AFC East Spin cycle: Pats embarrass Jets, while Dolphins rally for win

Posted Nov. 26, 2012 @ 2:20 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

On Thanksgiving night, the Patriots handed the Jets a loss to forget, and New England can clinch the AFC East for the fourth year in a row with a win over Miami in Week 13. The Dolphins' playoff hopes are still alive with a big comeback win over Seattle, while the Bills' postseason dreams took a hit after a close loss to the Colts.

BILLS

What we learned: The red-zone offensive woes did this team in again in a must-win situation, which could have put Buffalo in good position to sneak into the wild-card hunt. The Bills’ defense stood tall again, for the most part, but you’re not going to win many games scoring only 13 points. Buffalo converted 1-of-3 red-zone opportunities into touchdowns in a 20-13 loss to Indianapolis. A win, and the Bills would be 5-6 and one game back of the Steelers, Bengals and Colts for two wild-card spots. Instead, Buffalo is two games back and needs quite the miracle to be in the playoff conversation. On the bright side, Mario Williams notched three sacks, four QB hits and a pass defensed in his best game to date, and he has continued to play better since his wrist surgery. Buffalo kept Indy’s run game in check, but had trouble containing WR Reggie Wayne in key situations, most notably when rookie CB Stephon Gilmore committed a pass-interference penalty on 3rd-and-10 with 1:48 to go in the game, ending the Bills’ hopes. C.J. Spiller had another outstanding game running the football, though he played two fewer snaps than Fred Jackson, who is a better blocking back. 

What’s in store next: The Bills host the Jaguars, who snapped a losing streak with a win over Tennessee in Week 12. Chad Henne has awoken Jacksonville’s passing attack, and we’ll see a matchup between two top-10 picks in Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon and Bills CB Stephon Gilmore. On paper, this is a game that the Bills should win, as Jacksonville is 29th in the league defending the run. If Buffalo commits to running the football with Spiller and Jackson and can take advantage of red-zone appearances, the Bills can get a win.

What the heck? Now that the defense is improving, the offense is under fire, and some of the mistakes have brought plenty of scrutiny to Chan Gailey, who is known as an offensive guru. Gailey has said he won’t attempt 50-yard field goals with Rian Lindell, though it surprised many that he didn’t try a 51-yarder, indoors, when the Bills faced 4th-and-14 in the second quarter. The red-zone issues can also land on Gailey, and his top receiver, Stevie Johnson, didn’t make things much better by telling reporters after the game that Fitzpatrick should call more plays on the field.

DOLPHINS

What we learned: Miami’s playoff hopes are hanging by a thread after rallying for a win against the Seahawks when the defense stood tall late and Ryan Tannehill showed his moxie. The Dolphins’ defense struggled to contain Russell Wilson, who scrambled for 38 yards and completed 21-of-27 passes for 224 yards and two scores, but Seattle’s offense did not score in the fourth quarter. The key for Miami’s defense, containing Marshawn Lynch, helped set up the win. Lynch had only 46 yards on 19 carries (2.4-yard average), and LB Koa Misi and DT Paul Soliai stuffed Lynch for a six-yard loss on a screen play when Seattle tried to get in field-goal range late. Tannehill was superb in the fourth quarter. After a terrible throw resulting in a pick was nullified by a questionable roughing the passer penalty on Earl Thomas, Tannehill, who passed Dan Marino for most passing yards by a Dolphins rookie, strutted his stuff. He made a beautiful throw to Charles Clay for a 29-yard touchdown, answering Leon Washington’s kickoff-return score. Then, following Miami’s defensive stop, Tannehill used his arm (3-of-3, not counting two spikes, for 51 yards) and legs (15-yard scramble) to set up Dan Carpenter’s game-winning field goal.

What’s in store next: The Dolphins passed their first test of a gauntlet of a late-season schedule, but they host the Patriots in Week 13. New England has been a scoring and turnover-creating machine in the second half of the season. Miami will need to run the ball — and the backs have to hold on tight to the rock — because New England will surely try to pick off Tannehill. The pass defense faces one of the best passing games in the league with Tom Brady. An upset over the Patriots on Sunday would go a long way towards making their next meeting with New England, in Week 17, meaningful for both squads.

What the heck? Through the first seven games of the season, the Dolphins had the league’s best third-down defense, but it has struggled over the last four. They held the Bills to 2-of-12 on third downs last week, but the Seahawks converted 50 percent of their opportunities. Miami’s front seven, as stout as it is, needs to improve in corralling running quarterbacks, with Colin Kaepernick looming in Week 14.

PATRIOTS

What we learned: A high-scoring offense and an opportunistic defense continues to be the Patriots’ blueprint for success. New England forced five Jets turnovers, scoring on two of them, on its way to a 49-19 rout of their rival Jets on Thanksgiving night. It was scoreless through the first quarter before the Patriots exploded for 35 points in the second thanks to two fumble-return touchdowns and big catch-and-run scores by RB Shane Vereen and WR Julian Edelman. Tom Brady completed 18 passes for 323 yards (17.9 yards a completion) and threw three touchdowns, while the running game rumbled for 152 yards. It’s hard to knock the pass defense, which did give up 301 yards to Mark Sanchez, considering its big lead. The Patriots have not lost a game in the second half of the season since 2009, and they won this one with a patchwork offensive line and without their top pass rusher, DE Chandler Jones.

What’s in store next: The Pats stay in the AFC East, traveling to South Florida to take on the Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill will be the third rookie quarterback to face the Patriots this season. Russell Wilson was sensational, throwing three touchdowns in a win in Seattle, while Andrew Luck threw three picks in a loss. Tannehill has the potential to put up big numbers — he threw for 431 yards vs. Arizona earlier this season. The Patriots’ defensive ends and outside linebackers will need to keep Reggie Bush contained. A key matchup in this one could be the Patriots’ run game vs. the Dolphins’ stout run defense. If Miami makes New England one-dimensional, this game could get interesting.

What the heck? Teams with struggling offensive lines like the Bears and Packers must hate watching the Patriots. Without All-Pro OLG Logan Mankins, and ORT Sebastian Vollmer, who is having a very good season, the Pats’ O-line pitched a shutout, allowing no sacks and only one QB hit against an aggressive Jets defense.

JETS

What we learned: This team doesn’t simply lose, it implodes. On national television on Thanksgiving night, the Jets gave up 35 second-quarter points, including a staggering 21 points in 53 seconds, in a 49-19 loss to the Patriots. It was comical, punctuated by Mark Sanchez running into the backside of OG Brandon Moore, leading to a fumble that Steve Gregory returned for a score. On the ensuing kickoff, Joe McKnight’s fumble fell right into the hands of Julian Edelman, who returned it for six. The debacle overshadowed Sanchez’s overall performance, in which he completed over 70 percent of throws in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, though most of that came when the Jets faced a big deficit. On defense, the Jets haven’t been the same unit of the past three seasons, and that was illustrated best when RB Shane Vereen took a simple swing pass and ran 83 yards for a touchdown for New England, without getting touched until he was inside the Jets' 5-yard line. This game was all sorts of ugly for the Jets.

What’s in store next: The Jets catch a break, somewhat, when they face the Cardinals in Week 13. Arizona’s offense is a mess — Ryan Lindley threw four interceptions in his first career start, two of which were returned for touchdowns — though, Kevin Kolb could be back for Sunday. The Cardinals’ defensive front could cause problems for Sanchez. If Kolb is back in the lineup, that can open things up for WR Larry Fitzgerald, and the All-Pro wideout’s matchup with Jets CB Antonio Cromartie will be a fun one to watch.

What the heck? There were plenty of head-scratching moments from the Jets’ loss, but maybe none more confusing than Rex Ryan’s decision to have Tim Tebow active with two fractured ribs, and No. 3 QB Greg McElroy inactive. Ryan has defended the decision in three press appearances since the game, saying that Tebow could have played in an emergency, but Ryan should consider himself lucky that Sanchez didn’t get hurt. … A statistical “what the heck?” that will make Ryan fume: The Jets allowed more than 150 yards rushing on Thursday for the sixth time this season. They allowed over 150 rushing yards only three times last year and just twice from 2009-2010.

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