AFC East: 2013 Week 15 Rapid Reaction
December, 15, 2013
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:
What it means: The Jets dropped to 6-8, ensuring their third straight non-winning season -- a fairly large stain on Rex Ryan's résumé. As a result, they have a better chance of winning the Mega Millions lottery than making the playoffs. They will be mathematically eliminated if the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions on Monday night. This was actually a three-point game in the fourth quarter, but the Jets came unglued in spectacular fashion, allowing 14 unanswered points until they responded with a late touchdown pass. They still haven't won two in a row. Hard to believe.
Stock Watch: This was a step back for quarterback Geno Smith, who struggled against the Panthers' secondary -- the so-called "weakest link" of their defense. Smith (15-for-28, 167 yards) didn't commit a turnover for 52 minutes, but then came his fifth pick-six of the season. He forced a pass into double coverage and it was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who also made two sacks. Smith completed only six passes to his wideouts, giving the Panthers' defensive backs plenty to chirp about. Santonio Holmes, he of the weakest-link quote, wore the dunce cap by dropping the first pass thrown to him. He finished with only two catches.
Two major breakdowns: For the most part, the Jets went toe-to-toe with the Panthers, but they were ultimately doomed by two huge mistakes -- a 72-yard screen pass for a touchdown by DeAngelo Williams and a blocked punt that set up the Panthers' second touchdown. On the Williams play, the Jets were fooled badly by a fake screen to the left. David Harris and Ed Reed were slow in pursuit and Dee Milliner couldn't get off a downfield block. The defense was woefully slow. On the punt, Jason Williams came clean through the A gap, an inexcusable blunder.
A touchdown for ... Richardson?: The Jets made quite a statement, rushing for 157 yards against the league's top-rated rush defense. Chris Ivory (66 yards) did most of the damage, but the highlight was Sheldon Richardson's 1-yard touchdown plunge. It was a Refrigerator moment, with the 295-pound defensive tackle scoring on his second consecutive carry. The Jets had used Richardson twice as a blocker in previous games, but this was his first actual rushing attempt. It was a clutch play, cutting the Panthers' lead to 16-13 in the third quarter. Overall, the Jets did a nice job of using misdirection plays to gash the Panthers' defense.
What's ahead: The Jets close their home schedule against the Cleveland Browns (4-10), a dismal late-season matchup.
December, 15, 2013
By Mike Rodak | ESPN.com
A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars:
What it means: This game meant little in the standings for either team, but after their 27-6 loss in Tampa last weekend, the Bills couldn't afford to come out with the same performance. They didn't, which is a positive sign for Doug Marrone's group. It's a win that takes some pressure off a young team, but plenty of questions remain. The Bills are now 2-6 away from Ralph Wilson Stadium this season (including the game in Toronto).
Manuel rebounds: Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel -- and the entire offense -- was awful in the first quarter. Manuel had a 6.0 passer rating in the first quarter, the seventh worst in the NFL this season. But then something clicked. The Bills were able to put together two long touchdown drives in the second quarter, injecting some confidence into the young signal-caller. Even when he was rattled by a third-quarter strip-sack that led to a Jaguars touchdown, Manuel came back and led the Bills on another touchdown drive. There's little time left this season, but the Bills need to see more of that.
Bills eliminated: Minutes before the Bills sealed their win in Jacksonville, the Dolphins defeated the Patriots in Miami, officially eliminating the Bills from playoff contention. This will be the 14th consecutive January that the Bills will remain out of the postseason, the longest active drought in the NFL.
Stock watch: Rising: running game. The Bills finished just shy of 200 yards rushing, which in addition to Manuel's bounce-back effort powered the offense through much of the game. It wasn't all pretty -- Fred Jackson couldn't gain a first down on three consecutive runs in the fourth quarter, giving the Jaguars one last chance -- but the ground game is still the strength of this Bills offense.
What's next: The Bills, now eliminated, have two more games to play. They'll host the streaking Dolphins, who are now 8-6, at Ralph Wilson Stadium next Sunday. They'll then head back on the road for their finale against the Patriots.
December, 15, 2013
By James Walker | ESPN.com
MIAMI -- Thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday.
What it means: The Dolphins picked up their biggest victory of the season to improve to 8-6 thanks to a late touchdown pass by quarterback Ryan Tannehill to running back Marcus Thigpen with 1:15 remaining and a big defensive stop to end the game. Unheralded safety Michael Thomas picked off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the end zone with two seconds remaining. Miami also snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Patriots (10-4), who still hold a firm lead in the AFC East. However, the Dolphins hold sole possession of the final wild-card spot in the AFC -- even if just for a day. The Baltimore Ravens (7-6) have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami and will try to reclaim the sixth seed when they play the Detroit Lions on “Monday Night Football."
Stock Watch: Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace had another solid performance. Wallace had six receptions for 105 yards and a 39-yard touchdown catch before halftime. It was Wallace’s fourth 100-yard game of the season. Wallace’s chemistry with Tannehill has improved tremendously in the second half of the season.
In terms of stock down, the Patriots did a terrific job to shut down Miami tight end Charles Clay. New England made a concerted effort to stop Clay by rolling extra coverage his way. Clay had zero receptions in the first half and just one reception in the game.
Field goal folly: Miami had a costly mistake in the first half. Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up for a 42-yarder that was botched as Miami was going for the tie before halftime. Long-snapper John Denney snapped the ball to an unsuspecting Brandon Fields, and the ball hit Fields in the helmet. The Patriots recovered and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive before the half.
What’s next: The Dolphins will hit the road for their final road game of the regular season to play the Buffalo Bills Sunday in an effort to split the season series. The Bills upset the Dolphins in Miami 23-21 in Week 7. The Dolphins will need to win this game to firmly remain in the playoff hunt.
December, 15, 2013
By Mike Reiss | ESPN.com
MIAMI -- Thoughts on the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:
What it means: The Patriots fall to 10-4 and miss out on the chance to clinch the AFC East. Furthermore, after they had the door open to potentially earn a No. 1 playoff seed with wins in their final three games, that opportunity is now off the board. This game came down to a few plays, as many of the Patriots' games have this season. A gutsy call by the Dolphins to go for it on fourth down on their winning march was a biggie. The Patriots had a valiant final drive that fell just short.
Up-and-down defense can't hold: When the Patriots needed their defense to come up with the stop, the unit couldn't deliver. It didn't help that normally reliable kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted a kickoff out of bounds, giving Miami the ball at the 40-yard line. The injury-ravaged defense had its moments, but two things stand out: (1) When it needed to come up with the big stop in the big moment, it couldn't; (2) The turnovers have dried up the past two weeks, and that's not good news for a D that thrives on them. Without those turnovers, the D is vulnerable.
Great finish: From a pure football standpoint regardless of rooting interest, most would agree that this was another thrilling finish. The Patriots' resilience was on display again, as they showed they are a tough team to knock out. The Dolphins deserve credit for doing so -- as it took all 60 minutes.
Stock watch: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui earns a spot here for a sensational one-handed 13-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The Patriots had been stopped in the red zone on their first trip, and just when it seemed like the loss of Rob Gronkowski was playing a major role in the team's red zone struggles ... Hoomanawanui delivered. Still, red zone struggles overall were an issue in the game.
Injuries to monitor: Starting left tackle Nate Solder, who had been on the injury report with a concussion, left the game in the second half and did not return. The team announced that he had a head injury. ... There was no official announcement, but rookie receiver/kickoff returner Josh Boyce didn't finish the game, with Austin Collie taking his place. That could have been performance-related.
What's next: The Patriots visit the Ravens on Sunday. The game will kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET after being flexed out of prime time.