AFC East: 2012 Week 16 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Chargers 27, Jets 17

December, 23, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New quarterback, same crummy team. Greg McElroy made his first NFL start, replacing the benched Mark Sanchez, but failed to spark the moribund Jets, who fell to the awful Chargers 27-17 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. How bad was it? The Jets' best pass was thrown by a wide receiver -- Jeremy Kerley.

What it means: The Jets (6-9), eliminated last week from playoff contention, clinched their first losing season of the Rex Ryan era, their first since 2007. The product on the field is garbage. That they lost to another also-ran team, with a lame-duck coach, speaks volumes about the sad state of the Jets. Clearly, an offseason of major upheaval is on the way. The Chargers improved to 6-9.

G-Mac attack: For weeks, frustrated Jets fans yearned to see the fresh face -- McElroy. They got their wish, and what they saw was utterly predictable. McElroy gave it the ol' college try, but he was overmatched by the Chargers' aggressive defense. He was sacked 11 times, the most allowed by the Jets since 1986. McElroy held the ball too long and didn't sense the pressure, showing poor pocket presence. Now McElroy can empathize with Sanchez: It's tough to throw when nobody gets open.

McElroy (14-for-24, 185 yards, one interception) led the offense to touchdowns on two of their first three possessions, but reality set in, as the Jets blew a 14-7 lead. He was smart with the ball until he was asked to throw downfield, and he wound up with a horrible interception at the end of the third quarter. He committed two turnovers, including a fumble. McElroy has some nice intangibles, but he doesn't have the skill set to be a No. 1 quarterback.

Three-quarterback circus: After weeks of dropping hints about activating all three quarterbacks, Ryan did just that. It was a first for the Jets this season. League-wide, it happened only eight times in the first 15 weeks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of course, the Jets managed to turn it into a joke, as neither Sanchez nor Tim Tebow played. What was the purpose of dressing Tebow if they weren't going to use him in the Wildcat or on the punt team? Ryan continues to make a mockery of his quarterback situation.

Another Tebow insult: As if being a healthy bystander weren't bad enough, Tebow had to watch as Kerley played in the Wildcat, took a direct snap and threw a 42-yard completion to Clyde Gates to set up the Jets' first touchdown. With that one pass, Kerley eclipsed Tebow's passing yardage for the season. Week after week, the Jets continue to dump on Tebow, with the coaching staff showing how little it wanted him in the first place.

Too late, Tony: Embattled offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who almost certainly will be looking for a job, actually showed some creative wrinkles. He used Kerley, a former high school quarterback, four times in the Wildcat. He used running back Shonn Greene in the Wildcat. There was a throwback screen to tight end Hayden Smith, a former rugby star who made his first NFL catch. It all begs the question: Where was this stuff all season?

Typical D: The Jets' defense had its moments, but ultimately let down, giving up 37- and 34-yard scoring passes in the third quarter. Antonio Cromartie and Eric Smith were beat in man-to-man coverage by Danario Alexander and Antonio Gates, respectively. Philip Rivers (11-for-22, 165 yards, 2 TDs), after an awful start, finally played a little like the quarterback he used to be -- and that was enough to beat the Jets.

Special teams nightmare: The Jets honored retiring special teams coach Mike Westhoff by introducing him during the pregame, allowing him to emerge from the tunnel to soak up some well-deserved applause for a fantastic career. Moments later, the mood turned sour, as the Jets suffered yet another special teams meltdown -- a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown by Michael Spurlock. It was the first punt return TD allowed by the Jets since 2003.

What's ahead: Mercifully, the Jets end the season next Sunday on the road, facing the equally inept Bills (5-10).

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16

December, 23, 2012
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 23-16 victory over the Jaguars at EverBank Field:

JaguarsPatriotsWhat it means. The Patriots’ hopes for a first-round playoff bye are still alive, a result of their harder-than-anticipated victory over the Jaguars and the Texans losing at home to the Vikings. The Patriots (11-4) finish at home against the Dolphins on Sunday, while the Texans (12-3) visit the Colts next week. The Broncos have remaining games against the Browns and Chiefs. (CLICK HERE for more on the Patriots' playoff picture.)

Looked like an emotional letdown. After ultra-hyped games against the Texans and 49ers, the Patriots looked like they weren’t ready to play against the 2-12 Jaguars. On the opening drive of the game, it seemed like the teams switched uniforms, as the Jaguars carved up the Patriots with ease in driving 78 yards on nine plays, a march that ended with a 3-yard Justin Blackmon touchdown catch. The Patriots trailed 10-0 at one point before closing to 13-13 at the half and ultimately holding on. It wasn’t the type of clean, efficient performance the Patriots wanted to put forth after a sloppy loss to the 49ers. Few thought this game would come down to the final possession.

Not one of Brady’s best. On a day when quarterback Tom Brady matched Johnny Unitas’ former record of 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass, the Patriots’ captain and signal-caller didn’t play his best game. His first-quarter interception on a throw to running back Stevan Ridley up the left sideline was underthrown, and there also were some miscommunications with receiver Brandon Lloyd. Brady was under more pressure than expected, which contributed to the shaky day. Too many big hits on Brady.

Ridley not in the doghouse. One of the big pregame storylines was whether running back Stevan Ridley might land in the “doghouse” after fumbles against the Texans and 49ers in each of the previous two games. That didn’t happen, as Ridley started and played 35 total snaps in the game.

Rotating personnel approach on D; unit finds its groove after rocky start. One notable aspect of the game for the Patriots was Bill Belichick going deeper into his bench earlier than usual. It was almost as if Belichick was making sure players who could be counted on in the playoffs were kept sharp, while some banged-up players were managed. Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib (hip injury) played sparingly. The defense started slow before finding more of a groove.

Patriots help sell tickets. The announced ticket distribution of 70,251 at EverBank Field was the highest total for the Jaguars since Dec. 5, 2004, against the Steelers. That figure reflects a strong Patriots contingent on hand.

What’s next. The Patriots return home for the regular-season finale against the visiting Dolphins on Sunday. The Jaguars visit the Titans in their finale on Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 24, Bills 10

December, 23, 2012

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 24-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: It means Miami improved to 7-8 and avoided a season sweep against Buffalo. The Dolphins lost their chance to compete for a wild-card spot in the final week of the season after the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10. Still, Miami has a chance to finish at .500, which is an accomplishment for this rebuilding team. Meanwhile, the Bills fell to 5-10 and cemented their third consecutive double-digit loss season under head coach Chan Gailey, whose future remains uncertain. Gailey is 15-32 as coach of the Bills.

Sloppy Bills: Another bad sign for Gailey is how sloppy the Bills continue to look. Buffalo had three turnovers, 11 penalties for 93 yards and poor special teams play. Bills players must take some ownership for what happens on the field. But the Bills have looked very undisciplined. They have been outscored 74-27 the past two weeks.

Bush's trio: Miami starting tailback Reggie Bush made a strong case to return next year. The pending free agent scored three touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving) and had 107 total yards. Dolphins rookie tailback Lamar Miller also rushed for 73 yards and could be Bush’s replacement if the price tag is too high.

Key injuries: Both Miami and Buffalo suffered injuries in this rivalry game. For Buffalo, starting tight end Scott Chandler and fullback Dorin Dickerson were both knocked out of the game and didn't return. Chandler and Dickerson were carted off the field and could be lost for the season. Miami lost starting cornerback Sean Smith in the third quarter with a leg injury and he didn't return.

What's next: The Bills, who will be home for the playoffs for the 13th consecutive year, will host the New York Jets to wrap up their season. The Dolphins will travel to play their regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium against the New England Patriots.