AFC East Spin cycle: Patriots rally after another blown lead

Posted Oct. 22, 2012 @ 11:03 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

The AFC East entered Week Seven with all four teams tied at 3-3, and while Sunday's results were expected, they didn't necessarily clear up the foggy picture in the division. The Patriots blew another lead but survived a scare to a Jets team that continues to improve. The Bills' defense and a late Ryan Fitzpatrick turnover kept them from scoring a win against a subpar Titans team. As a result, the Dolphins moved into second place despite not playing.


What we learned: The defense is still a disaster, the offense can run the ball better than most teams but QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is still mistake-prone. The Titans entered Sunday with the league’s least productive rushing attack but Chris Johnson had a field day against the Bills, especially in the first half. He had 195 rushing yards, including an 83-yard touchdown. The Bills gave up four rushing scores and the run defense has not improved at all, yet another big knock on defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Despite that, the Bills should have won this game. The offense moved the ball well using Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who combined for 222 total yards. And up until late in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick was having his best game of the season. But his extremely poor decision on 3rd-and-7 from his own 39 with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter resulted in an interception, giving the Titans great field position. They marched in for the game-winning score seven plays later. 

What’s in store next: The Bills enter the bye week 3-4 and with a sour taste in their mouths. DT Kyle Williams was vocal about how disappointing the defense has been, and Chan Gailey said they will reevaluate everything, but ruled out coaching changes. The new-look defense was supposed to get the Bills over the hump and into the postseason. Through seven games, it looks more like the reason the Bills’ playoff drought will continue.

What the heck? The play call prior to Fitzpatrick’s pick was confusing in itself. With 3:12 to go and at the Bills' 40-yard line, he threw a quick screen pass to Spiller. The pass was risky and Spiller was stopped for a loss of one yard. While it forced the Titans to use their first timeout, it didn’t make sense not to just run the ball. Then came Fitzpatrick’s decision on the next play, going for Donald Jones down the sideline instead of something more conservative in the middle of the field to help chew up clock, and maybe get a first down. In Fitzpatrick and Gailey’s defense, the passing game had been efficient up to that point, but this was a situation in which you want the ball in the hands of Jackson or Spiller.  


On bye. Play the Jets in Week Eight.


What we learned: Tom Brady still has his late-game magic, the run defense remains one of the league’s best but the pass defense is still a huge problem. It seemed like déjà vu for the Patriots in the fourth quarter, when the Jets rallied from 10 points down to take a three-point lead. But Brady connected on passes to Rob Gronkowski twice (for 15 and 12 yards) and Danny Woodhead twice (for 20 and seven yards) in what looked like an effortless final drive to set up Stephen Gostkowski for a game-tying 43-yard field goal. The Pats used the no-huddle to set up the essential game-winning field goal in overtime. We saw the offense’s potential when clicking on all cylinders, even on a day when Stevan Ridley wasn’t at his best and Brandon Lloyd had only one catch for six yards. On defense, the run defense has become one of the league’s best, and it held the Jets to 3.2 yards per touch on 33 carries. The pass defense, though, sorely needs safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung to be healthy. They got penalized often and gave up too many big plays.

What’s in store next: The Patriots travel overseas to play the Rams in London. The O-line will need a strong effort to put up with the Rams’ fierce pass rush, led by DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn, and Cortland Finnegan certainly will try to make a big play in the secondary. On defense, the Patriots will try to force QB Sam Bradford to beat them through the air.

What the heck? The defensive penalties by the secondary were killers, and CB Ras-I Dowling, who is already being labeled as a disappointment, didn’t help his cause with two defensive holding penalties (one was declined). Dowling wasn’t the only culprit, as CB Alfonzo Dennard got flagged for defensive holding and illegal contact. Dennard's holding call came in overtime, giving the Jets a first down before they fumbled to lose the game.


What we learned: The offense got a big boost from having TE Dustin Keller back in form and the defense can make big plays but the mistakes are still a problem. The Jets rallied and almost pulled off what would have been the biggest upset of Week Seven, only to fall 29-26 to the Patriots in overtime. Mark Sanchez completed 28-of-41 passes for 328 yards, but he also threw a bad interception on an underthrown ball, had to kick the ball out of the endzone for a safety and lost a fumble as he got sacked on the final play of the game in overtime. Keller, who had seven catches for 93 yards and a score, and WR Jeremy Kerley (7-120-0 receiving) paced the passing game, as the run game struggled at times. The defense made some big stops to stay in the game and held Patriots RB Stevan Ridley in check. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. The good news is that the Jets have played well in each of the past three weeks. The bad news — they’re 1-2 in those three games. 

What’s in store next: The Jets get a quick rematch with the Dolphins, whom they beat in Week Three. Gang Green should feel fortunate it left Miami with a win that week, and now they face a confident Dolphins team coming off a bye that followed back-to-back wins. Stopping the run will be a key, and the Jets would be in position to win if they can force a turnover or two from QB Ryan Tannehill. On offense, the pressure will be on Sanchez, as the Dolphins’ run defense is outstanding.

What the heck? This might as well be renamed the “What the Tebow?” section, because week after week the Jets seem to struggle to figure out how to use him. In the first quarter, facing a 3rd-and-2 from the Patriots' four-yard line, Tebow ran for the first down, setting up a Shonn Greene TD plunge. That seemed like the perfect situation for Tebow. But when the Jets marched downfield to open the second half and faced 2nd-and-4 from the Patriots’ five-yard line, they went to Greene and then Sanchez threw an incomplete pass. Tebow’s next play was a four-yard run to open the Jets’ ensuing drive. Tebow hasn’t made much of a difference, and in situations in which he can make a difference (near the goal line) his playing time has been inconsistent. Tebow played in five offensive snaps in the Jets’ biggest game thus far, and made an impact on only one of those plays. 

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