Division foes wilting again this season
Buffalo, Jets, Miami struggling as Patriots play for ninth straight East title
BUFFALO, N.Y. - There was some early-season angst about the New England Patriots, to the point that it appeared that the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins or even the non-tanking New York Jets might be able to challenge them in the AFC East this year. It's time to forget about that. The Patriots, predictably, are back to being the Patriots. And the rest of the AFC East, just as predictably, is back to being the Bills, Dolphins and Jets.
Sunday night's 41-16 victory in Denver upped the Patriots' record to 7-2. They have had their issues, especially on defense. But the defending Super Bowl champs have now won five straight games, and are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC's best record as they jockey for the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs.
Winning the division has become a mere afterthought for the Patriots. It is pretty much a given.
For the season's first two months, it appeared there might be meaningful games in the AFC East down the stretch. The Bills were prospering under their first-year coach, Sean McDermott, with a 5-2 start. The Dolphins were 4-2 at one point. The Jets, accused before Opening Day of being in tank-the-season mode and in pursuit of a top pick in the NFL draft, won three of their first five games.
Those teams have reverted, though. The Jets are now 4-6 after losing Sunday at Tampa Bay to their former quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins will take a 4-4 record and a two-game losing streak into Monday night's game at Carolina. And the Bills are in a downward spiral, with their record dropping to 5-4 after Sunday's 47-10 defeat at home to the New Orleans Saints.
“This is not easy to take,” McDermott said. “[It's] not an easy pill to swallow, especially at home. Our fans deserve more. And so we go back hard at work to give them more. We're building and we've got to continue to be honest with ourselves when we look at the tape. Like I said before, we got outcoached. That starts with me. And we got outplayed. Got to take a hard look at it.”
The Bills were coming off a minibye after losing to the Jets at the Meadowlands in a Thursday night matchup. They were at home, where they had a record of 4-0 this season when Sunday began.
But they were overrun by the Saints. New Orleans had two 100-yard rushers, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints ran for 298 yards and a teamrecord six touchdowns. The Bills had no answers. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor passed for only 56 yards and gave way to rookie Nathan Peterman with the game out of reach.
The Bills still can regroup and chase a wild-card berth. They haven't made a playoff appearance since the 1999 season, the league's longest active postseason drought. Getting back to the playoffs would make this season a major success for the Bills.
But the division race? That seems pretty much over.
“We've got a certain standard,” McDermott said Sunday. “That wasn't up to our standard.”