A mere six quarters of good football has returned the swagger to the New York Jets.
Just two weeks ago, the Jets entered their home locker room at halftime, trailing the San Diego Chargers, 21-10, facing the prospect of having a 3-4 record and a fourth loss in five games.
That’s when New York stormed back with a 17-0 second half to beat the Chargers and inch back over the .500 mark.
The Jets (5-3) continued that momentum in Orchard Park, New York on Sunday with their third straight win and first road win in four tries this season, in a convincing 27-11 win over their AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills (5-3).
And, just like that, in only a game-and-a-half, the brash Jets are suddenly talking again about taking hold of a division in which they are locked in a three-way tie for first place with Buffalo and arch nemesis New England (5-3), which pays a visit to MetLife Stadium on Sunday night – where the Jets are 4-0.
While New York’s defense shut Buffalo down (just 65 first-half yards allowed), the Jets offense stopped itself with a couple of turnovers and a missed field goal in the opening half.
After a Bills’ three-and-out to start the game, the Jets moved 87 yards on 15 plays, but only to have quarterback Mark Sanchez (20-28, 230 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack) throw an interception over the middle, in the end zone.
Two New York possessions later, Sanchez drove the Jets 44 yards on ten plays for the only points of the half, on a 49-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk, with 2:55 left before halftime.
Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (15-31, 1 TD, 2 INT, 0 sacks, season lows of 191 yards and a 51.9 passer rating) was intercepted on each of the Bills’ next two possessions (first, by linebacker Calvin Pace, then by linebacker David Harris), but the Jets wasted good field position each time.
Pace’s pick resulted in a 50-yard missed field goal by Folk, and Sanchez dropped a snap that was recovered by Buffalo on the play after Harris’ interception.
The teams traded punts to start the second half before New York’s offense finally got into gear and scored on its next four possessions to put the game away.
The Bills punted from deep in their own end, setting the Jets up at the Buffalo 40-yard line. Four plays later, Folk kicked a 50-yard field goal to increase the Jets’ lead to 6-0, with 10:16 left in the third quarter.
Safety Jim Leonhard then recovered a fumble by running back Fred Jackson (18 carries, 82 yards) at the Bills’ 19-yard line on the next play from scrimmage.
Two plays later, Sanchez completed a pass to wide receiver Plaxico Burress (5 catches, 79 yards – both were team highs for the game as well as personal season highs), to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by running back LaDainian Tomlinson (5 carries, 18 yards, 1 TD), to extend the Jets’ lead to 13-0 with 8:34 left in the quarter.
Fitzpatrick then connected with wide receiver Stevie Johnson (3 catches, 84 yards) on a 52-yard completion on the third play of an eight-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard field goal by kicker Rian Lindell which brought the Bills to within 13-3 with 4:47 left in the period.
Three plays later, after completions by Sanchez of 16 yards to tight end Dustin Keller (4 carries, 64 yards) and 13 yards to Burress, to midfield, cornerback Leodis McKelvin was flagged for a 42-yard pass interference call on wide receiver Santonio Holmes (3 catches, 29 yards, 1 TD).
Sanchez went right back to Holmes, who made a nice 8-yard touchdown grab over the middle, in traffic, on the next play, to give the Jets a 20-3 advantage with 3:27 left in the quarter.
A nine-play, 56-yard drive ended at the Jets’ 16-yard line when New York stopped Jackson on 4th-and-1.
From there, New York used 7:58 to cap a long 14-play, 84-yard drive on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by fullback John Conner (2 carries, 8 yards, 1 TD), his first touchdown of the season and the second of his career, to put give the Jets a commanding 27-3 lead with 6:27 to go in the game.
While he wasn’t featured much on the time-consuming drive, running back Shonn Greene led the Jets with 76 yards on 19 carries to help New York control the ball for 37:22 to Buffalo’s 22:08.
Wide receiver David Nelson (4 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD) caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick with 3:14 remaining, to end a ten-play, 75-yard drive. Fitzpatrick ran the ball in for a two-point conversion, but that’s as close as the Bills would get as the Jets were able to keep the ball on the ground to run out the final 3:09.
The win had New York talking a lot about taking down New England in a first-place showdown, when the Patriots (losers of two straight games after a 5-1 start that included a Week 5 home win over New York) visit the Jets on Sunday night at 8:20 pm ET.
The game will mark the first of two successive prime-time games for the Jets with a quick turnaround in between. After Sunday’s game, New York will head to Denver (3-5) to kick off at the same time on Thursday, November 17th, before the Jets return home to play the Bills again, the following week.