AFC East: 2012 Week 13 coverage

Wrap-up: Bills 34, Jaguars 18

December, 2, 2012

Here are some thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 34-18 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars:

What it means: For what it’s worth, it means the Bills remain mathematically in the playoff hunt. The Bills improved to 5-7 and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread unless they can run the table. A win over a terrible Jacksonville (2-10) team at least keeps the Bills’ season alive for another week. Buffalo is now in a three-way tie for second place in the AFC East with the New York Jets (5-7) and Miami Dolphins (5-7).

What I liked: This was an all-around good effort for the Bills. The offense put up its most points since Week 7, and the defense did a decent job cooling off Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pair of touchdowns and rushed for one. Buffalo starting tailback C.J. Spiller had a 44-yard touchdown run. The Bills also got great production from former starter Fred Jackson, who led the game with 109 rushing yards. Buffalo's defense registered four sacks, and defensive end Mario Williams extended his sack streak to three games.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t much not to like in this game. But if I’m going to nitpick something, Buffalo was a little sloppy with nine penalties for 100 yards and two turnovers (one interception, one lost fumble). But these mistakes didn’t matter against the awful Jaguars. Buffalo also suffered a few key injuries to monitor, including No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson and starting center Eric Wood.

What’s next: The Bills host the St. Louis Rams (5-6-1). Buffalo will try to win two in a row for just the second time this season.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 7, Cardinals 6

December, 2, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets rallied to beat the Cardinals 7-6 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, but they created a quarterback controversy -- and, surprise, it doesn't involve Tim Tebow. A struggling Mark Sanchez was benched for the first time in his career, and Greg McElroy -- in his NFL debut -- sparked the team and the crowd. He led the game's only touchdown drive.

What it means: The Jets (5-7) kept their faint playoff hopes alive with an ugly win, but the larger issue is the quarterback situation. This was a bombshell decision by Rex Ryan, and it will have long-term ramifications. Remember, Sanchez is owed $8.25 million in guarantees for 2013, so his return is highly likely. In the short term, who starts next week? It's a multiple-choice question for Ryan.

The Decision: Ryan was justified to pull Sanchez (10-for-21, 97 yards) with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter. In 10 possessions, Sanchez threw three interceptions and failed to put any points on the board. The first two interceptions, made by former Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, were bad decisions and horrible throws. Patrick Peterson made a terrific play on the third interception, a deep ball to Chaz Schilens. The crowd was chanting for McElroy. Ryan had been fiercely loyal to Sanchez, but something had to be done.

He-e-e-e-re's Greg: McElroy was active for the first time because Tebow (fractured ribs) didn't dress. McElroy, a former seventh-round pick from Alabama, didn't do anything spectacular, but he didn't make any turnovers, he managed the game and he led a 69-yard drive for the go-ahead score. He hit Jeff Cumberland for a 1-yard scoring pass, a well-executed bootleg on play-action. The kid is smart and has moxie, if not a rifle arm.

Conspiracy theory: That Tebow sat one week after dressing with the same injury will fuel speculation that the Jets did it to move McElroy up the depth chart without demoting Tebow. Clearly, Ryan doesn't see Tebow as the answer at quarterback. Maybe this was his way of getting McElroy one step closer to the starting job.

Regards to Hollywood: Ryan's worst nightmare played out before his eyes. Rhodes, whom Ryan called a "selfish-ass" player with a Hollywood attitude, made two interceptions -- both in the first quarter. Rhodes also forced a fumble, setting up a field goal by another ex-Jet, Jay Feely. The Jets traded Rhodes before the 2010 season, a deal that looks terrible now. GM Mike Tannenbaum used the two draft picks acquired from the Cards to select Joe McKnight and McElroy. Interesting, huh?

Fooled again: The once-vaunted special-teams unit continues to embarrass itself on a weekly basis. This time, the Jets got suckered on a fake punt, setting up a field goal. It was a gutsy call by the Cards -- fourth-and-7 from their own 25 with 1:11 left in the first half -- but it appeared to be an audible based on the "overload" look on the Jets' punt-rushing front. Rashad Johnson took a direct snap and raced 40 yards.

Great defense: Facing overmatched rookie Ryan Lindley (10-for-31, 72 yards), the Jets' defense pitched a near-perfect game. They held the Cards to 0-for-15 on third down. Lindley was hopeless, often missing receivers by several yards.

Tebow takes a seat: As expected, Tebow was inactive. He was medically cleared, sources said, but he sat based on a coach's decision.

What's ahead: The Jets hit the road to face the struggling Jaguars (2-10). The storyline will be Tebow's return to his hometown, but it could feature a new starting quarterback for the Jets.
MIAMI -- Here are some thoughts on the New England Patriots' 23-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: The Patriots are the 2012 AFC East champions. New England improved to 9-3 and clinched the division Sunday by beating Miami (5-7). The Dolphins were able to keep the game close but didn’t have enough offensive firepower to pull off the upset. Miami's slim playoff chances were virtually ended with this loss.

Patriots' offense stalls: Miami's defense found a way to slow New England's top-rated offense for most of the game. The Patriots entered as the highest-scoring team in the NFL. They scored 40 points or more four times this season but were held to just 23 points on Sunday. Miami made New England one-dimensional. The Dolphins stuffed the running game for the most part and came after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Miami sacked Brady four times, which stalled some drives. It was a one-possession game halfway through the fourth quarter, but New England put together a beautiful 16-play drive to clinch the game.

Long sidelined: Starting left tackle Jake Long suffered a triceps injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. He was replaced by rookie Jonathan Martin. Long has had a history of injuries the past two seasons and it has greatly impacted his play. If this injury is significant, it makes Miami’s decision even more difficult in the offseason. Long will be the team’s biggest and most expensive free agent.

Welker on tear: One player the Dolphins could not contain was Patriots Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. The Patriots clearly had a mismatch in the slot against Miami’s thin group of cornerbacks, and Welker took advantage. He had 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. Welker had 10 of his receptions in the first half.

Special-teams issues: Miami’s special teams cost the Dolphins 14 important points. First, Miami punter Brandon Fields botched a punt after the team's first possession to give New England the ball on the 12-yard line. The Patriots scored a touchdown soon after. Then, Miami cornerback Jimmy Wilson ran into the punter on fourth down to provide another opportunity for New England. That led to the Patriots’ second touchdown in the first half. That early swing was enough to create separation for the Patriots.

What’s next: The Patriots have arguably their biggest game of the regular season next week against the Houston Texans (11-1) on "Monday Night Football." It will be a battle of two Super Bowl contenders who are vying for a first-round bye and home-field advantage. The Dolphins will travel to play the San Francisco 49ers.