Technically, the New York Jets with their two divisional victories are in first place in the AFC East. The New England Patriots are right behind with an identical record and only one divisional victory. The Buffalo Bills are in third, also with a 2-2 record, and with two divisional losses. That leaves the Miami Dolphins in fourth with a 1-3 record- their sole victory against the hapless Oakland Raiders and two of the losses coming in overtime.
Looking at just the records, this division is as tight as any in the league and matches the NFC East as the only divisions with every team within one game of first.
The season is early. I'm liking where the Patriots stand.
After Week 4, the Patriots managed to pull away with a victory against the Bills to keep the team on pace with the division lead and within striking distance of the top of the AFC. Keep in mind that the Houston Texans are still unbeaten at 4-0, while the Baltimore Ravens are 3-1 with the tiebreaker against the Patriots; it's never too early to start thinking about conference seeding (The San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals both stand at 3-1 as well).
The conference is up for grabs. It's a good thing the Patriots are heading in the right direction.
Let's see what the Patriots did in order to rebound and get back on track:
5. Defensive Rebounds - I will quote from my own passage:
The secondary was making mental mistakes all night and there were more dropped interceptions than should be counted. The pass rush was almost non-existent and Chandler Jones was benched during some of the most crucial drives of the game. The linebackers were sloppy in run defense and in zone coverage and Brandon Spikes played one of his worst games in a Patriots uniform. If the young guys can rebound, it will have to be against a dangerous Bills offense.
Let's look at the tally: Four interceptions between the young guys Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, and Tavon Wilson. Two sacks between the young guys Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones (Jones also played the entire game [I'm also not counting Rob Ninkovich's sack as he's not a young guy]). Two forced fumbles by Brandon Spikes, one of which was recovered by Tavon Wilson.
How's that for the young guys rebounding with a big game?
Consistency will be key for this team as the Patriots fielded the second most consistent defense in the league last season. They weren't the prettiest in 2011, but they were a lock to give up around 21 points every game with the second smallest variation (hence "consistent", not "best"). This season has been a mixed bag for the defense; the offense has definitely not helped by giving opposing teams shockingly short field position. Still, it would be nice to see a top notch performance by this young defense week in and week out.
4. Brady Momentum - 22/36, 340 yards, 3 TDs. Very solid outing by Mr. Tom Brady. Wes Welker was given his old spot on offense as the cog that turns the offensive machine and Brady was back in business. While the Patriots didn't put up points in the first half, that can't really be attributed to Brady. He led them to a score on their first drive and then after a a three and out and a stalled drive at midfield, the offense missed out on the next five possessions with:
Missed Field Goal
Missed Field Goal
End of Half
That's tough to overcome. Still, once the offense clicked, the offense was moving and they never looked back. In the future, though, they won't be able to leave any of these points on the field.
3. Gronk Spike - Rob Gronkowski started off the game extraordinarily poorly. After grabbing a 41 yard pass to open up the game, he was dropping passes left and right and even put the ball on the field with a costly fumble that led to a quick-strike Bills touchdown to their own tight end. In the second half, he was back to his old self and was contributing with big plays down the field and up the seam.
Most importantly, in my opinion, was his tremendous production as a run blocker, which is a place he's struggled this season due to his injuries. Fellow TE Daniel Fells also looked great as a blocker and the tight ends paved the way for a huge game by the running backs.
If Gronk can be his versatile self, look for the offense to find it's tempo.
2. Coaches Call - This is how I felt about Josh McDaniels' calling for the game (spoiler: I thought he did extremely well). McDaniels stayed away from the cutesy and it paid off as the offense pounded away and chipped its way down the field. Trick plays typically are most successful when there's a breakdown in the opposing defense- basically, it puts the success of the play on the shoulders of the opposing team. By allowing Brady, the running backs, and the offensive line to impose their will upon the Bills defense, the Patriots were dictating the game and weren't crossing for a bad read by Courtney Upshaw.
On defense, Chandler Jones played the whole game and the Patriots did very well with their match-ups. Unfortunately the injury to Hightower impacted the defense, but they should be fine in the long run.
One point of concern is definitely the play of the safeties. At what point, in my view, does Tavon Wilson deserve the nod over Steve Gregory? I think the time is now. He's earned it and while he's not an every-play game changer, he's very sound in his role and does his job.
1. Right the Ship - I'd like to think they not only righted the ship, but they also made a complete 180 and are setting course for the playoffs. I'd like to think that. The team showed plenty of resolve after being down 21-7 pretty well on through the game and they were able to gut out a huge victory against a divisional foe.
Let's see if they can beat the Broncos before prematurely taking them out of the dog house.