The State of the AFC East- Week 12
New England Patriots (10-1 overall, 4-0 division)
Sunday night’s loss to the Brock Osweiler-led Denver Broncos was the Patriots’ first of the season. With snow falling throughout most of the game, many expected a low-scoring defensive affair. Instead, fans were treated to a shootout highlighted by 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Pats scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to go up 21-7 when running back Branden Bolden caught a pass from Brady and took it 63 yards to the end zone. The Broncos quickly capitalized on a muffed punt by the Patriots, when running back C.J. Anderson scampered in for a score that sparked a 17 point Broncos’ fourth quarter. Down 24-21 and without his top four receiving targets and a little over a minute left on the clock, Brady brought the Patriots within field goal range and kicker Stephen Gostkowski sent the game into overtime. Following a three and out by the Patriots, Anderson added his second touchdown of the game to seal the victory for the Broncos and hand the Patriots the only blemish on their 2015 schedule so far.
While the defeat spoils their hopes of an undefeated season, the Patriots are far more concerned with injuries that continue to pile up on both sides of the ball. On Sunday linebacker Dont’a Hightower suffered a sprained MCL and tight end Rob Gronkowski took a nasty hit to his knee but avoided any major injuries. Both players are listed as week to week but rumor is they both may not play against the Philadelphia Eagles this week. The Pats are expecting a few players to return from injury shortly, including wide receiver Danny Amendola and linebacker Jamie Collins, but as the injuries continue to add up one has to wonder how many times head coach Bill Belichick can go to the well and find players to fill the void.
New York Jets (6-5 overall, 2-2 division)
The Jets’ answered head coach Todd Bowles’ call Sunday with a trouncing of the divisional-rival Miami Dolphins in a 38-20 win. The victory saved the Jets from a free fall, having lost their two previous games to potential playoff teams in the Bills and Houston Texans. Both losses featured a stagnant and mistake-prone Jets offense and overall underwhelming performances. A postgame tongue lashing by the usually reserved Bowles following the loss to Houston seemed to wake the team up from their midseason skid.
Although the Jets started the game slow, scoring on only one of their first five drives, halftime adjustments, which Bowles has proven to be one of his strengths, resulted in the Jets scoring on four of their five possessions in the second half (excluding their final drive which ended in a kneel). New York’s offensive success was due in large part to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ability to sustain drives thanks in large part to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall, who has shouldered some of the blame in recent weeks for the offense’s lack of production, had his best game to date as a Jet with nine catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
The win keeps their playoff hopes alive but they still have a long way to go before reclaiming a Wild Card spot. This week the Jets travel to…well nowhere as they play an “away” game against the New York Giants. To call the contest a rivalry game between two teams that haven’t met in the regular season since 2011 is a bit of a stretch but the matchup will not lack for storylines as both teams are battling for playoff spots.
Buffalo Bills (5-6 overall, 3-2 division)
In what many billed as a “playoff game” that featured the top two AFC Wild Card teams entering week 12, the Bills came up short as they fell 30-22 to the Kansas City Chiefs. The loss bumps the Bills out of a playoff spot, who now face an uphill battle to get back into the postseason. Despite not trailing for the entire first half, the Bills failed to put the Chiefs away and as a result never regained the lead in the second half. The Bills’ early success was due in large part to a huge first half from wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who had six catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first thirty minutes. The second half was a different story for Watkins who did not register a single catch in the final two quarters.
Things don’t get easier for the Bills as they take on the Houston Texans Sunday, who are currently occupy the final AFC Wild Card spot. With essentially seven teams battling for three spots the next few weeks will be critical for all teams in contention. Based on their remaining schedules, the week 17 matchup between the Jets and Bills can very likely decide which team makes the playoffs. Before head coach Rex Ryan can try to play the role of the spoiler to his former team, he must figure out a way to stop his team’s losing streak and get a win against a Texans team that has won four in a row.
Miami Dolphins (4-7 overall, 0-5 division)
The Dolphins’ divisional struggles continued Sunday as they fell to the Jets 38-20 on Sunday and have now been swept by two of their three AFC East counterparts. With a matchup against the Patriots in the final week of the season, the Dolphins have a chance, albeit a slim one, to avoid going defeated in the division for the first time since the Bills went 0-6 in 2008.
Although most of their points and yardage came after the Jets had put the game well out of reach, wide receiver Jarvis Landry continues to shine in an otherwise stagnant offense, hauling in 13 balls for 165 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins all but abandoned their run game entirely, rushing only nine times for twelve yards. For the second time this season a member of the Dolphins’ coaching staff has been fired following a loss to the New York Jets. The Dolphins, whose offense ranks 27th in the league in yards per game, parted ways with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on Monday.
Next up is the Baltimore Ravens who are coming off of a last second “kick-six” victory over the Cleveland Browns. Although the playoffs are still technically in reach for both teams, key injuries to both sides and inconsistent play have left them on the outside looking in.
AFC East Players of the Week
Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, New York Jets
Marshall had his best game as a Jet Sunday, leading the team in receptions (nine), yards (131) and touchdowns (two). Through 12 weeks, he leads the team in all three of those categories and is on pace to be the first Jets wide receiver to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark since Jerricho Cotchery did it in 2007. While Marshall has made a living making big catches, he has also continued to show a downfield blocking ability that is rare in today’s league. On running back Chris Ivory’s 31 yard touchdown run, Marshall blocked two Dolphins defenders and cleared the way for Ivory (Although it looked like no one could tackle Ivory on that run who broke five tackles on the play.)
Calvin Pryor, Safety, New York Jets
Following Sunday’s win wide receiver Brandon Marshall referred to Pryor as “the tone setter” which is exactly what he was against the Dolphins. On the Dolphins’ first drive of the day, Pryor laid a big hit on wide receiver Rishard Matthews to force a three and out and send a message to the opponent. Pryor finished the game tied for a team-leading seven tackles and added a pass breakup. He looks to be fully recovered from an ankle injury that sidelined him for a few weeks and has had a noticeable impact on the defense and team as a whole since his return.