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Patriots seize control of AFC East with dominating win over Jets


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He kept repeating that phrase, the one so often used around this time of the NFL season when teams begin to gain a clearer picture of their path toward the playoffs, almost as if it provided reprieve in the wake of this loss.

"We control our own destiny," Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes said Sunday night when asked whether he believes his team can still win the division. "We still have AFC games to play. We still have two more divisional games to play.

"We control our own destiny."

So who wants to be the one to break it to him?

Anyone want to provide Holmes with a better understanding of the ramifications of Sunday night's 37-16 thumping? Anyone also want to tell him what it means to lose to the Patriots twice in a season, the first time it's happened under Rex Ryan?

If at the end of this season we decide to look back for the turning point in this division, we'll probably point to Week 10, when the Jets' three-game win streak ended, the Patriots' two-game losing skid was over, and each team's season shifted direction.

"It looks doubtful right now," Ryan said Sunday night of his team's shot at the AFC East crown. "What am I going to say? Maybe I should guarantee the fact that we're out of it. The last time I did that, we made the playoffs.

"So yeah, we don't have a chance."

Ryan is referencing the moment in 2009, when he mistakenly thought after a Week 15 loss to the Falcons that the Jets were eliminated from playoff contention only to later snag a wild-card berth and battle his way to the AFC Championship Game.

The Jets' shot at the division this year, though, rests somewhere between Ryan's dramatization and Holmes' miscalculation.

Are the Jets dead in the water? No way. The Patriots' secondary is still suspect, further magnified by an injury suffered by starting cornerback Devin McCourty. The defense could easily cause real problems down the stretch.

But are the Jets controlling their own destiny? No. That authority belongs to New England, which is now one win ahead of the Jets (who were swept by the Patriots, and thus would lose a tiebreaker) and the Bills (who are sliding fast after losing three of their last five games).

"We wanted to win this game in the worst way," Ryan said. "We've been down this road before."

In New York, the sense that the Jets cannot rely on Mark Sanchez continues to strengthen. After winning three games by grinding it out on the ground, the Jets returned to the air attack (39 passes to 25 runs) because of the Patriots' struggling secondary.

Sanchez, again in the spotlight, was sacked five times and threw two interceptions. He also mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, calling a timeout that would give the Patriots a chance to score, which led to Ryan's halftime criticism. NBC reported that Ryan called the decision "the stupidest thing in football history."

Meanwhile, the Jets' defense gave up more points to the Patriots than any team has scored on Ryan at home since he became coach of the Jets. Neither of those developments paints a pleasant picture for the near future.

The Patriots, on the other hand, have a few things floating in their favor.

Not only did Tom Brady regain his form after a few less than Brady-like weeks (his passer rating Sunday was 118.4), the Patriots' defense and special teams went a long way toward helping the cause. Those two interceptions by Rob Ninkovich? And those franchise-record 4.5 sacks by Andre Carter? And that fumble recovery on a muffed punt? It is with this type of assistance that New England can manage a 21-point margin of victory.

"Everybody stepped up," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Special teams, defense, offense. We made the plays when we had to make them. It wasn't perfect, but when we had to make them, we made them."

Both the Patriots and the Jets have a similar slate of opponents ahead. When it comes to strength of their schedules, the Patriots catch a break in one non-similar opponent: They play the Colts, while the Jets will face the Giants.

By all means -- based on momentum, based on what we've seen from all four teams in the AFC East and based on the schedule ahead -- there's no question who has control of this division's destiny.

The Patriots have it. Now, they need to prove capable of keeping it.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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