The Buffalo Bills unleashed their defensive stars on New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith on Sunday afternoon.
Three interceptions, four sacks, one fumble and eight other quarterback hits later, they stormed out of Ralph Wilson Stadium with a 37-14 rout of their AFC East rivals.
After being judicious about sending rushers at veteran QBs Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in two of the last three weeks, Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told his charges – in so many words – “sic ’em.”
Three of the sacks and two of the interceptions came on blitzes.
“We knew if we got after him, we could get in his head and he would throw us the ball some,” said Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. “That’s exactly what happened. He’s a young quarterback, and we just had to get after him.”
Smith completed just 8-of-23 passes for 103 yards and was pulled from the game early in the fourth quarter.
“When we were losing against Pittsburgh last week, I said that one of these days we’re going to be in a position to turn our guys loose, hopefully sooner than later,” Pettine said. “It’s a credit to our talent up front. This was really the first game where we could say, “You know what, go get them.’ ”
Indeed, the defensive domination was more a case of elite players making big plays than schematic wizardry, although the X’s and O’s didn’t hurt.
And the best of the Bills’ elite defenders was defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who had two sacks and forced the key turnover of the game.
Buffalo had just taken a 10-0 lead, and the Jets were at their own 20-yard line with 3:59 left in the first half. Smith dropped back to pass and the Bills sent a five-man rush.
Williams, the two-time Pro Bowler, whipped Jets rookie guard Brian Winters and batted the ball out of Smith’s hand and he knocked the QB to the ground. Manny Lawson fell on it at the Jets’ 4, and two plays later the Bills had a 17-0 lead.
“I came inside and punched him,” Williams said of Winters. “When I punched him, I think he felt I was going to bull rush. He tried to sit his weight down, and when he did I just kind of pushed him aside. When he drew the ball back, I knocked it out.”
That’s the kind of doctorate-level cunning Williams has been bringing to the pass rush for all eight of his seasons in Buffalo. He pushed his season sack total to seven – already a career high.
“Nothing surprises me with him no more,” Bills defensive end Alan Branch said. “With his get-off, he puts so many people in an uncomfortable position, and he has a lot of moves where he can finish it off.”
“He’s got great hands, he’s got great strength, he’s deceptively athletic,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “He’s unreal.”
Williams saved the Bills points in the first quarter, breaking free up the middle on a sack of Smith that forced a 48-yard field goal-try, which the Jets missed. Pettine blitzed two defensive backs, Nickell Robey and Da’Norris Searcy, on that play.
“The guard and the center sat on me, but the center saw Robey coming late,” Williams said. “And when he tried to bail and get him, I was able to get under the guard. Robey made him step up, and we were able to get him on the ground.”
And another rush by a defensive back – Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd – produced a sack and a defensive stop that set up the Bills’ first TD drive. Byrd faked backing off the line then bolted around the Jets’ left tackle for a 9-yard sack.
“We’ve talked about it since Day One,” Pettine said. “That’s the way we want to be. ‘Read and react’ is not in our vocabulary. We want to dictate the offenses and force them to make plays. Quarterbacks in this league are too good if you give them time to make decisions. You have to speed that clock up. That’s the way we want to be.”
Smith clearly was rattled after the sack-fumble deep in his own territory.
On the Jets’ next possession, he stared down tight end Jeff Cumberland, and Byrd stepped in front of the pass for a pickoff. That led to a Dan Carpenter field goal and the Bills took a 20-0 lead into intermission.
Any thoughts of a Jets comeback were extinguished when Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel hit Marquise Goodwin on a 43-yard TD pass to put Buffalo ahead, 27-7, with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
After that, the Bills’ defense smelled blood.
Byrd got another pickoff, his 21st as a Bill, by stepping in front of a Smith pass for Santonio Holmes in Jets territory.
Later in the third quarter, Searcy intercepted a receiver screen pass intended for Holmes and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. It put the Bills ahead, 34-7.
Bills end Mario Williams lined up over center on the play and burst into the backfield, hurrying Smith’s throw. It was supposed to be a five-man rush, but Searcy broke off his run to the quarterback when he smelled out the pass.
“I saw they were in a little bunch,” Searcy said. “I saw one of the receivers motion out so I was like, ‘I think they’re going to try to run the screen.’ Once I seen the QB’s hard play-action and saw him raise it, I knew they were going to throw, so I just faded back out of the blitz and he threw it right to me. My thought process was he’s either going to try to throw it over me or he’s not going to see me at all. I guess he didn’t see me at all. I jumped right in his path.”
Smith now leads the AFC in interceptions with 16, double his touchdown total (eight).
Manuel, by contrast, has eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He completed 20-of-28 passes for 245 yards.
The rout snapped a three-game losing streak for the Bills (4-7) and put a dent in the playoff hopes of the Jets (5-5).