Share this article

print logo



One Week.

That is all it took to change the complexion of a team, a division . . . and an entire league.

Since last Sunday's season-ending Achilles' tendon injury suffered by QB Vinny Testaverde, the New York Jets have gone from favorites to win the AFC East and capture the conference championship to a club that might as well not even bother to play its final 15 games. Stick a fork in them. Their season is over.

Of course, the Jets do plan to honor the balance of their schedule. For the time being, their QB is Rick Mirer, who was hardly impressive filling in for the Jets in the fourth quarter of the season-opening loss to New England.

And when you consider that the Jets are also without No. 2 WR Wayne Chrebet (broken foot) for the next five weeks and third-down RB Leon Johnson (knee) for the rest of the season, and have other injuries on offense and defense that will keep them badly undermanned through at least the early part of the season, things don't look quite as bad for the 0-1 Buffalo Bills after all.

Not that the Bills expect to have a slam dunk in tonight's home opener against the Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium. They must first find a running game. Then they have to figure out how to move the ball against a defense that stifled them twice last year, and without the help of injured third-down RB Thurman Thomas.

But the Bills should be motivated by the humiliation of last week's mugging at Indianapolis and by the deafening roar of a sellout crowd that hasn't witnessed a home game that counted since Dec. 19, when the Jets scored a 17-10 victory and celebrated winning their first-ever division crown.

When the Bills have the ball

The Bills treated their running game as an afterthought last week. That shouldn't be the case tonight.

After watching RBs Antowain Smith and Jonathan Linton barely make a dent in the Colts' defense and seeing their team fall behind, 14-6, the Bills' coaches quickly became discouraged and went almost exclusively to the pass the rest of the way.

Wade Phillips vows that the Bills will stick to the run tonight, which means if Smith is still having problems with his groin muscle, Linton will get the call as the offense keeps hammering away on the ground. This is critical in order for QB Doug Flutie to sell play-action, and it also takes advantage of the fact the Jets' best defensive lineman, NT Jason Ferguson, is out with an ankle injury. His replacement, Ernie Logan, should be easier for C Jerry Ostroski and the OGs to handle.

Because of their many offensive problems, the Jets are likely to be more conservative on defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, who designed the brilliant schemes that worked so well against the Bills last year, will probably back his LBs off a bit and play a base defense at the risk of exposing his marginal defensive line in the Jets' 3-4 set.

Once again, the Jets will try to reduce Flutie's effectiveness by keeping him in the pocket rather than allowing him to do what he does best -- make plays on the run. Belichick was able to do that last year by assigning his most athletic LB, James Farrior, to shadow Flutie. It's possible he might also try to incorporate some of the highly successful zone blitzing that the Colts used last week, constantly forcing Flutie to run for his life while being chased by CBs, Ss, and LBs.

Bills' offensive coordinator Joe Pendry can help offset any defensive strategy by establishing a running game. But he will also have to devise a blocking scheme that allows Flutie to break containment and exploit the undersized CBs, Ray Mickens and Aaron Glenn, who should be mismatched man-to-man with WRs Eric Moulds and Andre Reed.

When the Jets have the ball

All of a sudden, the Jets have gone from having one of the NFL's most explosive passing games to a one-dimensional, run-oriented attack.

After watching Mirer hit only 36 percent of his 11 pass attempts against New England, the Bills have no reason to fear or respect his throwing ability. They will likely come after RB Curtis Martin with an eight-man front on early downs and force the Jets to try to beat them through the air.

Buffalo's primary defensive mission is to shut down WR Keyshawn Johnson, and, with Chrebet out of action, they should be able to double team him more often with CB Thomas Smith and by rolling FS Kurt Schulz to his side.

It is true that Chrebet's replacement, Dedric Ward, twice killed the Bills last season on long pass receptions. However, that was while working from the slot on third down, usually while single covered by a slower DB. Ward now is in the flanker spot, and is less than willing to make the tough catch over the middle. Also, if he does move to the slot, the Bills can cover him with rookie Antoine Winfield.

The Bills should be able to attack the Jets' inexperienced OGs Kerry Jenkins and Randy Thomas by running blitzes and stunts up the middle with LBs John Holecek and Sam Cowart, and periodically moving RE Bruce Smith inside.

The Jets' only hope of running with success is if OTs Jumbo Elliot and Jason Fabini are able to dominate their matchups against Smith, who struggled badly last week against Tarik Glenn, and LE Phil Hansen, and give Martin room outside. It would also help a great deal if TE Eric Green, who has been listed as out with a neck injury, is somehow able to play. Green is one of the better blocking TEs in the league.


Over last seven regular-season and playoff games, Moulds has surpassed 100 receiving yards five times, averaging 6.4 catches and 145.6 yards per game. . . . Mirer has thrown an INT in all 54 of his NFL starts.


Beat-up Jets and desperate Bills will wage a close, conservative battle that should end in a 20-13 Buffalo victory.

There are no comments - be the first to comment