AFC East Spin cycle: Three 4-6 teams looking up at Patriots

Kevin Fishbain
Pro Football Weekly
AFC East Spin cycle: Three 4-6 teams looking up at Patriots

The Patriots dominated in Week 11, extending their division lead to three games over the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, who are all 4-6. Buffalo topped Miami on Thursday night, and the Jets got past the drama to beat the Rams. The three teams vying for second place need huge finishes to get in the wild-card hunt, and the Jets start up against it, having to play the Patriots on Thursday.


What we learned: This team is resilient, C.J. Spiller can handle a heavy workload and the defense responded. In a must-win situation at home on Thursday night, the Bills put together a solid performance in a 19-14 win. The defense had its best performance of the season, holding Miami to 184 total yards and only 2.5 yards a carry. FS Jairus Byrd’s diving interception late in the fourth quarter was the highlight for Buffalo’s “D” and Bryan Scott’s interception on the next drive sealed it. On offense, Spiller had 25 touches for 130 yards and was on the field for a season-high 75 percent of snaps with Fred Jackson (concussion) out. WR Stevie Johnson had a solid day against Dolphins CB Sean Smith, but the Bills still struggled mightily in the red zone and could have put the game away much earlier. They were 0-for-4 in converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Leodis McKelvin continued his strong season with a punt-return touchdown.

What’s in store next: Buffalo travels to Indianapolis to face Andrew Luck and the upstart Colts. The Bills could use key defensive players Chris Kelsay and Aaron Williams back to face Luck, the best opposing QB remaining on the schedule. The Colts’ defense has improved, but there should be holes for the Bills to run through. Indy’s secondary is banged up, as well. With those things in mind, if the Bills can contain Luck, they will have a good chance to win. 

What the heck? The Bills can’t figure out how to use rookie WR T.J. Graham, or the “Wildcat.” Graham, the speedy rookie, had two catches for five yards. Without a quarterback who can hit Graham deep, the Bills try bubble screens to little success. He is averaging 7.4 yards a catch after averaging more than 16 yards a catch in his final year in college. As for the “Wildcat,” the Bills brought Brad Smith in for a reason, yet with 3rd-and-1 in the first quarter, they ran the formation with Tashard Choice, who was stuffed.


What we learned: Miami’s season is getting away from them in a hurry. The Dolphins lost their third-straight game on Thursday night, falling to the Bills on a night the offense stalled and the defense didn’t create any big plays. Ryan Tannehill had another rookie-like outing, completing only 50 percent of his passes and throwing two late-game interceptions, ending drives. The run game was abysmal again, which was noteworthy against one of the league’s worst run defenses. Reggie Bush had only 20 yards rushing on 10 carries, while Daniel Thomas rushed it 12 times for 33 yards. The defense made some stops behind the line and tallied three sacks, but did not force a turnover for the third consecutive game and allowed the Bills to make four trips to the red zone. They held, forcing field goals each time, but the offense couldn’t get the job done.

What’s in store next: The Dolphins picked a pretty poor time to lose three games in a row, as their next three are not going to be easy, starting with this Sunday against the Seahawks. Seattle has to make a long trip to South Florida, but the 6-4 Seahawks are coming off a bye and their ferocious defense likely won’t be the cure to the Dolphins’ offensive problems.

What the heck? One of the best ways to help a rookie quarterback is give him some easy targets, like a tight end with good hands who can get open. Miami has a solid option in Anthony Fasano, who was on the field for 93 percent of the snaps, but he received two targets and had only one catch for eight yards.


What we learned: The offense can still be dominant, but it will need to replace its best playmaker, and the defense continues to give up yards but be opportunistic enough to make up for it. After all the talk about Andrew Luck leading up to the game, one could get the feeling that Tom Brady and the Patriots were up for a rout, and they turned it on in the 59-24 win. On offense, Brady threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, and is “quietly” putting together another MVP-like campaign. Rob Gronkowski, who caught all seven passes thrown his way for 137 yards and two scores, broke his forearm at the end of the game and the Pats will have to fill that void going forward. Stevan Ridley struggled on the ground, but Julian Edelman had a big day as a runner (one rush for 47 yards), receiver (one touchdown) and returner (68-yard punt-return TD, 49-yard punt return). The defense gave up a few big plays, but scored 14 points on two interception-return touchdowns, one by the newest Patriot, CB Aqib Talib. The Pats forced four turnovers and notched six quarterback hits.

What’s in store next: New England has a quick turnaround, playing the Jets on Thanksgiving night. The Patriots routed the Lions on Thanksgiving two years ago, and travel to New Jersey to face their rivals. It’ll be our first chance to see how the offense works without Gronk. The defense let Mark Sanchez and the Jets back into the game in the first matchup, and the Patriots had to win in overtime. The Jets have some momentum and are more desperate for a win, so the Patriots have to be cautious to avoid a letdown.

What the heck? We’ve seen this before in Patriots blowouts — Brady and the first-team offense playing late into the game. It’s too nit-picky to blame that when it comes to Gronkowski’s injury, but Brady dropped back to pass as late as 5:32 left in the game with a 28-point lead. After Shane Vereen scored a TD and the Pats got the ball back with 2:17 to go, Ryan Mallett was in. Brady is one of those “ultimate competitor” players who doesn’t like to leave the game, and it’s never truly a problem until a key player gets hurt when he shouldn’t be in the game.


What we learned: The Jets can respond to another week of a circus-like atmosphere. Following the latest drama in Florham Park — anonymous players ripping Tim Tebow in a New York Daily News report — Gang Green stepped up and scored 27 consecutive points in a 27-13 win over the Rams. It looked dicey at the start, with the Rams marching downfield for the first touchdown, and you could already see the headlines about Brian Schottenheimer getting revenge. Instead, the Jets’ defense made big plays — another forced fumble by DE Muhammad Wilkerson — and Mark Sanchez had a very solid game, throwing a nice 25-yard TD pass to Chaz Schilens. Tony Sparano called a pair of third-down draw plays near the endzone, and both resulted in Bilal Powell touchdown runs. Gang Green’s defense forced three turnovers.

What’s in store next: The 4-6 Jets are not completely out of the wild-card hunt, but they’ll need to beat their rivals on Thanksgiving night. The Jets almost pulled the upset over the Patriots in Week Seven before falling in overtime. The defense catches a break, as Rob Gronkowski will be out, but Tom Brady has had his success against Rex Ryan. Sanchez will need to protect the football against a Patriots team very adept at taking it away.

What the heck? In the Jets’ endless search for offensive weapons, some unknowns stepped up, starting with Powell, who scored the two rushing touchdowns. Powell had two more offensive snaps than Shonn Greene. WR Clyde Gates, a Dolphins cast-off, actually led all skill players with 47 snaps. The player some thought could help ignite the offense, Tim Tebow, played in three snaps. … Speaking of Tebow, the Rams completely stuffed a fake-punt attempt, when Tebow shoveled it to Lex Hilliard. The special-teams gaffes for the Jets continue, and that is supposed to be a team strength. 

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