The New York Jets' 40-37 comeback win in overtime over Miami on a Monday night a month ago was supposed to send the Jets north in the AFC East standings and the Dolphins south.
It did the opposite. The Dolphins have won their three games since and the Jets have lost their three. So when the teams meet again Sunday in Miami, it's New York that has to stop the negative momentum.
The pattern has been the same for the Jets as in that Monday night contest, when they trailed 30-7 after three quarters, then scored 30 fourth-quarter points to send the game to overtime. In each of the subsequent three losses -- to Buffalo, Denver and Indianapolis -- they've fallen behind early, then rallied, but came up short at the end.
How do they solve the problem?
''We just need to play sound football all the time,'' says cornerback Aaron Glenn.''We know we can do it, because we've done it before.''
The Dolphins, who at 8-2 have a one-game lead in the AFC East over Indianapolis, continued their slide after the Jets' debacle by falling behind 17-0 to Green Bay. But they rallied to win that one 28-20, then beat Detroit and San Diego, outscoring the three 68-18 over the span of just more than 10 quarters.
The game is particularly important for the Jets (6-4), who figure they must win four of their last six to make the playoffs. That won't be easy -- in addition to the Dolphins, they still must face the Colts, Raiders and Ravens, four teams currently 30-11 combined..
The Dolphins are approaching this game with positive memories, concentrating on those first three quarters at the Meadowlands.
''We did a lot of good things in that game,'' says coach Dave Wannstedt. ''In every game, there are three or four things that make a difference. In that game, 20 things had to happen right for them to win it. Everything fell apart for us.''
Washington (6-4) at St. Louis (8-2) (Monday night)
Trent Green, the former Redskin, knocked the Giants down a peg last week. Now he gets a chance to do the same to Washington and keep it behind New York in the NFC East.
Green threw for four TDs and ran for another in New Jersey, largely because his offensive line gave him time. The Redskins might not -- their cornerbacks are better than New York's so they are more likely to blitz and play man-to-man against Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-zahir Hakim.
Green has 12 TD passes and just three interceptions since taking over for the injured Kurt Warner, so Warner need not hurry back. Even Marshall Faulk wasn't missed in New York because Green scrambled for 54 yards.
''However long it takes Kurt, it takes him,'' says coach Mike Martz. ''The nice thing about it is if we're in another situation we'd be real anxious to get Kurt back and possibly bring him back maybe sooner than when he's ready.''
Oakland (8-2) at New Orleans (7-3)
Two teams coming off bad weeks.
The Raiders lost for the second time to Denver. And the Saints lost Ricky Williams with a broken ankle in their win in Carolina.
So New Orleans can only hope that Chad Morton, the sixth-round pick who will replace Williams, can do what sixth-round running backs Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson have done in Denver. And they have to hope Williams' absence won't put more pressure on Jeff Blake.
Detroit (6-4) at New York Giants (7-3)
The Giants move back into their own class after losing to St. Louis, a defeat that demonstrates New York belongs in the NFL's middle class, not among its elite. Still, the Giants lead Washington by a game.
The Lions won ugly, 13-10 over Atlanta in Gary Moeller's first game as head coach. This will be just their third game outdoors in 11 starts and is critical to their playoff hopes -- it would give them a tiebreaker over the Giants if it comes to that.
Indianapolis (7-3) at Green Bay (4-6)
The last time the Colts went outside to play an NFC Central team, they were shocked in Chicago, which means they presumably learned their lesson. They may have been looking ahead to the Jets, but they can't look ahead in Lambeau Field to their showdown next week with Miami.
The Packers probably must win out to make the playoffs. Brett Favre, who sprained a foot last week in Tampa Bay insists he'll make his 136th straight start.
Arizona (3-7) at Philadelphia (7-4)
The Eagles, a half-game behind New York, have a shot at the NFC East title, although they have to finish ahead of the Giants, who beat them twice. This, along with meetings with Cleveland and Cincinnati, is one of three games they have no excuse for losing.
The Cardinals are playing much harder and better under Dave McGinnis than they did for Vince Tobin.
But McGinnis acknowledges his injury-beset team lacks the talent to compete with better teams.
Buffalo (6-4) at Kansas City (5-5)
This could be an AFC playoff elimination game, particularly for the Chiefs, who allowed 70 points to the Raiders and 49ers in trips to the Bay Area the past two weeks and are now in deep trouble.
Wade Phillips has reinstalled Rob Johnson at quarterback for the Bills, prompting a frenzied debate in western New York. Doug Flutie is in the bullpen.
San Diego (0-10) at Denver (6-4)
The Broncos still have a shot at the AFC West, even with Gus Frerotte at quarterback for Brian Griese, because their schedule is easy. Griese played three quarters against Oakland with a separated shoulder, but now won't play for at least three games.
The Chargers, with five losses by four points or less, should win one of these weeks. But they've been saying that all season.
Cleveland (3-8) at Tennessee (8-2)
Unlike last week's loss to Baltimore, this one is unlikely to come down to a missed extra point by Al Del Greco. This might, in fact, be one of the rare blowouts by the Titans, whose biggest margin of victory this year is 14 points.
The Browns' win over New England last week ensured they will finish with a better record than in their expansion season of 1999. But without QB Tim Couch, they'll be underdogs the rest of the way.
Jacksonville (3-7) at Pittsburgh (5-5)
The Steelers were told by the league this week that for the third time this season, officials erred on a key play -- in this case the onside kick that helped the Eagles beat them last week. That loss put them in critical condition in the highly competitive AFC.
Jacksonville's been on the critical list all season. Just as winning used to be contagious for the Jaguars, losing has become so now.
Dallas (4-6) at Baltimore (7-4)
The Ravens have started scoring touchdowns again with Trent Dilfer at quarterback, which is bad news for the Cowboys, who keep losing players. The latest casualty is punter Micah Knorr, who before he broke a leg last week handed off to kicker Tim Seder on a fake field goal for one of the most unique touchdowns in the NFL in years.
Tampa Bay (6-4) at Chicago (2-8)
The Bucs under Tony Dungy are utterly predictable; they start slowly and finish strong. They've now won three straight after a 3-4 start and Shaun King is quietly producing at quarterback: 15 TD passes and just eight interceptions.
Chicago is just glad to have a quarterback. Shane Matthews is replacing the injured Cade McNown and Jim Miller.
Carolina (4-6) at Minnesota (8-2)
Daunte Culpepper threw for 302 yards and four TDs last week when Minnesota returned to the Metrodome after two losses outdoors in real weather. That could wind up a problem unless the Vikings get home field in the playoffs.
Carolina's playoff hopes just about disappeared last week in the loss to New Orleans.
Atlanta (3-8) at San Francisco (3-8)
This is a more palatable season for the 49ers than the Falcons. They've found their quarterback in Jeff Garcia and the young defense finally played well last week in the 21-7 win over Kansas City. So they have hope for the future.
The Falcons, on the other hand are ravaged by injury and Dan Reeves reportedly is considering retirement, at least as the coach.
Cincinnati (2-9) at New England (2-8)
Both teams were embarrassed last week, particularly the Patriots, who were beaten in Cleveland as Drew Bledsoe tried to play with a bruised thumb. The Bengals have benched Akili Smith and will go with Scott Mitchell at quarterback this week.
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