The Bills retired Bruce Smith's number at halftime of Thursday night's nationally televised game against the Jets at New Era Field. Maybe they should have reactivated old No. 78 him instead, so he could help the defense contend with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Really, even at 53 years old, Smith might have lifted a Bills defense that allowed Fitzpatrick to look like the second coming of Joe Montana in his second return to Buffalo, where he had been humiliated in a season-ending loss to the Bills last season with a playoff berth on the line.
Speaking of numbers, we can stop any talk about Rex Ryan having Fitz's number for the time being. Fitzpatrick, who came into the game with a 1-8 career record against Ryan's defenses, redeemed himself with a sensational passing performance in the Jets' 37-31 victory.
Fitzpatrick completed 24 of 34 passes for 374 yards, repeatedly challenging the Buffalo secondary down the field as he and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey -- his head coach here in his Buffalo days -- gained a measure of redemption for last year's failure here.
"There was confidence in the huddle," Fitzpatrick said. "We knew we could take it down and get some points, and just take advantage of it every time we had the ball. That’s a good feeling as a quarterback, to have guys looking at you with confidence in their eyes.
"I felt comfortable today."
It showed. The Jets had 493 yards of total offense in a game that was sadly reminiscent of Week 2 here a year ago, when the Patriots rolled up 507 yards in a 40-32 rout. But this wasn't Tom Brady at QB, it was Fitzpatrick, the much-traveled journeyman "rag arm from Harvard."
So at the risk of depressing Bills fans even further, roll this around in your head: Over the span of five days, the Bills quite possibly had their most humiliating offensive and defensive performances in a decade.
Last Sunday, they had 160 total offensive yards in a loss at the Ravens, their fewest yards since 2006. Yes, they've had worse statistical games on defense. But when you consider the circumstances -- a crucial AFC East game, national TV audience, Fitz carving them to bits -- it'shard to imagine a more distressing effort than Thursday's meltdown against the Jets.
This was easily Fitz's best performance against a Ryan defense. He had been held under 200 yards in nine of his 11 games against Ryan, with a personal best of 264 yards in a loss. He had 282 yards by the end of the third quarter Thursday night.
"I think it means a little bit more than a regular game because this was my life for four years being here," said Fitzpatrick, who spent 2009-12 with the Bills. "But I'm more excited about our team and the way we responded in the second half."
After a slow start, Fitzpatrick attacked the Bills' secondary with a vengeance, making big throws over the middle of the field and picking on cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby from sideline to sideline. If Gilmore and Darby are the best cornerback tandem in the NFL, then maybe Fitz really is Joe Montana.
Gilmore, who expects to be paid like one of the top corners in the sport, played one of the worst games I've ever seen by a Bills defensive back. He had at least a half dozen major gaffes. He had three on the Jets' first three third downs of the game, including a holding call on third-and-11 and a missed tackle on Quincy Enunwa.
It was a stunning thing to watch. Fitzpatrick and Gailey showed no fear against the Buffalo secondary, attacking them deep down the middle and burning them for chunk play after chunk play.
Fitzpatrick completed five of five passes for 79 yards on a drive the gave the Jets a 20-7 lead midway through the second quarter. After the Bills went ahead, 24-20, in the third on a Nickell Robey-Coleman fumble return, Fitzpatrick went right back to work. He marched theJets 84 yards to the go-ahead TD late in the third quarter, completing third-down throws to Brandon Marshall and Decker and a 16-yard toss to Jalin Marshall to set up first-and-goal.
Fitz thoroughly outplayed his Buffalo counterpart, Tyrod Taylor, who threw three touchdown passes -- including TD bombs of 84 yards to Marquise Goodwin and 71 yards to Greg Salas -- but was largely ineffective otherwise. Taylor was 18-for-30 for 297 yards, but it was yet another of those Taylor games where statistics don't tell the full story.
Taylor had another chance to impress Doug Whaley with one of those fourth-quarter comebacks. But for the fifth straight time dating back to last season, he failed to bring the Bills back when they were within a TD or less.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Bills trailing, 27-24, Taylor underthrew Sammy Watkins down the left sideline and Marcus Williams intercepted (as Watkins didn't do much of a job to fight for the ball). The Jets scored on their next two possessions to go up, 37-24. Taylor put up some numbers in garbage time and got the Bills within six, but by that time the issue wasn't really in doubt.
Watkins played on his surgically repaired left foot, but he was fairly ordinary for the second week in a row. He wasn't targeted until the second quarter and finished with just two catches for 20 yards. It was encouraging to see Goodwin and Salas make big plays, but it's not a good sign when Watkins and Robert Woods are virtual non-factors.
Perhaps the most discouraging thing was seeing Fitzpatrick pick the Bills apart with throws down the middle of the field. Fitz's lack of arm strength is well-established. But he made the confident, assertive throws that Taylor so rarely makes, the passes in the middle of the ield that Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator, promised we would see more of this season.
So for the first time, Ryan starts a season 0-2 as a head coach. Sure, it's only two games, but this isn't baseball or the NBA. it's tough to dig your way out of an 0-2 hole in the NFL. History shows that teams have a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs after losingtheir first two games. The Bills are in tough now.
This game had a desperate feel to it. A loss to the Jets, with Arizona and the Patriots looming, could create a sense of crisis within the team. Losing this way, with Fitzpatrick getting his redemption and making Ryan's defense look like some high school junior varsity outfit in the process, had to be especially disheartening.
If the Jets could do this to Ryan's defense, in front of a hostile crowd in the home opener, who knows what could lie ahead for this reeling Bills team? Fitz turned the tables. He has Rex's number now, and I'm sure he won't be alone before this year is through.
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