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AFC East Report: The Bills secure their first 10-win season of the 21st century

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

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It took 15 weeks, but we now know that the AFC East will send two teams to the playoffs this season — the seventh time that has happened since the NFL’s divisional realignment in 2002. Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s take a look at how the division performed over the weekend in the latest edition of the AFC East Report.

1. New England Patriots (11-3)

Week 15: 34-13 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, in Cincinnati OH

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To watch highlights of the game, click here.

2. Buffalo Bills (10-4)

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

After missing the playoffs last year, the Buffalo Bills will return to the tournament in 2019 for just the second time this century. The team officially locked up its spot in the postseason on Sunday night by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10 on the road — a win that also secured the Bills their first 10-win season since 1999: Buffalo won fewer than 10 games in each of its last 19 seasons, while averaging only 6.6 victories over that span.

Despite punting on the opening drive, the Bills actually started the game better than the Steelers as cornerback Tre’Davious White registered an interception to cap Pittsburgh’s first possession. Even though the pick would not lead to points, it helped Buffalo win the field position battle early on — and on the second play of the second quarter the team would cash in: quarterback Josh Allen found the end zone on a designed run from one yard out to give the Bills a 7-0 lead.

The Bills, however, failed to build on the momentum they created with the touchdown: not only did the team allow the Steelers to score a field goal on the follow-up drive, Allen also threw an interception late in the second period that gave Pittsburgh the ball at the Buffalo 20-yard line. Luckily for the team, its defense came through again as safety Jordan Poyer recovered a fumble two plays after the interception to keep the score at 7-3 heading into the half.

Quarter number three again began badly for Sean McDermott’s team. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Steelers marched right down the field in seven plays to take a 10-7 lead on their first touchdown of the night. To make matters worse, the Bills’ next offensive possession again ended with a giveaway: rookie running back Devin Singletary coughed up the football in Pittsburgh territory and the Steelers were able to come away with it. Again, however, the Buffalo defense delivered.

Not only did the Bills record back-to-back sacks to force a three-and-out, they also registered another takeaway on their next drive: Tre’Davious White picked off Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges for the second time, and returned the interception deep into Pittsburgh territory. Seven plays later — four of which runs for a loss of yardage — Stephen Hauschka hit a 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 in the early fourth quarter.

As uninspiring as the Bills’ offense had played up until this point, it delivered its best drive of the game after another Steelers three-and-out: Allen and company marched 70 yards in just six plays, with a 14-yard pass to tight end Tyler Kroft capping the series. The touchdown drive, which also saw Singletary fumbling again but his own team recovering this time, put Buffalo up 17-10 with eight minutes left in the game — a deficit that proved too big for the Steelers to overcome.

After another quick three-and-out, Bills defensive backs Jordan Poyer and Levi Wallace ended the home team’s final two drives with interceptions. Buffalo’s defense played an impressive game, and it was only fitting to see the unit secure the victory late in the fourth quarter.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.

3. New York Jets (5-9)

Week 15: 42-21 loss against the Baltimore Ravens, in Baltimore MD

After officially getting eliminated from playoff contention the previous week, the New York Jets had to travel to Baltimore to take on the AFC’s top-seeded Ravens on Thursday night. The game went as expected: the home team jumped to an early lead and the visitors were unable to climb out of their hole again. When all was said and done, the Jets were defeated 42-21 — falling to 5-9 and a fourth straight losing season.

Following a quick three-and-out by its offense, New York’s defense surrendered a nine-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that put Baltimore up 7-0. Despite the early adversity, however, the Jets responded well and drove into field goal range on their next possession — only to see a 49-yard Sam Ficken field goal attempt get blocked. To make matters worse, the Ravens then turned the block into another scoring drive to take a 13-0 lead 12 minutes into the game.

This time, however, New York’s offense was able to answer with points of its own: aided by a 37-yard kickoff return by Vyncint Smith, the Jets drove down the field in eight plays to make it a six-point game on a touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Jamison Crowder. As solid as the offense looked at that point, the defense was unable to follow up with some consistent play. Instead, Baltimore scored another touchdown on its next series — a six-play, 75-yard march — to go up 21-7 after a successful two-point attempt.

New York’s offense continued its solid play on its next two drives, but once again came away empty-handed: the first series ended with a turnover on downs after an incomplete pass on fourth-and-one at the Ravens 7-yard line, the second ended when Darnold was intercepted at the Baltimore 5 shortly before the half. Darnold then had another turnover in the early third quarter when he was strip-sacked, setting up the fourth Ravens touchdown of the day.

At this point, the contest was effectively out of reach: the home team added another score to go up 35-7 before a blocked punt in the fourth quarter — Tarell Basham blocked the kick, B.J. Bello returned it 14 yards for a touchdown — cut into New York’s deficit again. The two teams’ offenses then exchanged scores again, with the Jets adding a touchdown on a short pass from Darnold to Crowder. In the end, though, they still lost by 21 points.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.

4. Miami Dolphins (3-11)

Week 15: 36-20 loss against the New York Giants, in East Rutherford NJ

The Miami Dolphins and New York Giants are among the worst teams in the NFL this season, but their meeting on Sunday still meant something — not just for quarterback Eli Manning potentially making his final start for the Giants. The game also had an impact on the draft order: with the Dolphins losing, they are now tied with New York and Washington for the second worst record in the league. While Miami will pick third overall as of right now, there are still two weeks remaining that could change the top of the draft order.

The game itself started with the Dolphins receiving the opening kickoff and putting together a solid drive down the field. However, the series stalled at the New York 31-yard line and Miami kicker Jason Sanders — coming straight off a seven-field goal performance in Week 14 — missed a 49-yard attempt wide to the right. Luckily for the team, the Giants did not fare much better on their first drive and had to punt the football away after gaining just one first down.

Miami produced another good-looking drive on its second possession, but once again came away empty: facing a fourth-and-one from the New York 10, head coach Brian Flores decided to go for it but running back Patrick Laird was stopped for a loss of yardage. After another Giants punt, however, the team finally put some points on the scoreboard when it marched 89 yards in nine plays and found the end zone on a 20-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to DeVante Parker.

The lead held for all but one minute as Eli Manning connected with Golden Tate on a 51-yard score to tie the game at seven. Any momentum New York built, however, was quickly gone again when Dolphins linebacker Vince Biegel intercepted Manning on the next drive to set up a 24-yard field goal. Manning was then intercepted again on the next series — cornerback Nik Needham came away with the pick — to end the half at 10-7 in Miami’s favor.

The second half started better for the home team, as it took its first lead of the day on a 70-yard touchdown drive. The two teams then exchanged turnovers — Ryan Fitzpatrick lost a fumble; Manning threw an interception to Jerome Baker just three plays later — before Miami cut into its deficit with another Sanders field goal. However, the Dolphins again failed to put positive plays together and instead gifted New York two more points when Laird was tackled in the end zone on a rushing attempt from his own 2-yard line.

After the free kick and a 34-yard return, it took the Giants just three plays to add more points to their total: its third touchdown of the day put the team up 23-13 late in the third quarter — a lead that increased to 30-13 in the early fourth, and to 36-13 a few series later. While Fitzpatrick and Parker connected on another touchdown just outside of the two-minute warning, it was too little too late to salvage the game.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.