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No offense: AFC East powerhouses struggle in preseason play

08.28.10 at 12:46 pm ET

For a division that’€™s billed as the most competitive in the NFL, it wasn’€™t the greatest 24 hours for the AFC East.

In the third week of the preseason ‘€” the week where the starters play the most and the intensity level most closely resembles the regular season ‘€” the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets all struggled while posting losses at home. One night after New England posted a 36-35 preseason loss to St. Louis on Thursday, Miami had issues of their own in a 16-6 defeat to Atlanta. Meanwhile, the New York Jets turned the ball over four times and suffered a 16-11 defeat to Washington on Friday.

In particular, in the final dress rehearsal for each starting offense, all three teams showed some vulnerabilities that must be addressed before the season opens in two weeks:

‘€¢After two impressive performances to open the preseason the Patriots’€™ starting offense was stuck in the mud for much of the first half against St. Louis on Thursday night. Through the first 27 minutes, New England had just one first down. The Patriots were able to rally in the second half (against the St. Louis backups) and Tom Brady ended up throwing for three touchdowns, but New England coach Bill Belichick said that even before Rams kicker Josh Brown lined up for what turned out to be a game-winning 37-yard field goal at the final gun, it was a mostly forgettable evening for the Patriots.

‘€œ[I’€™m] disappointed in the whole game,’€ Belichick said the day after the defeat. ‘€œRegardless of how the last kick turned out, whether it was good or not good, that’€™s really not the point. I don’€™t think we did things as well as we are capable of doing them, so that part is disappointing. And then when your team doesn’€™t do that, it doesn’€™t make you feel very good as a coach.’€

‘€¢On Friday in Miami, Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne went 10-of-22 for 123 yards with one interception, and at least three of his passes were dropped. Things weren’t much better on the ground ‘€” Miami’s Ronnie Brown ran for only 9 yards in eight carries, two out of the wildcat. Ricky Williams carried four times for 5 yards. As a team, Miami, which lost its first preseason game of the year, converted only one of nine third- and fourth-down situations with its starting quarterback in the game.

In the end, Henne (who played one series into the third quarter) called it a ‘€œsloppy’€ effort, a point that was echoed by Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano.

‘€œThey were better than we were up front physically,’€ Sparano told reporters after the game. ‘€œWe played sloppy, inconsistent ‘€” at times did some decent things, but couldn’€™t finish. There was something always unexecuted.’€

‘€¢Things were just as bad for the Jets, who grabbed the bulk of the headlines this offseason but have struggled through the preseason, losing two of three. In particular, it has been a rough time for the New York offense and quarterback Mark Sanchez. According to ESPN, in three preseason games, the second-year quarterback out of USC has quarterbacked 18 drives that have gone for just 28 points ‘€” two touchdowns (a missed extra point) and four field goals. Sanchez did get off the schnide late in the loss to Washington when he hooked up with tight end Dustin Keller in the fourth quarter ‘€” it snapped a streak of zero touchdowns on 15 straight possessions.

As a team, the Jets were able to run the ball (LaDainian Tomlinson had 86 yards on 11 carries), but turned the ball over four times in the loss.

‘€œWe still have two weeks,’€ Sanchez told reporters after the game. ‘€œWe just need to really focus these next couple of weeks, take the positives out of this game, and we really have to find a way to start fast. … I think it’€™s preseason and we need to take it seriously. It doesn’€™t feel good. It’€™s not a positive. We need to learn from it, find out why it’€™s happening, and be more efficient.’€

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, it’€™s important to remember that preseason performance isn’€™t always a good indicator of regular-season success ‘€” when the Lions went 0-16 in 2008, they went undefeated in the preseason. And second, each did acknowledge their approach was a little more ‘€œvanilla’€ on both sides of the ball than what they might do during the regular season.

‘€œI think one thing people need to understand is we’€™ve been very vanilla this preseason,’€ said Tomlinson. ‘€œWe won’€™t really game-plan until the season starts, so we’€™re doing fine.’€

‘€œWe just have to execute better ‘€” I think that’€™s what it comes down to,’€ said Brady. ‘€œWe just had to get a bit of a rhythm out there. We found it a little bit there at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, but in the end it wasn’€™t enough.’€

Read More: dolphins, Jets, Patriots, training camp



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