The State of the AFC East- Week 16

New England Patriots (12-3 overall, 4-1 division)

The New England Patriots were handed their first divisional loss of the season Sunday as they fell in overtime to the New York Jets 26-20. Behind a banged up offensive line, quarterback Tom Brady struggled against the pressure brought by the Jets as he was sacked twice and threw an interception. Despite being outgained by the Jets (428-284), the Patriots kept the game close. Trailing 17-6 late in the third quarter, linebacker Jamie Collins stripped the ball from Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned the fumble for a touchdown, making it 17-13. The score took momentum back from the Jets who had been controlling the game until that point.

The Jets added a field goal before Brady led the Patriots on an 11 play, 66 yard drive that ended in a game tying touchdown pass to running back James White. Tight end Rob Gronkowksi, who was held largely in check for most of the game, had two huge fourth down catches on their final drive, including the one that set up the touchdown to White in which he took a big hit from Jets safety Calvin Pryor.

Head coach Bill Belichick has stood by his decision to kick the ball to the Jets after winning the overtime coin toss. The Jets promptly drove down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown. It was a questionable decision to keep his future hall of fame quarterback on the sideline but it is easy to second guess after the fact.

The Patriots play their final regular season game against the Miami Dolphins and still have an opportunity to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win.

New York Jets (10-5 overall, 3-2 division)

For the first time since 2010, the New York Jets have won five games in a row and are in position to make the playoffs. Following Sunday’s 26-20 overtime win over the New England Patriots and a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jets now control their own fate.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall set both Jets’ and NFL records on Sunday. He became the first NFL receiver to have six seasons with 100 or more catches. He also broke Al Toon’s record for catches in a single season (93), set in 1988. Marshall and his counterpart, receiver Eric Decker continue to shine alongside Fitzpatrick and give defenses a handful. The duo accounted for all three of the Jets touchdowns on Sunday, scoring the same game for the eighth time this season.

Sunday’s win was the biggest under first year head coach Todd Bowles’ and shows how far the team has come. Earlier in the season, they let several winnable games slip away from their grasp. After starting 4-1, the Jets dropped four of their next five and seemed destined for an 8-8 season. It would’ve been a solid improvement over last season but the usually reserved Bowles gave his team a tongue-lashing following a week 11 loss to the Houston Texans and they responded with five straight wins.

The Jets are just one win away from a postseason trip. All that stands in their way is former head coach Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills who will look to spoil the Jets’ postseason dreams. The Jets lost to the Bills earlier in the year but will bring a hunger and focus they lacked the last time they met. Head coach Todd Bowles has shown a different, quieter approach to big games than his predecessor, who even admitted this week that his mouth got him in trouble this season. Bowles’ team has followed suit, choosing to keep the bulletin board material to a minimum and focus on the task at hand.

Buffalo Bills (7-8 overall, 3-2 division)

The Buffalo Bills defeated the Dallas Cowboys 16-6 on Sunday. Despite both teams gaining a combined 700 yards of offense, the game seemed absent of offensive excitement as both sides dealt with injuries. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins continues to be a bright spot for the Bills as he had five catches for 84 yards in the win. Running back Mike Gillislee has proven effective in an already loaded Bills, backfield and scored his third touchdown in just as many weeks. Gillislee started the season on the practice squad but was activated in week 13 and is making the most of his opportunity. With starting running back LeSean McCoy likely out for the final game of the season, Gillislee should see an increased workload.

The Bills have an opportunity to play the spoiler on Sunday as they welcome head coach Rex Ryan’s former team to town. Several Bills players have dubbed the game “their Super Bowl” as the Bills are already eliminated from playoff contention for the 16th consecutive season. In their previous matchup this season, the Bills defeated the Jets 22-17 in a grind-it-out game common to both of these teams. If the New York Jets win on Sunday they punch their post season ticket and deal a blow to Ryan. If they lose, Ryan will surely jump for joy as the Jets’ playoff hopes all but slip away.

Miami Dolphins (5-10 overall, 0-5 division)

For the first time this season, the Miami Dolphins lost a game in which running back Lamar Miller carried the ball more than 12 times. Prior to Sunday, the Dolphins were 5-0 in games that Miller registered more than 12 carries. I guess all good things must come to an end as Miller carried the ball 15 times and added five receptions in 18-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Dolphins’ struggles started early as they gave up a safety on just their third play from scrimmage and trailed the rest of the way. Against a banged up Colts team, the Dolphins failed to put points on the board. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second straight week and had two drives stall in the red zone. The first was due to an interception early in the game while the second came on the Dolphins’ final offensive play on fourth down with the ball on the Colts’ five yard line. There seemed to be a miscommunication between Tannehill and the offensive line, resulting in the Colts’ sixth sack of the day and sealing the win for Indy.

The good news for the Dolphins is they are looking at a top-10 draft pick next season. A matchup with the New England Patriots will likely move them up a spot or two in the draft order as they fell to the Patriots 36-7 earlier in the season and are already looking forward to a long offseason.

AFC East Players of the Week

Offense

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback, New York Jets

The NFL is all about getting hot at the right time and few quarterbacks are hotter than Ryan Fitzpatrick who led the Jets to their fifth straight win and a current playoff spot. Over the past few weeks, Fitzpatrick’s success has been attributed to a number of things: trimming his beard (numbers do not lie), simplifying the offense and a growing trust and understanding of his wide receivers. His numbers are not exceptionally dazzling but his play has spoken for itself of late, especially in the Jets biggest game of the season. On Sunday against the Patriots he was 26 of 41 for 296 yards and three touchdowns. The third and final touchdown came in overtime as he led the offense on a five play, 80 yard drive that culminated in a six yard pass to wide receiver Eric Decker and sealed the Jets’ victory.

Defense

Jamie Collins, Outside Linebacker, New England Patriots

No this is not recycled content from last week! Both players led their team on their respective sides of the football and continue to be impact players. Collins turned the tide of the game late in the third quarter when he strip-sacked Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (see above) and returned the fumble for a touchdown. The play brought life back to a Patriots team that struggled to put points up against a stout Jets defense and brought them within striking distance. Collins also led the team in tackles with eight.

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