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AFC East Report week 15: Dolphins fail to build on their Miami Miracle momentum

Notes from around the division.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the AFC East’s teams are already eliminated from playoff contention, and a third one suffered a not yet fatal but hard blow this week. Let’s take a look at what happened around the division in the latest installment of the AFC East Report.

1. New England Patriots (9-5)

Week 15: 17-10 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Pittsburgh PA

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To watch highlights of the game, click here.

2. Miami Dolphins (7-7)

Week 15: 41-17 loss against the Minnesota Vikings, in Minnesota MN

Coming off their dramatic last-second win over the Patriots, the Miami Dolphins were in a solid position in the race for one of the AFC’s wild card playoff spots — and had plenty of momentum on their side. However, the team did not take advantage of it and instead was picked apart by the Minnesota Vikings. Now, the Dolphins likely need to win out and hope for their competitors to fall flat in order to reach the postseason.

The first drive of the game was a sign of things to come: Minnesota received the opening kickoff and marched down the field with ease, going up 7-0 after a six-play, 76-yard series. Miami’s offense started just like its defense and did also not get into any rhythm early on, punting the ball back to the home team after just four plays. The Vikings again drove down the field to score their second touchdown and go up 14-0.

Things did not get much better for Miami. After an offensive three-and-out, Minnesota scored its third touchdown of the first quarter — once again on a long but effortlessly looking drive. But while the Dolphins’ offense continued to struggle, the team’s defense finally came up with a big play halfway through the second quarter: rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (6 TKLs, 1 INT) undercut a short pass and returned the interception 50 yards for a touchdown.

The score kick-started the Dolphins. The defense forced a three-and-out on its next possession, while Miami added a field goal right before the half. On the very first play of the third quarter, the Dolphins scored again — and once again it was a rookie: running back Kalen Ballage (12/123 yds, 1 TD) broke through the middle of the Vikings’ front seven for a 75-yard touchdown run. Miami, suddenly, was back in the game and down only four points.

Momentum changes quickly in the NFL, however, and a 70-yard punt return that set up a field goal gave Minnesota life again. Still, the Dolphins were down only seven entering the final quarter — and that’s when they started to fall apart. Another Minnesota field goal was followed by an offensive three-and-out, which in turn was followed by a Vikings drive ending with a 40-yard touchdown pass. Miami then failed to convert on 4th and 11 deep in its own territory to set up another Minnesota touchdown — and the final score of 41-17.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.

3. Buffalo Bills (5-9)

Week 15: 14-13 win against the Detroit Lions, in Orchard Park NY

Coming off two straight losses, the Buffalo Bills finally added to their win total again in week 15. The team’s defensive battle against the visiting Detroit Lions, coached by ex-Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, was an even game for most parts and ultimately decided by only one point — a point, however, that while securing the fifth win of the season hurts Buffalo in the race for a top-five draft pick.

After a promising Bills opening drive stalled, neither team came close to scoring until early in the second quarter. Detroit struck first but failed to add the extra point due to a bad snap on the kick. This allowed Buffalo to go up 7-6 on its next possession: the home team drove 87 yards in just five plays and ended the series with a 3-yard scramble by quarterback Josh Allen (13/26, 204 yds, 1 TD, 1 RTD), who played arguably his best game of the year.

The Lions answered with a touchdown drive of their own and took a 13-7 lead late in the first half. Buffalo failed to reply this time and the two teams headed into the locker rooms with Detroit up six points — a lead that would hold until the fourth quarter. After all, the third period saw neither team score even though the Bills came close at one point: however, they decided to forgo a field goal from inside the Lions red zone and instead went for a 4th and 2 attempt. They failed.

Early in the final quarter, Buffalo was more successful and scored its second touchdown of the day on a 42-yard pass from Allen to wide receiver Robert Foster (4/108 yds, 1 TD). The Lions came close to re-taking the lead one series later but a 42-yard field goal try sailed wide right. Ultimately, the Bills were able to run out the clock on the low-scoring affair and secure their fifth win of the season.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.

4. New York Jets (4-10)

Week 15: 29-22 loss against the Houston Texans, in East Rutherford NJ

Entering week 15 at 4-9, the New York Jets had little to play for but draft positioning: every loss would help them stay in the race for the number one overall selection. However, the team put up a competitive effort against a Houston Texans squad fighting for a first-round playoff bye. Despite playing a solid game against superior opposition, New York came up short and stays right in contention for a top-three draft pick.

Todd Bowles’ team started slowly into what is potentially one of his last games as head coach: after the offense lost yards on each of its first three plays and had to punt, the defense gave up a quick field goal drive. New York slowly started to find its groove and tied the game on the next possession, though, before Houston went up 6-3 one series later. The Jets again moved the ball well on their subsequent drive but a fumble by running back Elijah McGuire (18/42 yds, 1 TD, 1 FL) abruptly ended it.

To make matters worse, the Texans scored a 43-yard touchdown just two plays after the turnover. Houston then added another field goal to go up 16-3. However, New York fought back before halftime and cut into its deficit thanks to a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Darnold (24/38, 253 yds, 2 TDs) to wideout Robby Anderson (7/96 yds, 1 TD). Momentum stayed on the home team’s side coming out of intermission.

After forcing a quick three-and-out — including two of the Jets’ six sacks — New York came within one point: Darnold connected with Andre Roberts (3/16 yds, 1 TD) for his second touchdown of the day, but the Jets missed the ensuing extra point. After a series of short drives, it was the Texans to score again as the team added another field goal to go up 19-15 early in the fourth period. However, a massive 15-play drive that took 7:33 off the clock put the Jets on top.

McGuire found the end zone from two yards out to put the Jets up 22-19 with only five minutes left in the game. All that was needed was a defensive stop but the unit failed to deliver. Instead — aided by a holding call on a third down incompletion — the Texans scored another touchdown. After the Jets’ next possession ended with a turnover on downs, Houston added a field goal. Down 27-22, New York had 54 seconds to tie the game but after two incomplete passes, a sack, and a completion short of the sticks had to leave the field defeated.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.