The New England Patriots are assured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs as a result of the Denver Broncos' 37-28 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. This gives the Patriots home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, regardless of what happens in their regular-season finale Sunday against the visiting Buffalo Bills.

That turn of events should provide players a little extra bounce in their step as they return to work Tuesday, which is usually their day off. Coach Bill Belichick is giving them Christmas off instead.

"We flipped the schedule around this week and have a lot of work to do for our preparation," Belichick said earlier Monday on his weekly interview on sports-radio WEEI.

Belichick added that he didn't have plans to watch the Broncos-Bengals game, as all his focus was on preparations for the Bills. As a result of the Broncos' loss, the Patriots' finale against the Bills will remain at 1 p.m. ET instead of being moved to 4:25 p.m. ET.

Now the question will be how Belichick manages the playing time of certain players, possibly preserving them for the playoffs.

The Patriots have an 88-15 regular-season record at home since 2002, and an 11-3 playoff record at home over that span.
Rex Ryan provided some clarity on the New York Jets' field goal fiasco in the fourth quarter. After listening to his explanation, the takeaway is that, yes, there was indecision on the Jets' sideline in Sunday's loss to the Patriots.

The initial plan was to have kicker Nick Folk try a "pooch" punt, Ryan confirmed Monday. Because the ball was at the New England Patriots' 34, about two yards behind what the Jets determined as Folk's "make" line, Ryan wanted to try a surprise pooch to pin the Patriots deep in their own end -- or so he said. Remember, the Patriots were ahead by a point, with just over five minutes to play.

A split second before the direct snap to Folk, the Jets called a timeout. Ryan said he wanted to talk it over with Folk, trying to gauge his confidence level on a 52-yard attempt. What Ryan didn't explain was the root of the indecision. He was reluctant to spell out the details, which leads me to believe this was more than a case of the head coach changing his mind.

Was there a disagreement with special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey? Why not simply try the field goal in the first place, saving the timeout?

"I knew it was going to be a stretch, but I said, 'You know what? We can win the game here,'" Ryan explained. "I have great faith in Nick Folk. ... I wanted to ask my kicker if he could make it. At the time, with the adrenaline going, he was like, 'I can make it.' That's why we attempted it. I believe he would've" made it. As it turned out, the kick was tipped by big Vince Wilfork.

Here's what I think happened: After first deciding to play it by the book, eschewing the long attempt, Ryan over-ruled McGaughey and went with his gut. Ever the player's coach, he trusted his players to win the game. And they did not.

Injury update: Center Nick Mangold, who was carted off in the second quarter, has a "bad" ankle sprain, according to Ryan. He reiterated that X-rays showed no fracture. Ryan declined to rule out Mangold for the season finale Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Ditto, wide receiver Percy Harvin, who is "extremely sore" after sustaining a rib injury.
Geno Smith didn't see a whole lot wrong with his performance Sunday. That, in itself, is troubling.

"After watching it on tape, I think I played good," the New York Jets' quarterback said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "I made some good throws, made some good reads."

Hello?

Smith
Smith threw a critical third-quarter interception -- a "poor throw," according to head coach Rex Ryan -- and he took a third-down sack in the fourth quarter that might have cost them the game. Afterward, Ryan chided Smith for holding the ball in that situation, saying it's up to the quarterback to avoid a sack at all costs.

The second-year quarterback has made some curious comments recently. Two weeks ago, Smith was mocked for saying he has displayed "flashes of being a Pro Bowl quarterback." On Monday, after a crushing loss to the New England Patriots, he still was wearing his rose-colored glasses.

Smith acknowledged they should've fared better in the red zone, but he added: "I think we did a good job overall. Protection was great. The run game was great. Aside from one or two plays here and there, I think as an offense we did a pretty good job against a really good defense."

Bottom line: The Jets scored one touchdown. They lost, 17-16. No, the offense didn't do a pretty good job.

Smith's fourth-quarter sack was the killer. It came on a third-and-4 from the Patriots' 24. The Patriots blitzed, rushing five. The Jets had six in protection, but there was a miscommunication between running back Bilal Powell and right tackle Breno Giacomini, leaving linebacker Dont'a Hightower unblocked.

Smith refused to accept the blame for the sack.

"I know you’re supposed to get the ball away in that situation," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to and I wasn’t able to."

He claimed he wasn't surprised by the blitz, but there was "immediate pressure and didn’t want to run backwards or try to scramble out to the right or to the left and take a bigger sack, so I tried to pretty much eat it right there and take as minimal a loss as I could."

What about throwing a quick outlet pass?

"I’m pretty sure you guys have seen the play," Smith said, bristling. "There is no outlet in that situation on that play. The guy who was the outlet, the back, was in protection."

True, but wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was open underneath.

Smith's comments were surprising because, in the past, he has owned up to his mistakes, as every quarterback should. These latest remarks show a lack of accountability, and that's not what you want from your quarterback.
DAVIE, Fla. -- How did Joe Philbin celebrate Sunday night’s news that he will return as Miami Dolphins' head coach in 2015?

“I had one Guinness,” Philbin said Monday.

Philbin can breathe easier now that his job is secure for another year. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross pulled a somewhat surprising move by making the coaching announcement following Sunday’s 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Philbin
There was a lot of speculation that Philbin’s future would be determined in the final two games. However, Ross said he made up his mind before Sunday.

"Things are happening as an organization. I think everyone feels the buzz that things are changing around here," Ross said. "They say patience is a virtue, you know. But I'm expecting big things next year -- I will tell you that."

Questions about Philbin have been removed, and the mood is different this week going into the season finale.

“It’s important for the head coach of an NFL football team that the owner believes in him and what he’s doing and the program he’s instilling,” Philbin said. “It’s very, very important. If you don’t have that kind of belief and faith from the owner then it’s not going to work.”

Questions remain if Philbin will keep everyone on his coaching staff, particularly on defense, where the team has struggled in the final five weeks of the season. Ross assured Philbin will return, but it remains to be seen if offseason tweaks will be required for the assistants.

Last year, Miami fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and replaced him with Bill Lazor, who has been an upgrade. Miami’s points per game increased from 19.8 in 2013 to 24.3 this season.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and Philbin both deflected questions about the future of the staff on Monday.

“Right now, I’m just concerned about playing the New York Jets and winning this football game,” Philbin said. “There’s a time and place to talk about staff.”

Added Coyle, “I don’t think it’s my place to answer any of that type of stuff. Right now we have one game to get ready for as the season ends. That’s not [something] I’m going to deal with.”

A victory over the Jets (3-12) would give the Dolphins (8-7) their first winning season since 2008, and it would mark Philbin’s first winning season as head coach.

A victory over New York also could provide some momentum and good vibes heading into the offseason.

“We approach this as a privilege to put the uniform on and put the whistle on as a coach to represent this organization,” Philbin said. “The goal is to win every single time you step on this field. ... That's the only way I know how to go about preparing a team to play in the National Football League. So that's exactly what we're going to do.”
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The Charley Casserly news probably elicited a great big laugh from the New England Patriots' bunker in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Bill Belichick, we know, isn't a member of the Casserly fan club.

Belichick doesn't fire off too many candid responses, which made it stunning almost five years ago (January 2010) when he ripped Casserly for reporting on CBS that Tom Brady was playing with three broken ribs.

"Who's been wrong more than Charley Casserly since he left the Redskins? His percentage is like a meteorologist," Belichick said during his weekly spot on WEEI radio. "He has no relationship to this team. I'd say less than zero. Based on what? He's never at a practice, never at a game. ... At least he put his name on it, which is more than a lot of guys. But, like he usually is, he was 100 percent wrong."

At the time, Casserly, a former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans general manager, was working as an information man for CBS.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Casserly
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesCharley Casserly says the blame has to fall on someone within the organization for the Jets not addressing their cornerback position.
The New York Jets are interested in Casserly for his knowledge of the NFL, not his reporting skills. He will be hired as a Jets consultant if owner Woody Johnson decides to fire general manager John Idzik or coach Rex Ryan. Casserly won't have a say in the Idzik and Ryan evaluations, according to sources, but he will have input into potential GM and head-coaching searches.

What does Casserly think of the Jets? In an October interview with CBS Radio, he was asked to assess blame for the Jets' season. He seemed to point the finger at Idzik.

"I would say, having been in an organization, it's hard to know from the outside-in who's making the final decision on things," he said. "For example, they took two corners in the first round. One is hurt [Dee Milliner], and the other one, [Kyle] Wilson, hasn't panned out. So how much of that was the coaching staff? How much of that was the scouting staff? Who made the final decision? Those are the things you're going to have to figure out -- and that's the owner's job to figure that out."

Casserly added, "This year, they did not take a corner [in the first round] -- and they were in desperate need of a corner. Cincinnati took Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State [24th overall], who was rated about in the middle of the first round. Now, he's not playing for them because they have a lot of other corners, but they do like him there.

"Not addressing the cornerback position was huge because [of] two things: One, any time you talk to Rex Ryan, he says, 'Give me corners. That's what I need is corners.' When you watch their defense, they've never had a legitimate outside pass-rusher you have to game-plan against. But by having good corners, Rex is as good as anybody in the league at designing blitzes to get people free.

"So that's an example of the front office not getting what the coach needs. From the outside-in, that's the obvious one we look at there. It's a legitimate question because clearly there's not enough talent around that football team to compete. I thought Rex should have been the coach of the year at 8-8 last year."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills could be moving from its scheduled 1 p.m. ET kickoff time.

Here are the key details:

If the Broncos beat the Bengals on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" tonight, the Patriots-Bills game will move to 4:25 p.m. ET.

If the Broncos lose to the Bengals tonight, the Patriots-Bills game will stay at 1 p.m. ET.

Bill Belichick not happy with offense

December, 22, 2014
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The New England Patriots escaped with a 17-16 win against the New York Jets on Sunday, but coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were not happy with how the team played on offense.

"We just didn't execute very well in any part of the [offensive] game," Belichick said during a conference call with reporters Monday. "All of the players and all of the coaches were involved. We just didn't execute very well. We had multiple mistakes everywhere. You could point to any spot and find some [mistakes] because they were everywhere.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTom Brady and the Patriots felt lots of pressure from the Jets during their Week 16 matchup on Sunday.
"We didn't execute the passing game very well, the running game, blocking, passing, catching. None of it was very good."

The Patriots were without wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back LeGarrette Blount and starting left guard Dan Connolly. Reserve offensive lineman Josh Kline started in place of Connolly, but was benched at halftime. Quarterback Tom Brady was under pressure throughout most of the game and the offensive line gave up four sacks in the first half.

"Fifty yards of offense in the first half, that's not going to win many games," Belichick said. "We were lucky to even be in the game."

McDaniels shared the blame for the offense's woes.

"We didn't have our best [game] total on offense," McDaniels said. "I don't think anybody played or executed or coached particularly well, starting with me.

Belichick gave credit to the Jets for playing a tough game.

"I didn't think it was our best game by any stretch," Belichick said. "I won't take anything away from the Jets. But, we have and will need to play a lot better than we played yesterday.

"I don't want to take anything away from them. They came out there. They competed well," Belichick said. "In the end we kind of made the plays we needed to make in the fourth quarter to win. But, I didn't think we played particularly well, particularly on offense."

The Patriots have another AFC East divisional matchup to close out the season against the Buffalo Bills, who have one of the NFL's top defenses.

"Every team is tough in the National Football League," Belichick said. "You can just look at the score in yesterday's game and any game in the NFL on any weekend. We don't play Division I football and have a bunch of Division III teams on the schedule. They don't exist. Every week is tough."
Lost in Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ newsworthy announcement that head coach Joe Philbin will return in 2015 was the stellar performance by their quarterback that led to Sunday's 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Tannehill
 Third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill also solidified his case to be next year's starter. He had his best game of the season, throwing for 396 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Tannehill also recorded a 118.8 passer rating.

Tannehill posted big numbers in the most important season of his career. He set career-highs for touchdowns (26) and passer rating (93.2) while learning a new offensive scheme.

Similar to the head coach, there is no question on who will be under center in Miami next season. The Tannehill-Philbin tandem will lead the Dolphins again in 2015.

“I’m happy to hear [Philbin is] coming back,” Tannehill said after Sunday's game. “I’m looking forward to it. Let’s keep working on it.”

Tannehill surpassed Carson Palmer for the sixth-most passing yards in the first three seasons in NFL history. He’s started every game since 2012 and has 10,993 passing yards.

The addition of new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has paid off for Tannehill. Together, the pair has improved Miami’s points per game from 19.8 in 2013 to 24.3 this season. And if the Dolphins get 37 points next week against the New York Jets (3-12), they will have 400 points in a season for the first time since the Dan Marino era.

There are still things Tannehill needs to work on. He hasn’t hit on enough deep balls to stretch the defense, and his play speed should improve in his second year in the system. Tannehill -- and Philbin -- also must improve their 23-24 career record. Miami will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.

But the Dolphins are optimistic Tannehill and Philbin will improve and grow in their fourth season together. They still have a chance to lead Miami (8-7) to its first winning season since 2008 with a victory Sunday over the Jets.

“It’s big,” Tannehill said. “Finishing with a winning record was not our goal to start the year. But at this point that’s what we have to aim for. We’re out of the playoff competition. We’re playing for each other right now. To be able finish on a positive note against a division opponent at home is huge.”

Stock watch: Risers and fallers

December, 22, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A look at the good and the bad from the New York Jets' 17-16 loss to the New England Patriots:

THREE UP

Williams
1. Marcus Williams, cornerback: The Houston Texans castoff, an undrafted rookie free agent, continued his surprising season, recording his first career interception. It should've been a game-changer, but the offense failed to capitalize on the short field -- typical. He also had three pass break-ups, equaling his total from his previous six starts. Williams hasn't garnered a lot of publicity, but he has emerged as one of the bright spots in this sorry season. He's their best cornerback. Good for him; it's also a commentary on the other corners.

2. Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle: Richardson, who compared himself last week to J.J. Watt, played another strong game. He recorded a half-sack, bringing his total to seven, and generated multiple pressures on Tom Brady. The Jets sacked Brady four times and recorded 11 -- count 'em, 11 -- quarterback hits. "We had a feast out there," Richardson said. He's right.

3. David Harris, linebacker: In what may have been his final home game, the free agent-to-be recorded the 1,000th tackle of his career. Said Harris: "I'll think about it after the season. I would've rather had a win." He was credited with 10 total tackles, including a half-sack.

THREE DOWN

Smith
1. Geno Smith, quarterback: He was decent for three quarters, but then came the fourth-quarter mistakes. First, there was the interception, a poor and late throw to tight end Jace Amaro. Then came the third-down sack, which turned a makeable field goal attempt into a 52-yarder that was partially blocked. Smith had some positive moments, including a 20-yard scoring strike to Jeff Cumberland, but it wasn't a winning performance. He's 2-10 as the starter.

2. Eric Decker, wide receiver: It was a quiet game for Decker, who had only two catches and four targets. You figured the Jets' receivers would have a tough time against the Patriots' corners, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner -- and they did. Percy Harvin's rib injury -- he didn't play the second half -- hurt the offense. It wasn't a good day for the Deckers. His wife, country singer Jessie James Decker, was supposed to perform at halftime, but she called in sick.

3. The "Fire John Idzik" movement: The anticipated protest, organized by a disgruntled fan group, never became visible in the stadium. They reportedly distributed more than 10,000 "Fire Idzik" penalty flags, but it was hard to pick them out in the crowd. The venomous plot probably was foiled, in part, by the Jets' competitive performance.
videoOAKLAND, Calif. -- Talk about a black hole.

The playoff hopes of the Buffalo Bills (8-7) were sucked in, swallowed up and left to rot Sunday inside O.co Coliseum, where the lowly Oakland Raiders (3-12) spoiled what had been a promising late-season run by a team that has now hitched another season to its 15-year postseason drought.

Everyone knew that it would take all sorts of help for the Bills to find their way into the playoffs in a crowded AFC field, but few expected it would end this way, with a 26-24 loss to the Raiders that eliminated the Bills from playoff contention.

"We were trying to move this organization up the ladder," defensive tackle Corbin Bryant said. "We lose a game like this when we have a chance to get ourselves into better position for the playoffs, it definitely hurts. It's no secret that it hurts a lot."

The sting around the Bills' locker room wasn't just because this was another season where players will pack up and watch January's games from home. This year was different. Instead of turning their attention to the draft as is the annual custom by this point in the season, Bills fans dove head-first last week into crunching the scenarios that would get the team into the playoffs.

This wasn't what was supposed to happen.

The Bills' defense -- rightfully vaunted after a head-turning win over Green Bay Packers last Sunday -- laid an egg against a Raiders offense that ranked dead last in several statistics. Allowing a struggling rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, to complete a 51-yard pass on third-and-22 -- with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter -- isn't the mark of a playoff team.

Nor is managing just 13 rushing yards in the game. Already handcuffed by their well-documented quarterback problem, the Bills' once-superior running game continued to deteriorate Sunday, putting up the franchise's worst single-game performance since a 4-yard outing in 1997.

"Hell, I don't even know if we rushed the ball for even 20 yards, which is flat-out embarrassing," tight end Lee Smith said. "We're grown men. We all work very hard. We all dedicate ourselves to this game, and when you get your ass whooped up front for four quarters, it's embarrassing."

While C.J. Spiller's four carries for negative-4 yards jumps out on the stat sheet and contributed to the running game's woes, it wasn't entirely his fault. The offensive linemen, whose play has been inconsistent all season, dropped the ball when the Bills needed a lock-down win Sunday.

Is this as bad as Doug Marrone has seen his blockers play this season?

"Yeah," he responded succinctly.

Even the Bills' run defense, which has slid since a strong start to the season, was gashed at times Sunday by a Raiders offense that entered the game averaging a league-low 74 yards rushing per game.

"They hit the big plays," Marrone said.

A backfield combination of Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden combined for 140 rushing yards on 32 carries, including a pair of 25-yard runs that supplemented passes of 51 and 50 yards by Carr. Losing Marcell Dareus in the second quarter to a knee injury was a contributing factor, but the air-tight Bills' defense that handed Aaron Rodgers the worst game of his career last week was nowhere to be found in Oakland.

Forget about scoreboard-watching and deciphering tiebreakers; the least of the Bills' obstacles to making the playoffs was their trip to Oakland this weekend, and they blew it.

Because of that, their season is over, the postseason drought continues and fans' hopes were raised a little bit higher only to come down crashing that much harder.

"There's no putting into words with how disappointed I am with myself, and just the way we played in general," safety Aaron Williams said. "We just didn't come out and play.

"We had the playoffs this year and we let it slip away."
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was beaming in the locker room Sunday, following his team's 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Although Miami was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs about 20 minutes earlier, Ross excitedly announced that head coach Joe Philbin will return in 2015.

"He's coming back!" Ross said with a smile, squashing speculation on the contrary.

You cannot fault Ross for choosing continuity. He has tried the other way and it hasn't worked. Ross has fired a head coach (Tony Sparano) and a general manager (Jeff Ireland) and it hasn't resulted in a playoff appearance. Philbin would have become the third high-level executive to be let go in four years.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Joe Philbin
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesRyan Tannehill and the Dolphins will miss the playoffs this year, but Joe Philbin says he still expects to compete in the postseason during his tenure as Miami's head coach.
Philbin has his faults, but he made strides in his third season that appeal to ownership. The locker-room chemistry is much better after last year's disastrous bullying scandal. Philbin has the support of his players and has a chance to lead Miami (8-7) to its first winning season since 2008. All the Dolphins must do is beat the lowly New York Jets (3-12) next week at home.

Here are some key statistics in Philbin's favor:

  • Miami's scoring has improved from 19.8 points per game in 2013 to 24.3 points per game this season. Philbin's hiring of first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor played a key role in that improvement.
  • Third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is having a career season. He has set career highs in touchdown passes (26) and passer rating (93.2) with one game remaining to pad those numbers.
  • The Dolphins had three losses this season by four points or less to three playoff teams (Denver, Green Bay and Detroit). If Miami pulled off any of these close games, the season result could have been different.

"Things are happening as an organization. I think everyone feels the buzz that things are changing around here," Ross explained. "They say patience is a virtue, you know. But I'm expecting big things next year -- I will tell you that."

Another aspect in Ross' decision is Philbin's support in the locker room. Following last week's loss to New England, which essentially ended Miami's postseason chances, veterans such as team captain Cameron Wake, receiver Mike Wallace and guard Mike Pouncey all came to Philbin's defense. Each veteran said any fault for the Dolphins' shortcomings is on the players.

Wake, who leads the team with 11.5 sacks, was among the players happy for Philbin on Sunday.

"Coach Philbin is a big part of this franchise," Wake said. "He's obviously part of the success of this team. That's great news and I'm looking forward to it."

According to Ross, this team is close to contending. Ross has been a strong supporter of Philbin, the owner's first hire in 2012. Ross said at the time that he's hopeful Philbin could become the "next Don Shula," which is both high praise and high expectations.

Philbin is 23-24 as a head coach, which is not awful but not great. If Ross doesn't think he can get an elite replacement -- for example, Jim Harbaugh -- why break up the entire regime and start from scratch? The worst move the Dolphins could make would be to hire another first-time coach and allow that person 2-3 more years to learn on the job and make mistakes.

Ross believes keeping Philbin and first-year general manager Dennis Hickey together for another year could end the Dolphins' six-year playoff drought. Hickey made several solid moves this year, most notably drafting left tackle Ja'Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry. Hickey also signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and safety Louis Delmas, who all contributed. Hickey wasn't the problem in Miami.

Sure, there is a chance the Dolphins could be in this same spot one year from now, missing out on the playoffs. But if that's the case, Philbin and the Dolphins can make a clean break, the coach having fulfilled the final year of his contract.

But there's also a possibility Philbin rewards the Dolphins for their patience and develops into the coach Ross thinks he can be in 2015. That would provide a long-term payoff.

Philbin must do better in his in-game management, especially in close games. The Dolphins also must play better late in the season. Philbin failed to win big games in December for the second straight season and that's a major reason Miami is not in the playoffs. Improvement in those two areas would go a long way.

"I want to compete for championships while I'm the head coach of the Miami Dolphins," Philbin said Sunday night. "That's what I told Mr. Ross I was going to do. I'm disappointed that we're not in [the playoffs]."

Keeping Philbin is a calculated risk, but it's worth a try.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 26-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders:

Smith
Bills got "whooped" up front: Tight end Lee Smith was blunt when asked about the Bills' dismal rushing performance, which saw them gain just 13 yards on 13 carries. "I don't even know if we rushed the ball for even 20 yards, which is flat-out embarrassing," he said. "We're grown men. We all work very hard. We all dedicate ourselves to this game, and when you get your ass whooped up front for four quarters, it's embarrassing. We take it personal, and there's no excuse for it." Doug Marrone said Sunday was the worst showing by the offensive line this season.

Marrone's parting shot: At the end of his postgame news conference, Marrone was asked about a CBSSports.com report in which Marrone was said to be "on the radar" for the University of Michigan's head coaching vacancy. "No, not right now," he said. "I have nothing to do with that job." Marrone then walked off the podium and added with a laugh: "You're stuck with me, fortunately or unfortunately."

No indication on EJ Manuel's status for finale: With the Bills now eliminated from the playoffs, the possibility of the Bills evaluating quarterback EJ Manuel moves onto the radar. Marrone made it clear two weeks ago that he would stick with Orton even if the Bills were out of the playoffs, but he was less firm when asked the question after Sunday's loss. "We'll look at the film and see what we have to do and play who gives us the best chance to win next week," he said.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Pucker up, Rex.

After six years of bluster and broken promises, it's time for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan to kiss Bill Belichick's rings. Why not? The rivalry is over, with Sunday confirming what we've known all along: Ryan can rattle Tom Brady with his clever defensive schemes, but he can't beat the New England Patriots because he has an incomplete team. It's why Ryan will be out of a job in a week, the culmination of a rotten season that almost certainly will cost general manager John Idzik his job, too.

Six years of frustration played out in one afternoon at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets endured their 12th loss of the season, 17-16. They were in position to pull off a major upset, but they self-destructed in a span of 52 seconds in the fourth quarter -- a small window into the core of their problems. Inexplicably, Geno Smith took a third-down sack, followed by a Ryan-Marty Mornhinweg disagreement on the sideline, followed by a wasted timeout, followed by a partially blocked field-goal attempt from 52 yards.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Al Bello/Getty ImagesRex Ryan has perhaps fought his last battle against Bill Belichick as coach of the Jets.
And so ended the Ryan chapter of the Jets-Patriots rivalry. It was an appropriate finish since it was so typical, the Jets wasting an inspired defensive effort because the offense stinks and the head coach doesn't use his timeouts properly. Same old, same old. Four of their past five losses to the Patriots were decided by a field goal or less. Sunday was just another re-run in a continuous loop of Jets heartbreak.

"I really thought it was going to be our day," said a disgusted Ryan, who probably has used that line a dozen or so times over the years in his post-New England news conferences.

This was another tease. The Jets were in terrific shape after Marcus Williams' interception at the Patriots' 30 with 7:18 left in the fourth quarter. On third-and-4, the Patriots caught the Jets by surprise with a new blitz. Smith held the ball and took a 10-yard sack. Instead of a potential go-ahead field goal from 42 yards, give or take, it was back to 52 yards, the limit of Nick Folk's range. To make it worse, the Jets had to burn a timeout because the play clock was winding down -- inexcusable.

"It was pretty dang critical," Ryan said of Smith's mistake. "You can't take sacks in those situations. Obviously, we botched the end of that as well."

Amid the confusion, Ryan had words with his offensive coordinator. You can't help but wonder if Ryan preferred a safe running play on third down instead of a pass. One source described it as a moment of frustration between the two coaches. The run-pass storyline has been simmering all season with Ryan and Mornhinweg, whose philosophical differences have been analyzed and reanalyzed.

"I'm sure we're at odds," Ryan said sarcastically. "At least, that'll be the story. We had to burn a timeout. I really butchered that whole thing. That's on me."

Ryan also wasted a timeout on an ill-advised replay challenge with 4:38 remaining, which came back to bite him when he had no timeouts remaining in the final 1:55. In the end, the Jets played well enough to have their hearts crushed, which always seems to be the case against the Patriots.

"It stinks," guard Willie Colon said. "Bottom line."

"It sucks for the team, the organization and the fans," Folk said. "It seems like our year for close losses. It's a tough way to go out."

It's a tough way for Ryan to go out, but this is the monster he created. Even with no-names at cornerback, he can devise game plans that neutralize future Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, et al -- but Ryan has missed the playoffs four straight years because he has never developed an offense or a quarterback. Obviously, some of that falls on Idzik, who deserves to get fired. There are strong indications that he will get a pink slip. Owner Woody Johnson, poised to clean house, needs to formulate another plan for attempting to overthrow the Evil Empire.

Ryan is 4-9 against the Patriots -- one glorious moment (the 2010 playoff win) sandwiched between utter frustration. Ryan commended Belichick for constructing a team that knows how to win close games. Conversely, the Jets know how to lose. If it's not an ill-timed interception, it's a bad sack. If it's not a blocked field goal, it's a wasted timeout. Over and over and over.

Oh, but Ryan was proud of his defense.

"We're the team that always gives [Brady] the biggest challenge, whether he admits it or not," Ryan said.

Unfortunately for Ryan, moral victories don't lead to contract extensions.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Nick Folk might have nightmares about the New England Patriots, if he hasn't already.

The New York Jets' place-kicker has had a solid season, making 29 of his 35 field-goal attempts. But in the Jets' two games against the Patriots, Folk had potential game-winning kicks blocked.

Folk
Back in October, a 58-yard attempt on the final play of the game was blocked by Chris Jones, sealing the Pats' 27-25 victory. And Sunday, a 52-yard try with just over five minutes remaining was partially tipped by Vince Wilfork, preserving the 17-16 final score.

Despite the cold weather, Folk made a kick from that distance in pregame warm-ups. It would have been 10 yards closer, except for Dont'a Hightower's sack of Geno Smith on the previous play.

Folk had connected from 26, 23 and 37 yards earlier in the game.

"I feel like I was hitting the ball pretty well today," Folk said. "It's a bummer the last one; I didn't get a chance to see it go in."

"I hit it about as pure as you could hit the ball," Folk added. "I’d like to think it would have gone through."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said his team made a tweak before that fateful kick.

"I coached special teams for a significant part of my career. I know how that goes," Belichick said. "When you see a guy block a kick or get pressure in a certain area, you try to stop that and that usually creates opportunities for somebody else. We’ve gotten it from different guys in different gaps. If the team concentrates too much on trying to stop one guy and there’s an opening somewhere else, we’ve got to be able to take advantage of that.

"We had a stand right there before the snap and changed our alignment a little bit. It was a long kick, like the one we had in New England. Like Chris [Jones] did, Vince got his hand up and the ball was a little low. The key to blocking the kick was being in front of the ball. Vince got himself there and made the play."

Folk did have a game-winning kick in the Jets' 30-27 overtime win over the Patriots last season. But it was not without controversy. Folk was originally wide left from 56 yards away, but Chris Jones was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pushing a teammate into the opponent's formation -- a penalty that had never been called in an NFL game before.

What's next for Folk and the Patriots? Well, we'll just have to wait for next season.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
7:43
PM ET
video
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 26-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at O.co Coliseum:

What it means: The Bills (8-7) were eliminated from the playoffs in crushing fashion. Riding high after taking down the Green Bay Packers, the Bills made a cross-country trip to Oakland and laid an egg to end their season. The Raiders (3-12) were able to make the big plays, including a key 51-yard catch by Andre Holmes on a third-and-22 late in the fourth quarter, the Packers weren't able to execute last week. Oakland's "black hole" took on new meaning for the Bills, whose offense -- including quarterback Kyle Orton -- yet again proved too inconsistent to win.

Stock watch: Rushing offense -- down. The Bills ran 13 times for 13 yards and their worst single-game rushing performance since 1997. It tied the Detroit Lions' 13 yards in Week 13 as the second-fewest by a team this season, behind the Indianapolis Colts' 1 rushing yard Sunday. The Bills entered Sunday with the NFL's 26th-ranked rushing offense and averaging 3.83 yards per carry.

Spiller ineffective in return: Playing his first game since fracturing his collarbone in Week 7, running back C.J. Spiller was largely ineffective in limited action against the Raiders. He ran four times for negative-4 yards and fumbled, though he recovered the loose ball on his final carry of the game. He added four catches for 14 yards.

Game ball: WR Sammy Watkins. The rookie was the lone bright spot in the Bills' offense. He caught a 42-yard touchdown from Orton in the first quarter and finished with three catches for a team-high 75 yards.

Two key defenders injured: The Bills suffered a pair of losses in their defense Sunday when Marcell Dareus (knee) and Stephon Gilmore (head) both left the game with injuries. Dareus has been one of the Bills' best defensive linemen this season, with 10 sacks, while Gilmore is the Bills' top cornerback.

What's next: The Bills close out their regular season with a trip to meet the New England Patriots (12-3) next Sunday. It's the second consecutive season the Bills have wrapped up at Gillette Stadium; Buffalo lost 34-20 to New England in their finale last December.

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