, Gloucester, MA

October 2, 2012

Thank goodness for the AFC East

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — Just when the Patriots and their fans were about to punch the panic button, the AFC East reared its ugly head.

Monday morning? Nothing but smiles of content from Pats fans from Andover to Wilbraham.

As close as New England may have seemed to a 1-3 season start — trailing at suddenly brash Buffalo 21-7 in the third quarter yesterday — the Bills reminded us all how deplorable the situations are for the Pats’ divisional combatants.

Buffalo still has Chan Gailey and a cast of meatheads running this show on both sides of the ball. Force Gailey into a decision, and the battle is all but won.

How many times do you see a well-coached team give up 45 points in one half?

The other “divisional leader” coming into Week 3, your New York Jets, allowed all a reason to smile yesterday by getting thrashed at home by the Niners.

All heck is breaking loose there as expected, with Santonio Holmes joining Darrelle Revis among the walking wounded.

Even the immortal Tim Tebow will not save this group.

Finally, there is Miami,which had the perfect impetus and an even better start in Arizona, with a chance to establish itself as a football team.

The lifeless Cards spotted the Dolphins a 13-0 halftime lead, only to be assured that Miami couldn’t close.

Just a typical day around the AFC East, in which New England, at 2-2 with the Jets and Buffalo, clearly holds the upper hand.

New England holds the cards. Explosive offense and lower-middle defense have been plenty to dominate this division. The message that the Pats still can live up to those expectations was pounded into Gailey and the rest of the skulls in the AFC East yesterday in Buffalo.

With the Bills, Jets and Dolphins now in New England’s wake, the focus turns to the defense, which has 12 more games to improve off the last two games, in which they surrendered 59 points and 943 yards.

A quarter of the season is gone. And the Pats clearly can’t handle the most average offenses and quarterbacks in the game like Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Peyton Manning and Denver hit Gillette Stadium this week. Down the road, there are dates with Houston’s Matt Schaub and San Fran’s Alex Smith.

The playoffs, too, most often feature the game’s top throwers.

But give it up for the Pats. Staring at 1-3, they took all the fear and apprehension away.

New England is only 2-2, but it still owns the AFC East, and the cushion between the next viable candidate is clearly insurmountable.