AFC East: 2012 Week 5 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Texans 23, Jets 17

October, 9, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At least the New York Jets can't be accused of quitting. They played gamely, but not efficiently, falling to the Houston Texans 23-17 on Monday night at MetLife Stadium

What it means: The injury-depleted Jets, a heavy underdog, had the ball with 3:28 to play in the fourth quarter, down by six points. It's all they could've asked for, considering the quality of the opponent. There was no Monday Night Miracle, only a team that made too many mistakes to beat the big boys. The Jets (2-3) dropped their second straight.

The QB controversy: Mark Sanchez, facing intense scrutiny, did enough to keep his job for the immediate future -- barely. Facing the league's top-ranked defense, Sanchez (14-for-31, 230 yards) ranged anywhere from mediocre to solid, beating the Texans' blitz for a few big plays. In the end, he was held under 50 percent for the fourth straight game. Considering his mish-mash supporting cast, it wasn't a bad performance. He threw two interceptions, but both came on deflections. The latter came on a pass to TE Jeff Cumberland; it went off his hands and ended a potential game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

As was the case last week, Sanchez committed a killer, momentum-changing turnover before halftime. This time, he was intercepted on a pass tipped by DE J.J. Watt, who single-handedly wrecked the game for the Jets. (Watt later prevented a likely TD pass with another tip.) Playing with such a slim margin for error, Sanchez can't afford to make those mistakes.

Tebow on ice: There was a lot of pregame speculation about an expanded role for backup QB Tim Tebow. Well, it never happened. He played only seven snaps on offense (six at quarterback) -- but hey, he got to throw a deep pass. It was on target, too, but it was dropped by newly signed WR Jason Hill. There was talk about Tebow playing an entire series. He did start one series, but was pulled after two plays. Sanchez played well enough in spurts to keep Tebow on the bench.

Hiccups: The Jets did so much changing of personnel that they had to burn two timeouts. There seemed to be confusion whenever they tried to get Tebow on the field. No excuse.

Shame on the D: The Jets' run defense got off to a terrible start, but got its act together in the second half. After surrendering 245 rushing yards last week, they took a back-to-basics approach in practice. That didn't work in the first half, as they allowed 100 yards to Arian Foster, but they tightened up. Foster finished with 152 yards. That said, there were still too many breakdowns.

The Jets were caught out of position by the well-schooled Texans, who used misdirection runs, screens and play-action passes to exploit the Jets' aggressiveness. The biggest breakdown came after the Jets closed to within 20-14, when they needed a big defensive stop after an onside kick failed. But what happened? They got burned on a misdirection, leaving TE James Casey all alone for a 30-yard gain.

Gambling Rex: Knowing his team was outmanned, Rex Ryan took a few gambles -- a fake punt (successful), a 4th-and-1 try in his own territory (successful) and an onside kick after Joe McKnight's 100-yard TD return on a kickoff (unsuccessful). Ryan will get ripped for the onside kick, but it was a worthwhile risk-reward decision. More than anything, it showed his lack of confidence in his defense. When have we ever said that?

Almost another killer injury: The injury-plagued Jets caught a huge break in the third quarter, when C Nick Mangold went down with an ankle injury. It looked serious (Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes flashbacks, anyone?), but he returned after a trip to the locker room.

Big Mac: McKnight has played running back, even a little cornerback, but we all know his meal ticket is returning kickoffs. He scored on a 100-yard return in the third quarter, breathing life into the team and the stadium and cutting the lead to 20-14. The Jets have scored on a kickoff return in 11 straight seasons, a league record.

What's ahead: The Jets have a short week, but at least they don't have to travel. They're at home against the upstart Indianapolis Colts (3-2), coming off an emotional win over the Green Bay Packers.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 31-21 victory over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium:

PatriotsBroncosWhat it means. The Patriots held on for the victory, their second in a row, in a performance that looked decisive through three quarters before they made it interesting in the fourth quarter. It was almost a replay of the last time they faced Peyton Manning with the Colts in 2010, where they needed a late turnover to seal the result. The Broncos put on a solid late charge, but with losses to the Texans and Patriots in two of the past three weeks, they don't look ready to join the teams considered the elite in the AFC.

Brady improves to 9-4 vs. Manning. Quarterback Tom Brady turned in a stellar performance (he was 17-of-20 at the half) in operating an up-tempo no-huddle attack that dictated the action. Each team had just four possessions in the first half -- the Patriots led 17-7 at the break -- so it was the type of game where the margin for error was thin and mistakes were magnified. Brady didn’t make many, if at all, in the first half as the game turned in the second quarter. He is now 9-4 against Manning, who wasn’t bad, but didn’t match Brady’s level. Brady finished 23-of-31 for 223 yards and one touchdown.

Offense rings up record 35 first downs. The Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs in the game. The offensive attack was highlighted by an up-tempo, no-huddle approach that put stress on the Broncos’ defense and required impressive synergy from the New England offense. While the offense didn’t close out the game as it would have desired, it was still impressive.

Nickel defense change sparks Patriots. After having some coverage struggles in their nickel defense, a personnel change helped the Patriots produce better results in the second quarter, when the game turned. Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was inserted into the game in place of Sterling Moore on the Broncos’ fourth drive, and was credited with a pass breakup on third down to force a punt. The Patriots also went to a lighter defensive front on the drive, which produced the stop and ultimately helped the Patriots open a 10-point lead. In a low-possession game for each team, a stop like that is crucial. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich also produced two big turnovers (strip sack, forced fumble).

Ridley and running game delivers again. After churning out 247 rushing yards against the Bills, the Patriots went over the 200-yard mark again. This marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots have had back-to-back 200-yard games. Second-year running back Stevan Ridley led the way (career-high 151 yards), while the team’s other three backs -- Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen -- also contributed.

Injury situations to monitor. Patriots left guard Logan Mankins (hip) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. Also, veteran linebacker Tracy White (left foot) left the game in the third quarter and did not return.

What’s next. The Patriots travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. They are scheduled to leave on Friday for the Sunday game, and one of the themes figures to be how loud it can get in Seattle, which will put stress on the team’s offense. The Broncos play a Monday night game in San Diego in Week 6.

Wrap-up: 49ers 45, Bills 3

October, 7, 2012
Here are some thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 45-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: It means the Bills lost their second game in a row in blowout fashion. Buffalo, which is 2-3, has been outscored 97-31 the past two games. The Bills have some talent, but they are proving they're not even close to competing with the top teams in the NFL. Bills head coach Chan Gailey questioned his team's toughness during the week -- and it's a legitimate concern. There is no excuse for Buffalo to lose by an average of 33 points the past two weeks.

What I liked: There's not much to like in this blowout. Backup cornerback Leodis McKelvin did a good job in the return game. He took a kickoff for 59 yards and a punt return for 28 yards. Other than that, there weren't many Bills highlights in this blowout loss.

What I didn't like: The Bills left their offense in Buffalo. The group that came out West could not execute or do anything with consistency. Bills tailbacks C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson didn't make an impact against San Francisco. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also had trouble with his accuracy and threw an interception. Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler had a big fumble late in the first half that the 49ers turned into a touchdown and a 17-3 lead. The Bills were never able to recover from that deficit. Buffalo’s defense also was disappointing. The 49ers averaged 8.2 yards per carry and allowed Alex Smith to throw for 303 yards and three touchdowns.

What's next: The Bills will be on the road again next week to face another NFC West team. Buffalo will travel to play the Arizona Cardinals (3-1), who will have 10 days to prepare for this game. The Bills have playoff expectations and need to stop their season from going downhill. Buffalo must respond now or it could be a long, disappointing season.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 17, Bengals 13

October, 7, 2012
Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 17-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals:

What it means: The Dolphins were finally rewarded for their hard work and effort. Miami had been very close to victory the past two weeks but suffered back-to-back overtime losses. The Dolphins finally got over the hump by beating a solid Cincinnati team (3-2) on the road. The Dolphins snapped Cincinnati's three-game winning streak. Miami improves to 2-3 and has one more game before the bye week.

What I liked: The Dolphins stayed poised late in the game, which is something we haven't seen this season. Miami couldn't make plays in the fourth quarter of close games up until Sunday. But Miami's defense got big stops and turnovers and the offense did just enough to preserve the win. The Dolphins' defense continues to play well. Cincinnati's offense, particularly its passing game, is not easy to defend. But Miami did a good job of mixing blitzes with zone and man coverage to keep the Bengals guessing. Good defense helped Miami jump out to a 17-6 lead in the second half. That was enough to hold on.

What I didn't like: The Dolphins got away with some sloppiness in the first half. Miami turned the ball over once on special teams and fullback Jorvorskie Lane fumbled near the goal line in the opening period. But Miami's defense did a good job of holding Cincinnati to six points off Miami's two early turnovers. Miami's running game wasn't as stout as usual. The Dolphins as a team averaged just 1.9 yards per carry.

What's next: The Dolphins will return home for the first time in three games next week when they host the St. Louis Rams (3-2). St. Louis will have 10 days to prepare for the Dolphins. But this is a good opportunity for Miami get back to .500 before the bye week.