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AFC East Report: Patriots win division; Dolphins and Jets hurt draft position

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

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

It took 16 weeks, but the race for the AFC East title came to an end this past weekend. The highly anticipated matchup atop the division was not the only game worth taking a closer look a, so let’s get right into it and break down the action in this Christmas edition of the AFC East Report:

1. New England Patriots (12-3)

Week 16: 24-17 win against the Buffalo Bills, in Foxborough MA

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To watch highlights of the game, click here.

2. Buffalo Bills (10-5)

Week 16: 24-17 loss against the New England Patriots, in Foxborough MA

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To watch highlights of the game, click here.

3. New York Jets (6-9)

Week 16: 16-10 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in East Rutherford NJ

The New York Jets’ up-and-down season continued in Week 16, with the team winning its sixth game of the season — against a formidable opponent, at least in terms of record: the Pittsburgh Steelers entered Week 16 at 8-6 and with a realistic chance of making the playoffs as one of the AFC’s wild card teams. Despite that, however, the Jets were able to pull out a six-point victory behind a strong defensive performance.

The game started with the home team receiving the opening kickoff and going on a long drive that ended with the first touchdown of the day: led primarily by quarterback Sam Darnold’s right arm, the Jets marched 75 yards in 11 plays with a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Robby Anderson as the final play — one that gave New York a lead that would hold for most of the first half, especially with the defense playing some opportunistic football.

The Steelers’ first drive after the touchdown, after all, ended when linebacker Tarell Basham intercepted quarterback Devlin Hodges in New York territory. While the offense failed to capitalize on the turnover, the takeaway was a sign of things to come: Hodges struggled against the Jets’ defense which in turn allowed the Jets to control the game during its early portions and eventually take a 10-0 lead in the early second period off a 54-yard Sam Ficken field goal.

Pittsburgh replied with another interception — this time, safety Marcus Maye was able to get his hands on the ball — which led the team to bench Hodges and insert second-year man Mason Rudolph into the lineup. With Rudolph under center, the Jets’ defensive fortunes turned: he first led the Steelers on a 10-play, 55-yard drive that ended with a field goal before a 29-yard touchdown pass tied the game with only seconds left in the first half. That touchdown came courtesy of a lost fumble by Darnold three plays earlier.

The second started like the first one ended: with Pittsburgh in possession of the ball and driving down the field. This time, however, Gang Green’s defense forced a stop that set up another scoring drive for the team: after the Steelers’ punt, Darnold and company marched 62 yards in 10 plays before a sack on third-and-nine forced the team to settle for a field goal. Once again, however, Ficken was perfect and his 37-yarder gave New York a 13-10 lead.

After the field goal, the game turned into a punt-fest as the next five drives all ended with kicks. The sixth did too, but this time for points: the Jets drove another 54 yards in nine plays to take a 16-10 lead with three minutes to go in the game; Ficken made a 42-yard field goal try. Pittsburgh — with Hodges back under center — had another two chances to reply and at least tie the game on a touchdown but failed to do it as New York’s defense held twice before ending the game on a fourth-and-seven stop.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.

4. Miami Dolphins (4-11)

Week 16: 38-35 OT win against the Cincinnati Bengals, in Miami Gardens FL

While both the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals have been out of the playoff picture for quite some time now, there was a lot at stake in their Week 16 matchup. After all, the Bengals were in a position to lock down the number one overall pick in next year’s draft with a loss while the Dolphins could further improve their draft position. However, neither team played like losing and the game turned into a rather entertaining affair.

Miami struck first after receiving the opening kickoff. Led by veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the team went on a 12-play drive that covered 75 yards and ended with a rather curious 1-yard touchdown pass: Fitzpatrick threw to rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who had lined up at football and caught the pass before fumbling and recovering it in the end zone for six points. After a successful extra point, Miami was up 7-0.

After a defensive three-and-out, that lead increased to 14 points: another 75-yard series was capped by a touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to wide receiver DeVante Parker from seven yards out. Cincinnati, meanwhile, was unable to get anything going on offense and again had to punt after just three offensive plays. This time, however, the Dolphins failed to answer with another score and instead had to punt as well.

This time, the Bengals finally found some offensive rhythm and went on their first scoring drive of the afternoon — one that ended with a 20-yard field goal to bring the team within 11 points. After four straight three-and-outs, the Dolphins got the momentum back: they went on a 87-yard drive that took not even three minutes off the clock and added another seven points to their total when Fitzpatrick connected with tight end Mike Gesicki on a 31-yard touchdown.

Cincinnati was, however, able to add another field goal before the end of the first half to head into the locker rooms down 21-6. That deficit only grew in the third period: after a quick Bengals punt to open the half, Miami drove 83 yards in nine plays to go up 28-6 when Fitzpatrick and Gesicki connected for the second time. The Bengals answered by driving for their first touchdown of the day — one that brought the team within 16 after a failed two-point try.

After that, the team exchanged turnovers — Fitzpatrick threw an interception, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton lost a fumble — before Miami’s Myles Gaskin put the team up 35-12 in the early fourth quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run. With only 11 minutes left in the game and the home team up 23 points, the game seemed to be over. However, Cincinnati fought back: it scored a touchdown on the next drive, saw Miami’s Jason Sanders miss a 47-yard field goal try, and drove for another score plus successful two-point try.

Then, it was onside kick time and Cincinnati recovered which set up another touchdown drive for the team with 30 seconds left in the game. down two points, the Bengals attempted their third two-point try of the game. And just like the previous one, this one was a success to tie the game at 35 at the end of regulation. What followed was a defensively dominated overtime period that saw the Dolphins come out on top.

After four three-and-outs, Miami put together a solid drive that ended with a 37-yard Sanders field goal to win the game for the Dolphins.

To watch highlights of the game, click here.