AFC East: 2011 Week 16 Wrap-ups

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 24

December, 24, 2011

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' come-from-behind 27-24 win over the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: The Patriots clinch a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs and keep pace in the race for the No. 1 seed. A win next Sunday over the visiting Bills would clinch the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots trailed the Dolphins 17-0 at the half, but came roaring back in the second half. That type of mental toughness has been shown by the team throughout the year as they've proven to be a tough team to knock out. On the individual record front, quarterback Tom Brady (27 of 46, 304 yards, 1 TD throwing, 2 rushing TD) set a single-season career high for passing yards, while receiver Wes Welker (12 receptions, 138 yards) passed Randy Moss to set a franchise record for receiving yards in a season.

Kicker Gostkowski’s tackle an unsung play: Early in the third quarter, the Patriots had sliced the 17-0 halftime deficit to 17-3 when kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked off and Dolphins returner Clyde Gates burst through the hole and looked like he had open space for a touchdown. If not for Gostkowski swiping at him with his arm, and bringing him down, it might have been 24-3 and a greater uphill climb for a comeback. Instead, the Patriots defense recovered a Matt Moore botched center/quarterback exchange and scored to make it 17-10. Big swing.

Offensive line shuffle with Light and Mankins injuries: Patriots starting left tackle Matt Light had his right ankle flare up before the game and was a surprise scratch. The Patriots moved left guard Logan Mankins to left tackle, but Mankins injured his knee on the second series and did not return the rest of the game. All the changes up front hurt the Patriots in the first half as the Dolphins controlled the line of scrimmage – which was a big early storyline -- before the revamped line settled in over the final 30 minutes. Until then, quarterback Tom Brady was out of rhythm. Brady had just 87 yards passing in the first half.

Much maligned Patriots defense delivers: The Patriots’ defense, which ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed but 14th in terms of scoring, put the clamps down in the second half. Pouncing on a Matt Moore fumble on a center/QB exchange was big in the third quarter, but the unit also dialed up some pressure on third down to slow down the Dolphins. Linebacker Jerod Mayo had two sacks and the unit (5 sacks overall) turned things around after a tough opening 30 minutes. There were some big plays given up on defense, and the secondary remains shaky, but the D ultimately delivered.

Marshall and Bush star for Dolphins: The Dolphins received solid performances from receiver Brandon Marshall (7 catches, 156 yards, TD) and running back Reggie Bush (22 carries, 113 yards). They became the first running back/receiver tandem in Dolphins history to each go over 1,000 yards in the same season (receiving for Marshall, rushing for Bush). But the story of the game was the Dolphins' second-half struggle. They had built the big lead early but couldn't finish off the Patriots when they had the chance.

What’s next: The Patriots host the Bills next Sunday, Jan. 1, with another 1 p.m. kickoff. The Dolphins return home to host the Jets on that day.

Wrap-up: Bills 40, Broncos 14

December, 24, 2011

Here are some thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 40-14 victory over the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Bills (6-9) avoided getting "Tebowed" and broke a season-high seven-game losing streak. Buffalo took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter and finished strong by scoring 17 unanswered points. That was too much for any late-game magic from Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who was picked off four times by Buffalo. With the offense scoring points and the defense forcing turnovers, Buffalo played much like it did during its fast start in the first month of the season.

What I liked: Buffalo received a pair of huge contributions from its former first-round picks. Running back C.J. Spiller recorded his first career 100-yard rushing game with 111 yards and one touchdown. Spiller is doing a good job filling in for the injured Fred Jackson (leg). Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, also a former first-round pick, has been mostly a disappointment in the secondary. But McKelvin showed off his return skills with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown. McKelvin also set a franchise record with 135 punt return yards. Buffalo's special teams made the difference in this game.

What I didn't like: There isn't much to complain about in this game from Buffalo's perspective. Buffalo's offense was 2-for-12 on third-down conversions. But that's nitpicking an otherwise very good performance by the Bills.

What's next: The Bills will conclude their season on New Year’s Day against the New England Patriots. It will be a rematch of Buffalo's 34-31 victory over the Patriots in Week 3.