EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Who knew that all it would take for the Buffalo Bills to find an offense was make Matt Barkley their starting quarterback?
That’s Matt Barkley ... as in the free agent they signed less than two weeks ago after he left the Cincinnati Bengals, his sixth NFL employer, via an injury settlement from a Grade-3 MCL sprain ... as in the guy who hadn’t played in a regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2017 ... as in the QB who had thrown 10 interceptions in his three previous games ... as in the Bills’ fourth QB starter (fifth if you count LeSean McCoy’s wildcat start) this season.
In pounding the New York Jets, 41-10, the Bills generated more points than they’ve had in their last four games combined. Barkley’s stat line – 15-for-25, 232 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, 117.4 passer rating – was miles better than that of any Bills quarterback this season.
Just a tad.
But after losing four in a row and showing a maddening inability to find the end zone, the Bills seemingly needed something akin to a miracle to get something positive going. Enter Barkley, named as the starter less than 24 hours before kickoff.
The Jets’ incompetence didn’t hurt, especially with 39-year-old journeyman Josh McCown making his first start of the season in place of injured rookie Sam Darnold.
But let’s not take away from one of the few bright moments provided by the Bills as they improved their record to 3-7. With Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen and Derek Anderson combining for a quarterbacking nightmare that mixed mostly poor play with injuries (to Allen’s elbow and Anderson’s head), the only place for the Bills to go at their most important position was up.
Amazingly, it was Barkley who pulled them there. Amazingly, there’s a reasonable case to be made to stick with him as QB 1 rather than tossing the keys to the offense back to Allen, who has spent almost as much of his rookie season watching as playing.
You had a sense of what kind of day it would be for him when, on the game’s first play from scrimmage, he connected with Robert Foster for a 47-yard gain to set up a 28-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy.
The Bills roared to a 31-3 halftime lead that, appropriately, included a mixture of creativity and good fortune.
After taking a 7-0 lead, the Bills caught the Jets napping on a fake punt that saw tight end Logan Thomas, a former college quarterback, connect with Foster for a 19-yard gain. The drive ended with Zay Jones catching an 11-yard pass to the Jets’ 1, fumbling into the end zone and Jason Croom recovering for a touchdown. The Bills surprised the Jets again on their third TD, which came on a 7-yard Barkley throw to offensive tackle Dion Dawkins.
The Bills, who had 451 yards to the Jets’ 199, had the most first-half yards (313) and touchdowns (four) since 2000. With McCoy finishing with a season-best 113 rushing yards and two scores, Buffalo’s offense had its way with a defense that was supposed to have been at least somewhat stout and the alleged strength of the 3-7 Jets.
Both teams are entering their bye. The Bills will do so with something to savor. The Jets? They very well could be looking for a replacement for coach Todd Bowles.