AFC East: 2011 Week 17 coverage
January, 1, 2012
By Mike Reiss | ESPN.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 49-21 win over the Bills in the regular-season finale:
What it means: The Patriots earn the No. 1 seed to give them home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. In a similar script to last week against the Dolphins, they fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter before charging back with 49 unanswered points. The defensive turnaround was impressive. Can the Patriots dig such a hole and expect to recover in the playoffs? That figures to be a question asked around New England in the coming weeks.
Brady over 5,000 yards passing: With a 39-yard touchdown connection to tight end Aaron Hernandez in the second quarter, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady went over the 5,000-yard passing mark for the season, becoming just the third player in NFL history to do so (joining Dan Marino and Drew Brees). Brady played through an injured left shoulder, which was a top storyline entering the game. He also tossed the 300th touchdown of his career, tying John Elway for fifth place on the NFL’s all-time list.
Tight end Hernandez stars: After he was edged out for a Pro Bowl berth by San Diego’s Antonio Gates, Hernandez put together a performance that showed he was worthy of the Pro Bowl consideration -- 7 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD, to go along with 26 yards rushing on two carries. Hernandez was the most dynamic offensive player on the field.
Gronkowski gets tight end record: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski set the NFL record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end, with 1,327 yards. Gronkowski got the record on the Patriots' final drive, on a 22-yard catch, as the Patriots seemed to make a concerted effort to make sure he got the record over the Saints' Jimmy Graham. The game was well in hand, and the Patriots could have kneeled on the ball at that point, as backup quarterback Brian Hoyer was in the game.
McCourty at safety: In a defensive wrinkle, the Patriots used cornerback Devin McCourty at safety in their sub package, which they were in often against the Bills’ spread attack. McCourty had an interception in the fourth quarter. The 2010 first-round draft choice has had a tough season after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie and his time at safety sparks the question: Would the Patriots consider making it a more permanent switch? McCourty was injured on the Bills' final drive (looked like his leg), so his status will be something to monitor in the days to come.
Chung and Spikes return: The Patriots’ much-maligned defense got some reinforcements in the form of safety Patrick Chung (foot) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee), both of whom returned after missing the previous seven games.
Johnson benched for Bills: The Bills benched receiver Stevie Johnson after his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for lifting up his jersey after a first-quarter touchdown. Johnson had written “Happy New Year” on his white shirt under the jersey.
Belichick's record: The Patriots finish the season at 13-3, with Bill Belichick becoming the first coach in league history to lead a team to 13 wins in the regular season five different times.
What’s next: The Patriots will be off next weekend as the playoffs begin. The Bills close the season at 6-10.
January, 1, 2012
By James Walker | ESPN.com
MIAMI -- Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 19-17 victory over the New York Jets:
What it means: The Dolphins (6-10) split the season series with the Jets (8-8) and ended New York's slim playoff hopes. Miami was the NFL's most dangerous spoiler in the second half of the season and finished 6-3 in its last nine games. That run offers hope for the Dolphins in the future. The Jets, meanwhile, ended their year on a three-game losing streak and missed the playoffs for the first time under head coach Rex Ryan. Both teams have a lot of offseason questions to face.
Clock eater: The biggest drive of the game started midway through the third quarter. The Dolphins went on a season-long 21-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that ate up 12 minutes and 29 seconds. It was the longest scoring drive in Dolphins history and gave Miami a 13-10 lead. It also shortened the game and gave Miami's defense plenty of rest to close out the game.
Quarterback woes: Neither Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez nor Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore did much to prove they are the long-term solutions for their respective teams. Both combined for five interceptions -- Sanchez threw three picks and Moore threw two. Miami will be searching for Moore's replacement this offseason via the draft or free agency. At the very least, the Dolphins should draft a rookie to challenge and groom behind Moore. Sanchez's situation is more complex. He is a first-round pick who's won big games but also hasn't improved much over his three-year career. There have been rumors of the Jets trading for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, but that’s simply speculation at this stage. Indianapolis' public stance is that Manning will not be on the market.
Starks gets two: Miami's defense has been getting big plays from many players this season. But the Dolphins got some unexpected plays from Dolphins defensive end Randy Starks. He recorded a sack and two surprise interceptions.
Farewell to Taylor: Longtime Miami defensive end Jason Taylor wrapped up his 15-year career Sunday. Taylor recorded one tackle in his final game and his quarterback pressure helped set up one of Starks' two interceptions. Taylor is sixth all-time with 139.5 career sacks. He will be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame in five years.
What’s next: A disappointing season ends for both teams. For the Dolphins, they begin a busy offseason that will include a coaching search and an attempt to land a long-term solution at quarterback. For the Jets, they have to find answers to why a talented roster that nearly everyone thought would make the playoffs crashed so badly and finished at .500.