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AFC East Spin cycle: Dolphins keep pace with Patriots

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Oct. 29, 2012 @ 2:33 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The Patriots and Dolphins asserted themselves as the AFC East's top two teams with convincing Week Eight victories, while the Jets looked miserable in their loss to Miami. 

BILLS

On bye.

DOLPHINS

What we learned: Miami not only has one of the league’s best and most underrated defenses, but it also boasts arguably the league’s best backup quarterback and a gutsy special-teams unit. The Dolphins got revenge on the Jets and are clearly the division’s second-best team, winning a game without their starting QB and without much from the run game. Matt Moore, the team’s MVP last season, came in and made it a seamless transition from Ryan Tannehill, who suffered a knee and quad contusion. Moore took care of the football and threw a touchdown to TE Anthony Fasano, but he got plenty of help. The defense created two turnovers and recorded four sacks. Rookie DE Olivier Vernon had himself a game, recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown and blocking a field goal. With three wins in a row, the Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the league, and Joe Philbin has to be a midseason candidate for Coach of the Year.

What’s in store next: Suddenly, a Week Nine game against the Colts is a huge matchup with wild-card implications. With both teams at 4-3, the Dolphins can score another key win if they can beat Andrew Luck’s Colts. The defensive front should have an advantage against Indy’s O-line, but Luck and WR Reggie Wayne will test Dolphins CB Sean Smith and the secondary. The Colts could provide an opportunity for the Dolphins to get the run game back on track.

What the heck? In Weeks Two and Three, the Dolphins appeared to have one of the league’s top rushing units, but it has been noticeably absent since. In their last four games, Miami has averaged only 71.8 rushing yards, yet, the Dolphins are 3-1 in those four games, making up for the struggles on the ground with timely pass plays and a stout defense.

PATRIOTS

What we learned: The Pats’ Jekyll-and-Hyde act continues, but the display in Week Eight’s 45-7 thrashing of the Rams is a better indicator of what this team is capable of than the fourth-quarter problems that plagued New England the previous two weeks. After giving up a 50-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, there was a “here we go again” sentiment for the Patriots in London, but they scored 45 unanswered, using the formula we have seen in their 2012 wins — great rushing attack (Stevan Ridley had 15 carries for 127 yards) and an efficient passing game (Tom Brady had his best game, throwing for 304 yards and four TDs). But the two biggest bright spots came in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The O-line held a fierce Rams pass rush to zero sacks and zero QB hits. On the other side, the Pats notched two sacks and five tackles for loss. The defense allowed the Rams one trip inside the red zone.

What’s in store next: Heading into a bye in Week Nine, the Patriots can be very pleased with where they are at after Sunday’s big win. New England has a leg up in the division and appears set to battle for AFC supremacy, again, at the end of the year. They should be heavy favorites in their next three games (vs. Buffalo, vs. Indianapolis, at the Jets).

What the heck? The Patriots’ defense seems to keep getting younger. The only two players who were on the field for every defensive snap were rookies Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard. Fellow rookies DE Justin Francis, DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont’a Hightower also started, and even S Nate Ebner and DE Jake Bequette combined for 26 snaps.

JETS

What we learned: Gang Green could not build off a gutty effort against the Patriots last week, laying an egg in a key division bout with the Dolphins, at home, no less. The Jets spent the week trash talking with the Dolphins, but could not back it up. Miami built an early 20-0 lead thanks to special-teams and turnovers, and the Jets couldn’t rally. In the first half, the Jets managed 18 rushing yards. For the game, Mark Sanchez threw it 54 times, the second most pass attempts in his career, and the O-line didn’t do him any favors, allowing four sacks. Sanchez had 10 passes knocked down and the Jets’ defense couldn’t create a turnover until the game was out of reach. This was a very ugly game for Rex Ryan’s crew heading into a bye, raising plenty of questions about his future. This looked like the Jets we saw against the 49ers, not the team of the past three weeks.

What’s in store next: The Jets have a bye in Week Nine to sort things out in all three phases of the game. Tony Sparano needs to find a way to get the offense on track, and the Jets’ next opponent won’t make it easy — the Seahawks in Week 10 in Seattle.

What the heck? Mike Westhoff is known as a special-teams guru, but his unit was miserable on Sunday. Tim Tebow appeared to miss his assignment when the Dolphins blocked a punt and scooped it up for a touchdown in the first quarter. Prior to that, Miami recovered an onside kick. Nick Folk had a 35-yard field-goal attempt blocked. The only bright spot was a 47-yard kickoff return by ex-Dolphins WR Clyde Gates.

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