EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In their only prime-time appearance this season, the New York Jets delivered a clear and resolute message to America:
They're not who you think they are.
Labeled tankers at the beginning of the year, and chokers after blowing leads in three straight losses, the Jets rebounded with a dominating 34-21 win over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium.
"It was great for the nation to see it because a lot of people don't believe in us," left tackle Kelvin Beachum said.
The Bills began the night as the darling of the AFC East, but they got slugged upside the head by the Jets (4-5), who were fast and physical for 60 minutes -- no easy task on a short week.
For a change, they didn't squander a fourth-quarter lead, thanks to a 27-point cushion.
A lot of credit goes to coach Todd Bowles, who can present this game tape as Exhibit A as to why he should retain his job beyond this season. With the season slipping away, Bowles rallied his team after losing by seven, three and five points in successive weeks. He did it by using the formula that works best for this team:
Run the ball. Batter the quarterback.
Led by a rejuvenated defensive line, which awoke from its pass-rushing slumber, the Jets recorded a season-high seven sacks. They forced three turnovers, which was impressive when you consider the Bills (5-3) had only three in their first seven games.
"I think the statement we made tonight is we can be one of the premier defenses in the league if we keep the consistency," said linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who spearheaded the pass rush with two sacks.
The seven-sack night came out of nowhere, as the Jets managed only 11 in the first eight games. The ballyhooed defensive line finally played up to its potential. A resurgent Muhammad Wilkerson (one sack) and Leonard Williams (half-sack) played their best games, with Williams finally breaking into the sack column.
Before the game, Wilkerson challenged the defense to hold LeSean McCoy under 70 rushing yards. It did, and then some.
The Jets held McCoy to 25 yards -- the same McCoy who made them look silly with a 110-yard rushing day in the opener. Jenkins led the way with two sacks. Lee and middle linebacker Demario Davis were deployed as "spies" on Tyrod Taylor, and they did a fantastic job of keeping the slippery quarterback in the pocket.
Offensively, the Jets used a ground-and-pound attack, rushing for 194 yards against the NFL's third-ranked run defense. Matt Forte scored his first two touchdowns of the season, only four days after he publicly criticized offensive coordinator John Morton for passing too much in last Sunday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Maybe Forte's words resonated with the coaching staff after he met privately with Morton and Bowles. Was it a coincidence the Jets featured a run-heavy attack while facing the league's 29th-ranked pass defense?
"We did a good job staying with the run game," Bowles said. "We kept it moving. We were consistent. It wore them down and kept them on the field a little longer."
Whatever the motivation, it worked, as Forte (77 yards) and Bilal Powell (74) ripped holes in the Buffalo defense. Except for a 25-yard touchdown catch by Robby Anderson, the Jets didn't have much success in the passing game. But this showed they can do more than throw short passes, their usual attack.
It took half a season, but the Jets finally showed their true personality.