By Jay Skurski
News Sports Reporter
1. Their dominance in the AFC East knows no bounds. Even before Sunday’s 17-16 victory over the New York Jets, the Patriots had locked up their sixth straight divisional title and 11th in the last 12 years. In the only year during that stretch that New England didn’t win (2008), quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game. Sunday’s victory over the rival Jets gave New England a first-round bye. A victory over the Bills (or a Denver loss at Cincinnati on Monday night) would give them home field advantage throughout the postseason.
2. Danny Amendola stepped up Sunday. When he was signed prior to 2013, Amendola was supposed to replace Wes Welker in the New England offense. That hasn’t happened. Amendola struggled with injuries last year, and this season has been just a minor contributor, but he had his best game of 2014 against the Jets on Sunday with eight catches for 63 yards. Amendola was on the field for just 12 offensive snaps in Week 15, but played an increased role Sunday because receiver Julian Edelman missed the game with a concussion.
3. Rob Gronkowski is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. The Amherst native played just seven games in 2013 because of injuries, but has been a force this season. Gronkowski has 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s started 10 games and appeared in 15. He was eased into action at the beginning of the year as he got back into shape after those injuries, which included a torn knee ligament. Gronk’s presence gives the Patriots the ability to run or pass.
4. The offensive line struggled against the Jets. Left guard Dan Connolly missed the game because of a knee injury, and replacement Josh Kline was benched in the second half. Brady was sacked four times, matching his season high set in Week One against Miami. Brady averaged 3.9 yards per attempt, just the third time in the last five seasons he’s been under 4 yards. Brady didn’t attempt any passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield.
5. Special teams came through against New York. The key play in New England’s victory Sunday was a tipped field goal by Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He got just enough of Nick Folk’s 52-yard attempt with just over 5 minutes to play to make sure the kick fell short. New England also has three blocked field goals tip this year. Amendola added a 39-yard punt return to set up the Patriots’ first touchdown.