- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The AFC East has won three of the last four Super Bowls. And in 2002 — the one season that the Lombardi Trophy wasn’t held aloft by New England — all four division members finished at least .500.

This season has been very different. The two-time defending champion Patriots, Miami, Buffalo and the New York Jets are an NFL-worst 9-17 outside the division.

First-place New England (5-4) would be ahead of only last-place New Orleans (2-7) in the NFC South. Buffalo (4-5) is headed for a sixth consecutive season without making the playoffs. Miami (3-6) will miss for a fourth consecutive season. And the Jets (2-7) will finish under .500 for just the second time since their 1-15 season of 1996.

New England’s once-formidable defense gave up 392 yards to the Bills and 453 to the Colts in back-to-back games, prompting injured safety Rodney Harrison to rip into struggling cornerback Duane Starks and receiver/cornerback Troy Brown to question the champs’ passion.

“It’s hard to have everyone working so hard and one guy consistently getting beat,” Harrison said. “It’s not fair to everyone else.’

The AFC’s worst defense was then scorched for 360 yards by Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte but survived four shots from the 5-yard line to edge the Dolphins 23-16 last week. Quarterback Tom Brady refused to blame the absence of seven starters for the offense’s problems.

“I don’t care about injuries,” Brady said. “We need to show a little more character. We’ve [got] some big voids in leadership and experience, but other guys have to find a way to get to a championship level. I feel like sometimes we let the defense dictate the tempo and flow of the game … It’s ridiculous.”

So is Buffalo’s 29th-ranked offense. Coach Mike Mularkey demoted offensive tackle Mike Williams, the fourth pick in the 2002 draft, for the undrafted Jason Peters, who had never played offensive line before being switched from tight end to tackle last fall. At $9.5 million against the salary cap in 2006, Williams will soon be a former Bill.

Meanwhile, 2004 first-rounder J.P. Losman, benched in October in favor of Kelly Holcomb, replaced the injured (concussion) journeyman and threw the two touchdown passes that beat the Chiefs, who like five of the Bills’ final seven opponents have a winning record.

The Jets have nine players on injured reserve, including quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler. But most of the missing are on offense which doesn’t explain why New York has sunk from fifth to 29th in run defense despite having eight starters back.

Frerotte has been under plenty of heat on South Florida sports radio shows and while that eased a little with his performance against the Patriots, it didn’t prevent the Dolphins’ fifth loss in their last six games. Maybe the big game will help Frerotte’s wife, Annie, relax.

“I try not to listen to her,” said Frerotte, who may not play Sunday in Cleveland because of a sprained right index finger. “She gets a little fired up. To me, it doesn’t matter because I know the truth. I’m not saying what you guys write or whatever is said on talk radio isn’t the truth, but …”

Seeing red — Tennessee center Justin Hartwig, inspired to get a Mohawk by the “dare to be different” training camp pep talk by offensive coordinator Norm Chow, dyed his hair red for the recent team picture.

“I just felt like it was time for the rooster to awaken,” said Hartwig.

Remember Uncle Joe? — First-round receiver Braylon Edwards and third-round quarterback Charlie Frye were Cleveland’s publicized rookies, but the undrafted Josh Cribbs is averaging a solid 24.2 yards on kickoff returns. Cribbs is the nephew of Joe Cribbs, who would have run for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons for Buffalo (1980-1983) if not for the strike-shortened 1982 season.

The younger Cribbs passed for 2,000 yards and ran for 1,000 three consecutive seasons at Kent State. Frye, who starred at Mid-American Conference rival Akron, called Cribbs “the Michael Vick of the MAC.”

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