ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- In what LaDainian Tomlinson called “a do-or-die” game, the New York Jets won their third straight, dominating the Buffalo Bills, 27-11, Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
What it means: The Jets (5-3) sent a loud message to the Bills and the rest of the AFC. They taught the upstart Bills (5-3) a hard lesson about big-game toughness and savvy, and they let the New England Patriots know that the road to the AFC East title isn’t going to be a cakewalk.
Streak busters: For a week, the Jets had to listen to critics remind them of two dubious streaks -- 0-3 on the road and 0-2 coming off the bye under Rex Ryan. They silenced that talk, with an exclamation point.
Big Rex: Ryan pushed all the right buttons, starting last week. He did it his way, giving the team a six-day vacation despite his recent struggles after the bye. He cranked up the intensity in practice, setting the tone for the game. He wanted the Jets to be physical, and they simply manhandled the Bills.
Ryan also made a great replay challenge in the second quarter, overturning a Bills interception in Buffalo territory. That allowed the Jets to kick a field goal, taking a 3-0 lead. This may have been Ryan’s best day of the season -- best week, actually.
Third-quarter push: Coming into the game, the Jets were a mediocre third-quarter team, often an indication of poor adjustments. This time, they owned the quarter, outscoring the Bills, 17-0, and taking control of the game. They did it with good complementary football -- offense, defense and special teams all contributing.
Master plan: The No. 1 priority of the Jets’ defense was RB Fred Jackson. Mission accomplished. They held Jackson, one of the most versatile threats in the league, to a total of 120 yards from scrimmage, with no touchdowns. They did it by keeping an extra defender in the box, leaving their corners in man-to-man coverage against the Bills’ spread offense.
The Jets can get away with that type of plan because of their style on defense and because of their faith in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Pure man-to-man allows them to put a safety in the box, keying on Jackson.
Opportunistic D: The pregame hype focused on the Bills’ turnover-minded defense, but the Jets stole the show. They forced three turnovers -- interceptions by Calvin Pace and David Harris and a forced fumble by Sione Pouha. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was confused by zone coverage on the interceptions, forcing the ball into coverage. Pace’s interception was made possible by former Bills bust Aaron Maybin, who pressured Fitzpatrick on a three-man rush.
Sanchez hiccups: QB Mark Sanchez made two huge mistakes in the first half, throwing a red-zone interception (his first of the year) and losing a fumble on a perfect shotgun snap. It was a shaky start, to say the least, and it looked like he was going to get swallowed up by the Bills’ turnover-minded defense. To his credit, Sanchez rallied in the second half.
At one point, the Jets scored on four straight possessions. It was their best offense of the season, with coordinator Brian Schottenheimer keeping the Bills off balance with a nice mix of plays.
Really special teams: Both teams are known for outstanding special teams, but the Jets won this battle, no contest. Nick Folk made two long field goals (49 and 50 yards), league-leading kickoff returner Joe McKnight produced a 59-yard return and P T.J. Conley made one of the most important plays. Conley, in plus territory, dropped a beauty at the Bills’ 1 -- a huge field-position play in the pivotal third quarter.
In fact, the Jets’ special teams led directly to three points in the third quarter – McKnight’s return, Conley’s punt and Folk’s 50-yarder. Meanwhile, McKnight’s predecessor, Brad Smith, was a non-factor for the Bills.
Injury report: DT Mike DeVito (knee) didn’t play, leaving a hole in the run defense. Obviously, the Jets did a nice job of compensating. Marcus Dixon started for DeVito, but missed a quarter with a knee injury. The Jets’ line depth really came through. TE Dustin Keller returned in the second half after coming up dazed on a ill-advised leap over a Buffalo defender.
What’s next: The Jets return home to face the New England Patriots in a prime-time game, another critical game in the AFC East.