AFC East: 2012 Week 17 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0

December, 30, 2012
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 28-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium:

dolphinsPatriotsWhat it means: The day couldn’t have worked out much better for the Patriots. With the Patriots beating the Dolphins, and the Texans losing to the Colts earlier in the day, the Patriots earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye. That means the team won’t be in action again until the weekend of Jan 12-13. The Broncos are the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

First shutout since 2009. The result was the Patriots’ first shutout since a 59-0 blanking of the Titans on Oct. 18, 2009 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots dominated the time of possession battle and were in control for most of the game. The turning point came when safety Steve Gregory intercepted quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first quarter (breaking Tannehill's four-game streak without an interception) and the Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later to go up 7-0. They never looked back.

Gronkowski’s return notable. Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned for the first time since breaking his left forearm on Nov. 18 and played 25 of a possible 80 snaps (including penalties). He wore a protective white padding over his left forearm, extending up to his elbow, and at times looked uncomfortable blocking. He did have a 23-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter, capped off with his trademark spike.

Ninkovich hip injury in second quarter. Starting left defensive end Rob Ninkovich injured his hip in the second quarter and did not return. Ninkovich needed help walking off the field and went directly to the locker room. Ninkovich has been a key member of the defense, playing 85 percent of the snaps this season. The severity of the injury is not known at this time. The Patriots are deep at defensive end, with Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott and Justin Francis next on the depth chart, but losing Ninkovich for any period of time would be a tough blow because of his dependability, consistency and pass-rushing burst.

Seven sacks for defense. The Patriots totaled seven sacks, easily a season-high, as they played terrific run defense and turned the Dolphins into a one-dimensional attack. Rookie defensive end Justin Francis led the way with three, while defensive back Derrick Martin and defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, Trevor Scott and Brandon Deaderick had one apiece.

What’s next: The Patriots will host the best remaining AFC playoff seed on the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

Rapid Reaction: Bills 28, Jets 9

December, 30, 2012
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Jets' worst season since 2007 ended in appropriately humiliating fashion, with a 28-9 loss to the woeful Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Jets dropped their last three games to finish 6-10, the ultimate insult occurring early in the fourth quarter when ex-Jet Brad Smith scored on a 4-yard run out of the Wildcat. Eat your heart out, Tim Tebow.

What it means: Prepare for a shake-up. Rex Ryan (34-30 in four seasons) appears safe, but owner Woody Johnson will make changes. Johnson's conspicuous absence at the game spoke volumes; he rarely misses a game. The biggest casualty could be GM Mike Tannenbaum, who has come under fire for putting together a suspect roster. The offense was brutal; the Jets were held under 10 points for the fifth time. They finished in a last-place tie with the Bills (6-10).

Same Ol' Sanchez: Because Greg McElroy's late-week head injury, QB Mark Sanchez received an unexpected start. It went as expected -- two turnovers. What did you think, he'd have a 300-yard passing day? The Jets are incapable of that. Sanchez torched the Bills in the season opener, but that was when the Jets actually had, you know, a receiving corps. Sanchez made a couple of decent throws, but he threw a killer interception -- returned 20 yards for a TD by LB Bryan Scott. He also lost a fumble on a strip sack.

This may have been Sanchez's last game as a Jet. His contract makes his return likely ($8.25 million guaranteed in 2013), but they could have a new person in charge of the football operation, so anything is possible. Sanchez finished with 26 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, wrecking any chance of team success. His turnover total over the past two seasons: 52.

Tebow's farewell: Tebow's strange and overhyped season ended in predictable fashion -- he was a nonfactor. As usual. With McElroy inactive, Tebow was the No. 2 quarterback, but he played only one offensive snap -- a handoff to Joe McKnight out of the Wildcat. Jeremy Kerley also was used on one Wildcat play. Tebow finished the season with only 32 rushes and eight pass attempts -- an unmitigated disaster. We all knew it had the potential to blow up on the Jets, but no one could've predicted it would turn out like this.

Even the Buffalo fans were disappointed. Evidently bored by the action on the field, the fans broke into a few "Te-bow!" chants.

See ya, Tony: Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano coached his last game for the Jets; he will be fired in the coming days, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Like the Tebow trade, this was another bad, one-and-done decision. Sunday's season finale was a microcosm of the Sparano experience: The Jets ran the ball well against a bad rush defense -- they opened with nine straight rushes -- but failed to convert decent drives into touchdowns. The offense was so inept that a field goal was considered a victory. The Jets went 0-for-3 in the red zone, undermined by bad play calling, bad quarterback play and bad everything.

A grand for Greene: Shonn Greene reached the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight year. It'll look good on Greene's resume -- he's a free agent -- but let's be honest: It was a quiet 1,000.

Defense shows up: Hardest job in the NFL? Playing defense for the Jets. You get no support from the offense and you have to play a perfect game for your team to win. The defense played with heart, but it made a couple of costly mistakes, including a 66-yard touchdown reception by C.J. Spiller. This was like the Jets' loss to the Titans: They lost to a bad team, but the bad team had a game-changing playmaker. For the Titans, it was Chris Johnson. The Jets need a guy like that.

What's ahead: The games are done, now comes the bloodshed.