EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Here are how my five pregame takes worked out in what became a 43-23 victory for the Buffalo Bills over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium:
1. The Bills’ offensive line plays its best game of the season – maybe of several seasons. It didn’t, but it obviously didn’t need to. Kyle Orton was sacked four times by one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL. That could have been a problem against other opponents, but not against one that turns the ball over six times, as the Jets did. And it’s fair to say that Orton was protected well enough to make the most of the limited amount of throwing he did, with 10 completions in 17 attempts for 238 yards and four touchdowns. The Bills insisted on sticking to a run-first game plan (they had 32 rushing attempts, including two by Orton) designed to slow down the Jets’ pass rush, which was widely expected to provide major problems to a Bills offensive line that has struggled badly all season. Replacing rookie Cyril Richardson with veteran Kraig Urbik at left guard seemed to give Buffalo the upgrade it desperately needed up front.
2. Exploit the vulnerabilities in the Jets’ secondary. No, Orton didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he did have the four touchdown throws, including a 61-yard connection with rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins. He should have had five, but Watkins celebrated prematurely and was caught from behind short of the end zone for an 84-yard gain, the longest non-scoring completion in Bills history. Big plays were there to be made, yet the Bills were fairly choosy about going after them, even on a day when they dominated the turnover battle and had overwhelmingly better field position. Much of that stemmed from an obvious concern that taking a pass-happy approach against the Jets’ talented pass-rushers would be more than the Bills’ offensive line could handle.
3. Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown step up to the challenge of replacing injured Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Didn’t happen, but it didn’t matter. Dixon led the Bills with 44 yards on 22 carries, an average of 2.0 yards per carry, while Brown had 15 yards on seven attempts, an average of 2.1 yards per rush. The most important statistic from the Bills’ ground game was the 30 rushing attempts by the backs. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett stubbornly remained true to a grind-it-out approach that effectively would put the game in the hands of the defense, which, of course, did its part with six turnovers from the horrible quarterbacking combination of Geno Smith, who threw three interceptions before giving way to Michael Vick, who lost two fumbles and had an interception.
4. Don’t allow Jets quarterback Geno Smith to gain a shred of confidence. Check-plus! Smith had the home fans booing from the start, when he badly misfired on an early throw. He continued to draw their wrath with some unbelievably bad passes that ended up in the hands of three Buffalo defenders. Mercifully, Jets coach Rex Ryan yanked Smith in favor of Michael Vick. Although Vick did manage to provide a bit of a spark to the Jets’ offense with impressive scrambling that defied the fact he is 34 years old and in his 14th NFL season, he did nothing to solve the turnover problem with two fumbles and an interception the rest of the way.
5. Prevent recently acquired Jets pass-catching/rushing threat Percy Harvin from making game-changing plays while also keeping the Jets’ ground game in check. The Bills did prevent Harvin from making any sort of splash in his first appearance since recently joining the Jets in a trade from Seattle. He caught only three passes for 22 yards, with a long gain of 11, and ran only four times for 28 yards. The numbers say the Jets had a fairly productive day on the ground, but most of it came from Vick, who had a game-high 69 yards on eight carries. Chris Ivory, the Jets’ best running back, had 13 carries for 43 yards, an average of only 3.3 yards per rush, but he did run for two touchdowns.