Dear Patriots, Bills, and critics,
The New York Jets are not out of the AFC East hunt just yet.
At the end of that three game losing streak, Jets fans were nervous. But the Jets have gotten better and better with each passing week since then, and this Sunday might be the best I’ve seen them play. Ever.
Jets fans ought to be proud of their team this week. I know I am. The Jets came into Buffalo the definite underdog, with critics citing their 0-2 record under head coach Rex Ryan after bye weeks and their 0-3 record on the road this season. Vegas favored Buffalo. Everyone favored Buffalo. All but one of the guys at ESPN.com picked Buffalo to win this matchup (thanks for the vote of confidence, Mike Golic). But the Jets walked into Ralph Wilson Stadium and dominated every aspect of "the biggest game of the season" from start to finish. If the offense had managed to execute in the first and second quarters, the game would have been over at halftime.
There were a couple of minutes there, particularly when quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a red zone interception (his first red zone interception of the season) that ended a 15 play, 10 minute drive, where it looked like this might be one of those “woulda, coulda, shoulda” games. There was tight end Dustin Keller trying to leap over defenders and landing on his head (he had to come out of the game for the rest of the first half). Nick Folk actually missed a 50 yard field goal (his first of the season). When the Jets dominated the first half in just about everything, and only had 3 points to show for it on a different, really good, 49 yard field goal by Folk, this game had “tragically disappointing” written all over it.
But the offense finally was able to finish their drives in the second half, and Sanchez recovered from his interception and fumbled snap. Nick Folk kicked another long field goal. Plaxico Burress had another big game, 5 receptions for 79 yards, barely missing a touchdown. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson scored the game’s first touchdown in the third quarter. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes had a touchdown catch, and fullback John Connor’s rushing touchdown put the game away. The running game was effective, the play action worked really well. The offense was firing on all cylinders by the end of the game.
After the disastrous start the offensive line got off to this season, things have come together and this was their best game yet, creating holes for running back Shonn Greene to run through and providing great protection for Sanchez. He was hardly touched, sacked only once, and usually had plenty of time to throw. It was a good game for Sanchez, even with his turnovers. He took his punches in the first half and rebounded to post a 92.9 rating, completing 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards with 1 touchdown. At one point, he led the team on four consecutive scoring drives.
But the real story of the day was the Jets defense. It was the most impressive show the Jets defense has put on this season, and possibly in the Rex Ryan era. They are the reason the Jets won, completely suffocating the Bills’ high scoring offense. Coming into this game, the Bills were averaging 30 points per game. They scored 11, almost all of which came in garbage time. This is the first game of the season that Buffalo has been held to under 20 points. The defense completely shut down Bills’ running back Fred Jackson, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and held wide receiver Stevie Johnson to 3 receptions for 84 yards.
[caption id="attachment_309" align="alignright" width="202" caption="Antonio Cromartie (31) breaks up a pass to Donald Jones. The Jets defense held the Bills to just 11 points. Photo by Derek Gee // The AP."][/caption]
One of Johnson’s receptions was for 52 yards that put the Bills deep in Jet territory, but the defense recovered, only allowing a field goal on the attempt. They forced three turnovers, including Jackson’s first fumble on the season. Most of the yards the Bills gained were in garbage time, when they were down 27 to 3 with 6:27 left in the game.
There was a defining moment early in the fourth quarter, when it was 20-3 and Buffalo was driving. CBS’s Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were talking about Buffalo’s great comebacks this season, most notably the game against Oakland where they came back to win 38-35 after being down 21-3 at the half.
After Buffalo unsuccessfully challenged the spot of the ball, it got to be 4th and inches on the Jets 16 yard line, and Buffalo handed the ball to the usually reliable Fred Jackson to go up the middle. Calvin Pace and Bart Scott crushed him, he couldn’t go anywhere. The Bills couldn’t get the inches they needed, and the Jets took over on downs. Sanchez then led the team down the field and handed the ball off to Connor for the touchdown, effectively ending the game.
With this combination Jets win and Bills loss, and the Patriots’ loss to the Giants later in the day (thanks, Big Blue), the Jets are now in a three way tie with the Bills and Patriots for the lead of the AFC East. Everyone’s now looking towards next Sunday night, probably drooling, because for the first time in a long time, the Patriots look vulnerable coming off two straight losses. The Jets look like they're just finally hitting their stride.
But for now, the Jets have reestablished themselves. That moment where Jackson and the Bills couldn’t get the 1st down, when Jackson lost ground, on 4th and inches in the red zone? That was a statement. They weren’t letting Buffalo back in the game. Buffalo might be playing well, and they might beat the Patriots, but if they want to take the AFC East, they’re still going to have to get by the Jets.
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