Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills’ 22-17 victory against the New York Jets on Sunday worked out:
1. How much will keeping the Jets out of the playoffs mean to anyone not named Rex Ryan? Apparently, Rex had some company. The players’ effort was strong from start to finish. With the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Cleveland Browns, the Jets had to win to land a wild-card spot. And the Bills, despite missing numerous starters, made sure they didn’t. They moved the ball effectively by capitalizing on the Jets’ insistence of concentrating on preventing deep plays and, therefore, leaving Sammy Watkins one-on-one with Darrelle Revis in the middle of the field. There was a time when Revis wouldn’t have much trouble handling such an assignment against such a highly talented receiver. On Sunday, Revis looked like a shell of his once-dominant self.
Credit offensive coordinator Greg Roman for putting together a game plan that anticipated the Jets’ coverage, Tyrod Taylor for finding Watkins repeatedly (even if it took some moving around at times), and Watkins for making what mostly were easy catches (which sometimes can be the most difficult), except for one that he bobbled before catching. Credit the defense for applying enough pressure to, at times, hurt Ryan Fitzpatrick’s accuracy and for making the three interceptions that went a long way toward deciding the outcome.
2. Can the Bills do a good enough job of covering the Jets’ dynamic receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker? Check! Yes, each had a touchdown, but they didn’t do the kind of damage that could have easily occurred against a Bills secondary missing one starting cornerback (Stephon Gilmore) for the whole game and another (Ronald Darby) who was in and out and eventually missed most of the fourth quarter with a groin injury. The team also put Ron Brooks on injured reserve, further depleting its depth at cornerback.
Marshall finished with eight receptions (on 16 targets) for 126 yards, while Decker had five catches (on nine targets) for 50 yards. The reserves stepped up to the challenge in a big way. Leodis McKelvin, who replaced Gilmore, intercepted Fitzpatrick in the end zone to kill a Jets scoring opportunity early in the fourth quarter. Mario Butler made perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game when he broke up a deep pass for Kenbrell Thompkins that would have likely gone for the winning touchdown in the final seconds.
3. The offensive line holds its own in pass protection against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. Check-plus! Taylor generally had plenty of time to find his receivers (or, should we say, his receiver). The Jets sacked him only twice (two fewer times than when the teams met Nov. 12 at MetLife Stadium) and were credited with five quarterback hits. He did a good job of avoiding whatever pressure the Jets did apply, which was helped by the use of a moving pocket that put him in position to either throw on the move or run.
4. Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee keep up their impressive running against the No. 1 run-stopping defense in the league. Nope. The Bills couldn’t get much going with their running game, but that had a lot to do with Williams leaving the game early with a knee injury. Gillislee, who had burst onto the active roster with a couple of long touchdown runs, came back down to earth with no power complement from Williams. Gillislee finished with 28 yards on 24 carries, an average of 1.2 yards per rush. Taylor led the Bills with 53 rushing yards, including an 18-yard scoring run.
5. How about the Bills generating even a little bit of pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick? Sort of. They didn’t put a ton of heat on him, but what they did in the way of actual and simulated blitzing was highly effective. Ironically, one of the defining plays of the game was when a defensive lineman, tackle Marcell Dareus, brought pressure up the middle to force Fitzpatrick to throw the errant pass that Manny Lawson intercepted with 1:51 left (the first of two decisive pickoffs that settled the outcome; AJ Tarpley had the second with 11 seconds remaining).
Dareus was part of the chorus of linemen (led by end Mario Williams) complaining that Ryan’s scheme didn’t provide them with nearly as many opportunities to rush the quarterback as they had last season when Jim Schwartz ran the Bills’ “D.”