Which direction for AFC East?
Few conclusions can be drawn after Week 1 of the National Football League season, but after AFC East play had concluded yesterday it seemed New England and New York could be the most complete teams, and that Buffalo and Miami are offensively challenged.
The Jets' 31-24 win over the Bengals was impressive enough to make one believe they'll be a factor in the AFC race. That's a definite if Curtis Martin continues to run with the authority he did yesterday (196 yards on 29 carries, two touchdowns); if the accurate Chad Pennington (20 for 27, 224 yards, 2 TDs) stays healthy; and if a much-faster defense can stay together.
It seems like the Jets made a great free agent acquisition in guard Pete Kendall. He has added some attitude to the team's mindset, in lockstep with the emotional and sometimes reckless center Kevin Mawae -- not to mention Kendall's toughness in opening holes in the run game.
And, sorry Patriots fans, but the talk of Dewayne Robertson being a bust was premature. His stuff of Rudi Johnson for a loss of 6 yards in yesterday's game was a good example of how he's improved.
Robertson consistently pushed the pocket back on Carson Palmer, and along with Jason Ferguson gives the Jets a potent interior line. That should benefit pass rusher John Abraham. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Vilma seems to have added a dimension to the Jets' run pursuit because of his sideline-to-sideline speed.
Are there problems?
As much as there's concern about the Patriots' run defense, there are questions about the Jets' secondary. Rookie safety Erik Coleman made a nice interception of a Palmer pass to seal the game, but Palmer was able to find soft spots in the Jets' zone. The Bengals are a good team with an explosive offense, and Palmer nearly led them back.
The story of the game was Martin, who has promised a 1,500-yard season. You've heard Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick, and Herm Edwards refer to Martin as special. That's because he is. Now in his 10th season, wondering when Martin was going to slow down and give way to LaMont Jordan has been a sport all its own. But after yesterday, it's hard to say when Jordan will get off the bench.
Martin had that first-step burst, likely a result of training by running up and down 200 steps at Santa Monica Beach this offseason. He hit the holes like he did when he was younger, and began to back up every word he said in the exhibition season, when he said he wanted to be a big factor in the Jets winning a Super Bowl. When Martin is running like that, the Jets will win a lot of games.
"He looked like about 19," said Jets receiver Santana Moss. "Curtis looked fresh. He was rolling. His preseason was phenomenal. This year, the way he went through camp, you knew something good was going to come out of it."
"In four years here, this is my first opening-day win," said a happy Edwards. "It feels good. I'm proud of the way my men played today. I couldn't ask for more."
In losing, 13-10, to the Jaguars, the Bills showed that their defense is as tough as advertised. But when the game was on the line, they allowed Byron Leftwich to burn them on the final series. On a last-gasp fourth and 14, Leftwich hit Jimmy Smith for a 45-yard gain down the left side, with defenders all around. It was a great play by Smith, but how can a defense allow that catch? Jacksonville scored with no time left.
Buffalo's offense scored only one touchdown -- a 17-yard pass from Drew Bledsoe to a wide-open Eric Moulds in the first quarter. Bledsoe didn't mess things up (he didn't throw any interceptions), but he didn't win the game either, with only 153 passing yards.
"I'm a little bit in shock," Bledsoe said after the heart-breaker. "I felt we were in control the whole way. I came into this game in the belief that we were a very good football team, and I leave the stadium with the same belief."
"We are a good football team," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey. "I hope this is a great lesson learned. I'm going to find a positive. When I put on that game tape, they're going to see what we're capable of."
Missed opportunities and penalties killed Buffalo.
Bledsoe was sacked once, but of course it came on a third and goal from the 1 early in the fourth quarter for a 6-yard loss, forcing Rian Lindell's 25-yard field goal. Also in the fourth, the Bills had a third and 2 at the Jaguars' 7 before Moulds fumbled it away.
They also had third and 1 from the Jacksonville 24 with 2:45 remaining, and seemed to have made the first down that likely would have sealed the win. But the Bills were called for holding. Another 5-yard penalty pushed them out of field goal range, and they had to punt back to the Jaguars, who made them pay.
Mularkey's new offense has stressed getting rid of the ball fast, and avoiding big sacks and costly mistakes, but that may have cost Bledsoe his ability to make a big play down the field. The Bills are going to have to find a happy medium, or they again might be placing too much pressure on their defense to win the game.
It's an understatement to say the Dolphins are in disarray.
The loss of Ricky Williams was evident Saturday as Travis Minor and newly acquired Lamar Gordon (who missed a couple of blitz pickups) weren't even close facsimilies in a 17-7 loss to the Titans. With the burden on the quarterback, Jay Fiedler (two interceptions) had a bad first half and was yanked for A.J. Feeley, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 168 yards but threw a 37-yard interception for a score to Lamont Thompson.
Coach Dave Wannstedt named Feeley the starter Sunday against the Bengals.
Wannstedt's quick hook of Fiedler demonstrated his desperation.
A coach deciding after one half that the guy he named the starter can't do the job shows panic. Wannstedt should have named a starter and stuck with him for two or three games. Now he's doomed to keep switching if Feeley should falter.
"Whatever we have to do at any position, we're going to do it," said Wannstedt.
In a division with the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and the up-and-coming Jets, it would appear the Bills and Dolphins can ill afford many more misfires on offense.
Material from wire services was used in this report.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.