The Patriots torched the Texans on Monday night, while the Jets, somehow, remain in the AFC wild-card hunt after beating the Jaguars. The Bills and Dolphins are all but eliminated after losses to fall to 5-8.
What we learned: In the most highly anticipated game of the season, the Patriots made a huge statement, cementing themselves as the team to beat in the AFC with a 42-14 rout of the Texans. We’ve seen this from Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Co. before — dominating a prime-time game that many expected to be close. Brady attacked the weaknesses of the Texans’ defense all night long, throwing to backs when they were covered by linebackers and WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd when they had one-on-one matchups. Brady’s MVP-like performance was punctuated by his 63-yard touchdown throw to the newest Patriot, Donté Stallworth. The Texans get lots of credit for running the play-action to perfection, but Brady used it on his touchdown pass to Lloyd in the first quarter. The Pats’ offense was at its best, mixing the run and pass and using up-tempo. On defense, Devin McCourty made a game-changing play, closing quickly to intercept Matt Schaub in the endzone. Kyle Arrington made a few big passes defensed. DT Vince Wilfork continued his huge season with some big plays, and LBs Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower made things difficult for Schaub. All-around, it was the Patriots’ best performance of the season, and it came at the best time.
What’s in store next: The Patriots can’t spend too much time celebrating this win, as they turn around for another “biggest game of the season” against the 49ers on Sunday night in Week 15. It could be a Super Bowl preview, and certainly pits two of the league’s top teams against one another. The Niners are physical and their defense will provide Brady and the Pats’ O-line a stiff test. The Patriots’ front seven needs to pick up from its play on Monday night to slow down San Francisco’s rushing attack. If the Patriots made a statement on Monday night, imagine the message they would send to the league if they beat the 49ers on Sunday.
What the heck? The ball bounced the Patriots’ way throughout their Monday-night romp, literally. Stevan Ridley fumbled near the goal line in the first quarter, but Texans CB Kareem Jackson couldn’t corral it, allowing Aaron Hernandez to pounce. Later, J.J. Watt punched the ball out from Danny Woodhead in the red zone, and the ball bounced into the endzone, where Brandon Lloyd smothered it for another Patriots touchdown. It was just one of those nights for New England.
What we learned: The offense continues to leave points on the field, as the Bills lost another close game they certainly should have won. On a day when the Steelers and Bengals both lost, opening up the wild-card chase, the Bills gave up a touchdown pass in the final minute, after leading the entire game, to lose to the Rams. On offense, the Bills converted 1-of-3 red-zone chances into touchdowns and C.J. Spiller had only seven carries and one reception, bringing more criticism to Chan Gailey’s play-calling. The run defense had another solid performance, holding the Rams to 78 yards rushing at 2.9 yards per carry, and for the most part, the “D” held strong. It was aggressive and the Bills got pressure on Sam Bradford, but the third-year QB made crucial throws on the final drive, attacking Bills rookie CB Ron Brooks. SS George Wilson had a pair of chances for interceptions to seal it but couldn’t get the job done. Ryan Fitzpatrick seemed dialed in most of the game, but threw an interception to end the game. Fred Jackson suffered a knee injury that will keep him out at least 2-3 weeks.
What’s in store next: The team that put together the NFL's best performance in Week 14 travels to Toronto to face the Bills in Week 15. The Seahawks forced eight turnovers and beat the Cardinals 58-0. They currently have one of the NFC wild-card spots but have struggled on the road. The Bills face another rookie QB in Russell Wilson — they lost to Andrew Luck, but beat Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins. Seattle’s defense figures to make things difficult — and its pass rush could be a big problem for a Bills O-line that allowed 11 QB hits on Sunday.
What the heck? The defense was aggressive and wreaking havoc in the first half, holding the Rams to 71 total yards. Buffalo sacked Bradford once and picked him off. In the second half, Bradford threw for 172 yards, helping set up St. Louis’ two touchdowns. Rams WR Brandon Gibson had one catch for 10 yards in the first half, and then five for 90 in the second.
What we learned: Once again, Miami’s defense kept them in a game, but Ryan Tannehill couldn’t lead the offense to a win late. Miami got off to a good start and was aggressive on defense against Colin Kaepernick. Cameron Wake notched three sacks and the Dolphins had nine tackles for loss. But the Niners’ got their run game going in the second half, thanks to a couple shifty runs by Frank Gore and Kaepernick’s 50-yard touchdown run on a read option. Prior to Kaepernick’s run, the Dolphins had a chance, against all odds, of traveling across the country to upset one of the league's best teams. The Dolphins found a way to run the ball well — Reggie Bush had 14 carries for 65 yards — but Tannehill missed on four straight passes from the San Francisco 35 with a little more than four minutes to go, trailing 20-13. Three of those passes were deep throws, and not close to Tannehill’s targets. On that drive, the Dolphins gained only seven yards — the 49ers accounted for 20 yards on penalties. Special teams also struggled — Marcus Thigpen muffed a punt and Jonathan Freeny, with a chance to down a punt deep, walked it into the endzone for a touchback.
What’s in store next: At 5-8, the Dolphins are essentially eliminated from playoff contention. Up next, they have an intriguing game in Week 15 against the Jaguars and former Dolphins QB Chad Henne. A Dolphins second-round draft pick in 2008, Henne started 31 games for the Dolphins from 2009-11 and endured the brunt of criticism for the team's subpar during his time as the starting QB in South Florida. He has started three games for Jacksonville and thrown eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Henne certainly will want to stick it to his old team, and the Dolphins’ defense will look to force him to turn it over, something he did often as a Dolphin.
What the heck? The use of Lamar Miller this season has been puzzling at times. He has shown the ability to be a productive back, but also been a healthy scratch in three games. He technically started on Sunday, and had an eight-yard catch and three carries for only one yard. Miller was only on the field for seven snaps, though, and Daniel Thomas had only two carries and 13 snaps.
What we learned: The Jets are still alive in the playoff hunt, only one game out of the AFC wild-card spot on a day in which Mark Sanchez threw the ball only 19 times and Tim Tebow didn’t see the field in his hometown. Gang Green beat the Jaguars 17-10 using their blueprint for victory — solid running game, few passes and an aggressive defense. Bilal Powell rushed for 78 yards and a score, Shonn Greene had 77 yards and a score and Sanchez threw for only 111 yards. He was strip-sacked in the first half, but that was his only turnover, and the Jets’ defense stood tall, picking off Chad Henne twice, sacking him three times and hitting him 10 times. Rex Ryan surprisingly activated Tebow, who is dealing with a rib injury, and made Greg McElroy — last week’s savior — inactive, and Tebow was the only active player who stayed on the sideline. DE Muhammad Wilkerson continued an unheralded but stellar second season with a sack and three QB hits.
What’s in store next: How, exactly, do the Jets still have a chance? An easy remaining schedule, starting with a Monday-night game in Week 15 against the Titans. Tennessee got off to a hot start vs. the Colts in Week 14 before falling 27-23, and have been a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde act this season. The Titans beat the Steelers and crushed the Dolphins, but also have lost four games by at least 20 points. If the Jets’ run defense keeps Chris Johnson in check and the offense avoids turnovers, New York can get to .500.
What the heck? The Jets had only one offensive play go longer than 17 yards, and it was arguably the biggest play of the game. Facing a 3rd-and-8 from their own 13-yard line with 2:56 left, Sanchez hit Jeff Cumberland up the seam for a 37-yard gain and a first down. Though the Jaguars got the ball back with 1:43 to play, the Cumberland catch shifted field position and forced the Jags to drive the ball from their own 20 for a touchdown — something they couldn't do as Henne was intercepted by Ellis Lankster at the Jets' 4 with 15 seconds remaining.