Bills head coach Rex Ryan waited until the last possible minute to take the field at MetLife Stadium, saying the game between the Jets and his Bills was not about him. But Ryan was the story all week long leading up to his first return to the Meadowlands since he was fired by the Jets at the end of the 2014 season. The game was a bit of a Rex special — the Bills won 22-17 in a contest that was decided by the run game, defense and special teams, and both quarterbacks underperformed. But in the end, it was Ryan's team that pulled it out, to match Ryan's old team at 5-4 in the standings.
“You were never comfortable, obviously,” Ryan said after the game. “We just had to keep fighting, as that's what we did as a team. I'm extremely proud of my team, and it took every man.”
Here are some other observations on the AFC East battle:
Buffalo's running game: The Jets harassed Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor throughout the game with multiple blitz packages, sacking Taylor four times and amassing eight quarterback hits. But as the game progressed, offensive coordinator Greg Roman wisely moved from the deep ball and chunk plays to more manageable throws, and a comprehensive rushing attack. LeSean McCoy led that attack with 112 yards on 19 carries, adding 47 yards on five receptions.
“We just stuck with it,” McCoy said after the game of Buffalo's successful ground game against New York's top-ranked run defense. “The guys blocked really well up front, and Greg Roman made some outstanding calls.”
New York's first-half defense: Before things fell apart for them and Buffalo started to move the ball, the Jets had Tyrod Taylor in a real bind. Buffalo's quarterback completed nine of 15 passes for 59 yards in the first half, and overshot several deep targets. But he finished the game 17 of 27 for 156 yards, plus a touchdown pass to running back Karlos Williams that came in the third quarter. Not outstanding numbers, but throughout the game, New York's fronts did get pressure on Taylor . Problem was, they also sacrificed their solidity against the run as a result.
The deep ball... from everybody: The Jets went with deep balls on their first three plays, and each throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick to his target was incomplete — one to Eric Decker, one to Brandon Marshall, and one to Kenbrell Thompkins. Not sure what Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was thinking with a quarterback in Fitzpatrick who has never been great with the deep ball, but Taylor seemed to want to match him miss for miss. Taylor missed an easy early shot to Sammy Watkins, who had beaten Darrelle Revis on a deep route, but it was the first of many overthrows and errant balls for Taylor, who's actually been one of the NFL's most prolific passers this season.
New York's final two drives: With 5:17 left in the game, and down 22-17, the Jets got a golden opportunity to turn things around when Bills punter Colton Schmidt fumbled a snap, and recovered the ball at the Buffalo 13-yard line. Running back Chris Ivory then took the ball to the 5-yard line with a great run, then lost a yard on the next run. Fitzpatrick hit Decker for a short pass on third down, and then inexplicably threw a fade to blocking tight end Kellen Davis on fourth down. The idea may have been to get the ball to Decker, who was bunched up by Buffalo's defense on a failed attempt at a pick play, but the throw to Davis was doomed before it began. However, the Bills couldn't run out the clock, and they punted back to the Jets with 35 seconds left in the game. And on the first play after the punt, Fitzpatrick underthrew to Thompkins, right into the hands of Bills safety Bacarri Rambo. That was the ballgame, and the Jets were left to curse their own ineffectiveness when the game was ostensibly in their hands. Gailey must do a better job of understanding what Fitzpatrick can and can't do, and Fitzpatrick must do a better job of not playing outside of his limitations. In this case, it cost the Jets a chance to separate themselves in the AFC wild card race, and marked their third loss in their last four games.
New York's special teams: Schmidt's bobbled snap wasn't the worst special teams play of the evening. That happened with 5:38 left in the first half, when Jets rookie receiver Devin Smith took a kickoff out of the end zone, fumbled it at the New York 13-yard line, and watched safety Duke Williams return the fumble for a touchdown. The move to put Smith in was questionable at best, because he doesn't have a history as a return man in the NFL or during his time at Ohio State.
Those uniforms!: The implementation of Nike's “Color Rush” uniform initiative was a stark failure. The Jets with their all-green, and the Bills with their all-red uniforms, looked like an aborted version of a football-related Christmas pageant.
Add to that an embarrassing effect of poor planning: people watching the game who were color-blind (which tends to affect reds and greens) really struggled to understand what was going on.
Ex-Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, who knows a thing or two about football, explained the problems.