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AFC East Report: Sam Darnold’s return helps Jets win their first game of the season

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Let’s take a look at what happened in the division this week.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Jets
T’was a spleendid performance.
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The NFL’s 2019 regular season is in full swing and the AFC East is slowly shaping up with two teams comfortably at the top, one just yet winning its first game of the season, and the fourth remaining winless at 0-5. Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s find out what happened over the weekend in the latest edition of the AFC East Report.

1. New England Patriots (6-0)

Week 6: 35-14 win against the New York Giants, in Foxborough MA

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To watch highlights of the game, click here.

2. Buffalo Bills (4-1)

Week 6: Bye

Week 7: vs Miami Dolphins

Week 8: vs Philadelphia Eagles

Week 9: vs Washington Redskins

Week 10: at Cleveland Browns

The Bills entered their bye week with one of the best records in the AFC — their lone loss came against the Patriots in Week 4 — and will head out of it with a favorable schedule: the team will welcome the winless Dolphins to New Era Field next Sunday before two more home games. While the contest against the Eagles could be a challenge for Sean McDermott’s team, the games against Washington and Cleveland project to be easier affairs.

3. New York Jets (1-4)

Week 6: 24-22 win against the Dallas Cowboys, in East Rutherford NJ

Heading into their Week 6 matchup with the Cowboys, the Jets’ biggest story was the return of Sam Darnold. The second-year quarterback, who was drafted third overall last spring, was back in the lineup after having missed the previous three games because of mononucleosis. Darnold’s comeback made not just the offense but by extension the entire team better, and helped pave the way for New York’s first victory of the season.

While the game did start with an exchange of punts, the Jets’ second offensive possession gave the team its first lead of the day: Darnold and company drove 83 yards in 14 plays — including three third down conversions — to take a 7-0 lead thanks to a 2-yard touchdown run by Le’Veon Bell. The eight-minute drive was arguably the Jets’ best of the season so far, and clear proof that a Darnold-led attack was far more potent than what since-released Luke Falk had to offer.

Dallas answered the touchdown by driving to a field goal, before the defenses took center stage again. Neither team was able to do much with the football during the second quarter, with New York’s defense making its first big play of the day with four minutes left in the half: facing a 4th and 2 at their own 7-yard line, the Jets were able to stop a scrambling Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott short of the sticks for a turnover on downs.

On the very next play, the home team took advantage. Darnold connected with Robby Anderson on a deep pass, and the wide receiver took it 92 yards for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead. And with 3:34 left in the first half, New York still had plenty of time to add to its lead. The Jets got the football back at the two-minute warning after forcing a three-and-out on the next series, and it took them just six plays and 1:33 to drive 65 yards for their third touchdown of the day.

This time, Darnold hit tight end Ryan Griffin from five yards out. And while the Cowboys were able to cut into the deficit thanks to a 62-yard field goal as time expired on the second period, the home team still headed into the locker room at halftime with a convincing 21-6 lead. In the third quarter, however, Dallas slowly continued getting itself back into the contest as the team kicked another field goal to open the second half.

Still up 12 points, Darnold made his first big mistake of the day: on a 3rd and 5 deep in Cowboys territory, the former first-round draft pick threw an interception. While the visitors were unable to capitalize on the turnover — they missed a 40-yard field goal try — the momentum continued to shift their way until they came within five points midway through the fourth quarter. At that point, however, the Jets were able to finally respond again.

Driving 57 yards in three minutes, New York added a field goal to its total and increased its lead to eight points. This, in turn, forced the Cowboys to go for two after their ensuing touchdown — they failed, thanks to a well-timed blitz by safety Jamal Adams that forced a quick and incomplete throw. And with Dallas failing to recover the ensuing onside kick, the home team was able to celebrate its first win of the year.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.

4. Miami Dolphins (0-5)

Week 6: 17-16 loss against the Washington Redskins, in Miami Gardens FL

Two winless teams entered the arena, but only won of them came away with a victory. And for the ninth time in a row going back all the way to last season, that team was not the Dolphins: while coming close against the now 1-5 Redskins, the club of first-year head coach and former Patriots defensive play caller Brian Flores was unable to make enough plays to finally end its streak of disappointing performances.

Early on, the contest was a defensive affair: the first quarter saw zero points, six punts, and only three combined first downs, all of which achieved by the home team. But despite Miami starting slightly better into the game, Washington took the first lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The Dolphins, meanwhile, answered by driving into opposing territory before turning the football over on a Josh Rosen interception.

Luckily for the Dolphins, the defense forced a three-and-out that set up a 10-play, 63-yard drive that was capped by a 39-yard field goal. Thanks to Jason Sanders’ kick, the team therefore headed into the locker room at halftime down just four points. That deficit, however, would increase rather quickly: after the offense failed to go anywhere on the opening series of the second half, Washington scored its second touchdown of the day.

To make matters worse, Rosen threw his second pick of the day to end the subsequent drive and give the visitors the ball at his team’s own 34-yard line. Eight plays later, Miami was down 14 points with the offense still not showing any signs of life. Following a missed Redskins field goal, Flores therefore made a change: Rosen was benched, and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick inserted into the lineup. The early results were promising.

Starting in solid field position after the missed kick, Fitzpatrick led the unit on a nine-play, 55-yard series that ended with a Kalen Ballage touchdown run from one yard out. Momentum seemingly continued to shift towards the home team on the next play a the Dolphins ran and recovered an onside kick. A penalty against them, however, negated the result and forced the team to kick deep after all.

After the following four drives all ended with punts, the Dolphins finally were able to generate some offensive rhythm again inside the two-minute warning. Miami quickly marched 75 yards in nine plays to come within one point thanks to a touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to wide receiver DeVante Parker. However, instead of attempting an extra point and playing for overtime, Flores decided to go for the win on with a two-point attempt.

Running the same concept the Patriots used in Super Bowl 51 to tie the game against the Atlanta Falcons late in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick threw a quick pass to Kenyan Drake. However, the play was terribly executed: the timing was off, the players in front failed to secure their blocks, and Drake dropped the football. And with the Dolphins failing to recover the following onside kick, the team’s fifth game of the season again ended in defeat.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.