AFC East: 2011 Week 15 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 41, Broncos 23

December, 18, 2011

DENVER -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 41-23 victory over the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

PatriotsBroncosWhat it means: The Patriots clinch the AFC East championship with the win. Improving to 11-3, they find themselves atop the AFC with Baltimore (10-3) playing Sunday night and Pittsburgh (10-3) on Monday night. Houston lost at home to Carolina to drop to 10-4. Those are the top four teams in the AFC and the Patriots are well positioned for a top playoff seed.

Defensive turnaround: The Patriots had an awful first quarter, giving up 167 rushing yards in the first 15 minutes and falling behind 13-7. The Broncos went up 16-7 early in the second quarter, before the Patriots ripped off the next 20 points. The turnaround was aided by some costly Broncos mistakes (two fumbles on offense, one on special teams) that were turned into 13 points. Credit goes to the Patriots for creating those turnovers. The defense, which looked like the worst in the NFL early, engineered a solid comeback.

Mental toughness on display: All year, the Patriots have proven to be a mentally tough team. That was on display again Sunday after a horrific start defensively. These Patriots might not be the most talented team in the NFL, but they’ve shown that it takes quite a punch to knock them out. No environment or tough situation seems too big for them. Tom Brady also showed his overall toughness. He took a major hit from Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, lifting him off his feet for a crunching sack, but popped right back up.

Hernandez shines: One week after Rob Gronkowski set the NFL record for most touchdown receptions in a season by a tight end, it was Aaron Hernandez’s turn to shine. He finished with nine receptions for 129 yards and 1 touchdown, with some stellar work after the catch. The Patriots were without No. 2 receiver Deion Branch (groin) in the game and while Chad Ochocinco contributed with a 33-yard touchdown catch and some solid downfield blocking, it was Hernandez who was the No. 1 offensive star.

Andre Carter knee injury: Veteran defensive end Andre Carter left the game on a cart late in the first quarter after clutching his left knee. It didn’t look good and the Patriots announced he would not return. Veteran Mark Anderson played well in Carter’s place with a forced fumble and two sacks. Overall, Anderson was one of the Patriots’ top performers.

Thoughts on Tebow: The Broncos certainly didn’t lose this game because of Tim Tebow, who was up to the challenge in this big game. Tebow’s lost fumble in the second quarter was his big miscue, but he gave the Patriots all they could handle. As a passer, Tebow didn’t look out of place. While he is still growing in that area, he made some nice plays with his arm in this game.

What’s next: The Patriots return home to face the Dolphins on Saturday, Dec. 24 (1 p.m.). The Broncos visit the Bills that day.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 45, Jets 19

December, 18, 2011

PHILADELPHIA -- Here are some initial thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 45-19 victory over the New York Jets:

What it means: The Jets fell to 8-6 and blew their one-game lead for the final spot in the AFC. The Jets are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6). Fortunately, New York received a lot of help from other playoff hopefuls. The Oakland Raiders (7-7) and Tennessee Titans (7-7) both lost, which helps New York. It looks like Cincinnati could be New York's biggest threat down the stretch with two games remaining.

Turnovers aplenty: This was the sloppiest game I've covered all season. The Jets and Eagles combined for seven first-half turnovers and eight total. Both showed why they've been among the most inconsistent teams all season. There were five lost fumbles and three interceptions. The difference is the Eagles made many more significant plays.

Pass protection issues: The Jets' offensive line has had trouble protecting quarterback Mark Sanchez all season. That weakness was further exploited by Philadelphia on Sunday. The Eagles recorded four sacks, and defensive end Jason Babin had three against Jets right tackle Wayne Hunter. Babin became the 10th player in NFL history to record three sacks in back-to-back games.

Mistakes for Holmes: Jets receiver Santonio Holmes isn't known for making a ton of mistakes. But he had three big gaffes on Sunday. Holmes fumbled the ball on his first catch, and it was returned the other way for a 46-yard touchdown. He ended another first-quarterback drive with a drop that led to an interception by Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel. Holmes also was flagged for taunting after his touchdown catch before halftime that cost New York 15 yards. Holmes finished with four receptions for 40 yards and the touchdown.

What’s next: Next week will be very interesting for the Jets. They will host the Giants (7-7) at MetLife Stadium in the "Battle of New York." This game will also be a playoff eliminator with both New York teams coming off losses in Week 15. The Giants lost to the Washington Redskins Sunday, 23-10.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 30, Bills 23

December, 18, 2011

Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 30-23 victory over the Buffalo Bills :

What it means: Miami (5-9) continues its strong second-half push and improves to 5-2 in the past seven games. It also marked the first victory under interim coach Todd Bowles, who kept the Dolphins focused and motivated this week after the firing of Tony Sparano. For Buffalo (5-9), it was the team's seventh straight loss. The Bills have major questions to answer on both sides of the ball.

What I liked: Miami tailback Reggie Bush continues to make a push for his first 1,000-yard season. He recorded a season-high 203 rushing yards, including a 76-yard touchdown to seal the game. He now needs 77 yards in the final two games for the milestone. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore returned from last week’s head and neck injury and played very efficiently. He threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns -- one to receiver Brandon Marshall and the other to tight end Anthony Fasano.

What I didn’t like: Defensively, the Bills don't do anything well. They can't stop the run or rush the passer and need to spend a lot of resources in the draft and free agency to improve on that side of the football. Offensively, it also looks like the Bills may have jumped the gun on signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a $59 million extension. Fitzpatrick lost his seventh straight game as a starting quarterback and was inaccurate in the first three quarters. He threw for 316 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Fitzpatrick padded his stats late in the fourth quarter after Miami took a sizable lead. Fitzpatrick will be the starter for the foreseeable future, and it's looking dicey if he can lift the Bills to contender status.

What's next: The Dolphins will travel for the second consecutive week to play the New England Patriots. New England won the first meeting between these two teams, 38-24, in Week 1. The Bills have another tough game upcoming next week. Buffalo will host Tim Tebow and the surging Denver Broncos, who were 7-1 in their past eight games entering Sunday.