Balance shifts in AFC Print
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Monday, 22 September 2008 11:12
NFL Headline News

 When Tom Brady went down midway through the first quarter of the season opener, it was clear this New England team wasn't going to match last year's 16-0 regular-season run.
But no one expected the Patriots to be hammered 38-13, as they were Sunday by lowly Miami, a game in which Ronnie Brown became the first NFL player to run for four TDs and pass for another since Paddy Driscoll in 1923 for the Chicago Cardinals.
New England's trouble is the biggest surprise, but hardly the only one in a head-scratching start to the NFL season.
With Indianapolis, San Diego and Jacksonville stumbling from the starting gate and Pittsburgh getting beaten up in Philadelphia on Sunday, the balance of power is shifting in the AFC, where the likes of Tennessee, Denver and Buffalo now can have Super dreams.
The NFC isn't going entirely according to script, either.
nta after a horrid 4-12 season marked by the imprisonment of Michael Vick and the sudden departure back to college of new coach Bobby Petrino.
And San Francisco, with J.T. O'Sullivan at quarterback after throwing just 26 passes since being drafted in 2002, is 2-1, looking like it might actually move toward the middle of the pack after being either at the top or bottom for almost three decades.
Yes, it's early. But the Patriots and Colts, 66-14 and 63-17 over the past five regular seasons, are showing problems that might not be fixed so easily. And Pittsburgh, the only other team to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl during that span, demonstrated serious leaks in its offensive line. That left Ben Roethlisberger, already playing with a sore shoulder, more bruised and bandaged after the Eagles got nine sacks in their 15-6 win in the battle of Pennsylvania.
It could be the beginning of a major power shift in the league, especially in the AFC.
eptions for 1,493 yards.
At this point last season, he had 22 receptions for 403 yards and five TDs.
The Dolphins also exposed flaws in a defense that couldn't stop Brown, three of whose TDs (two runs and the pass) came with him taking a direct snap in the shotgun formation.
``Believe me, there were a lot of other problems besides that,'' Belichick said of his team's inability to stop Brown.
The Colts also have deeply rooted problems after losing 23-21 at home to Jacksonville, which got its first win on Josh Scobee's 51-yard field goal with 4 seconds to play.
The Jaguars are another highly regarded team that started 0-2 when injuries required a massive reshuffling of the offensive line. And they really should have won more easily. With DT Ed Johnson released because of off-field indiscretions and Bob Sanders, the Colts' most important run defender - not to mention the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year - out with ankle and knee injuries, Jacksonville ran for 236 yards and held the ball for more than 41 of the 60 minutes.
But Peyton Manning, who missed most of training camp after minor knee surgery and is still working his way back into form, did what he so often does, leading the Colts to the go-ahead score with 67 seconds left after the Jaguars had controlled the ball for more than 12 minutes to start the fourth quarter.
e back on the field. The Jaguars managed to get into range for Scobee's field goal and both teams are now 1-2, two games behind Tennessee in the AFC South.
The decline of the Patriots and Colts emphasizes the 3-0 starts by the Titans, Bills and Broncos, and a 2-0 start by Baltimore, which remains a question mark because few teams win much with a rookie quarterback. Can they win the North? Probably not. Despite the beating the Steelers took in Philly, they are historically a resilient team, are only a half-game behind the Ravens and two games up on Cleveland and Cincinnati, both 0-3.
The Titans are probably the most solid of the AFC's unbeaten teams, especially with Kerry Collins stabilizing the quarterback position while Vince Young overcomes injuries to his knee and his psyche. Collins, who actually ran three times for 30 yards on Sunday, is turnover-prone unless you protect him. But with LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson running the ball and a solid line, he's a much safer bet than Young right now.
The very physical Titans, who have allowed just 29 points in three games, handled the Jaguars easily on opening day and, barring injury, they look like an 11-5, 12-4 team, a good bet to win the South.
but Buffalo certainly looks capable of challenging New England's five-year title run in the East if Trent Edwards continues to show a composure rare for a second-year quarterback.
Denver is the most questionable of the 3-0 teams.
The Broncos have allowed 84 points, third worst in the league behind two pitiful 0-3 teams, Detroit and St. Louis. They beat the Chargers because of referee Ed Hochuli's acknowledged blown call and escaped Sunday against New Orleans when Martin Gramatica missed a 43-yard field goal attempt with 1:55 remaining that could have put the Saints ahead 35-34. This after blowing a 21-3 lead in a game in which Drew Brees passed for 421 yards against them.
``Every possession means so much,'' quarterback Jay Cutler acknowledged after Sunday's game. ``They're scoring and we have to keep scoring to stay ahead. It's tough.''
That's a lot of pressure to put on an offense.
Overall, the AFC may not have any team equal to the top three in the NFC East, which is 8-0 against outside opposition and might contain the three best teams in the league right now: Dallas, the Giants and Philadelphia, whose only loss was by four points at the Cowboys. Washington, which lost on opening night in the Meadowlands, would be a contender in any other division.
anywhere near as good.
With 13 games to go, one hit can change everything for anyone.
 

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