injuries on the offensive line is that Sanchez was sacked four times and hit another six by the Raiders — the exact same totals the Cowboys had on him in Week 1.
Sanchez, who may have suffered a broken nose in yesterday's game, has already finished each game with a possible injury, a disturbing trend to say the least. Contrast that with Fitzpatrick, who has been sacked just twice in the first three games or Brady, who has gone down just three times.
Granted, it's just three games, but the early-season results are certainly encouraging when it comes to the Bills and people are starting to pay attention. The Bills will have their chance to continue to impress as match ups with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants loom following next week's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Looking further ahead, the Bills will get their first crack at the Jets in Week 9 with a chance to go 2-0 against the supposed top two teams in their division. And who knows, if the Bills can sustain their early-season success, perhaps their regular-season finale on New Year's Day against the Patriots will, for the first time in many years, actually matter. If that's the case, you can bet everyone will be watching, especially the so-called "experts."
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