EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – LeSean McCoy rarely minces words, and he wasted little time getting to the point in the locker room after the game Thursday. He gave the Jets the credit they deserved while acknowledging the Bills were mostly responsible for their own undoing in MetLife Stadium.
But it also was important to examine the big picture after the Jets' 34-21 victory over the Bills. Buffalo has lost more games than they would wish to count since the turn of the century, so it's not as if they were lacking in experience. If they've learned anything over the years, it's handling defeat.
"We're not going to panic," McCoy said. "We lost a division game. It's tough for us. We're 5-3. If we go get a win next week, we're 6-3, and everybody is still applauding us. But this is good for us, some humble pie. A lot of people were doubting us before we started winning games. Then they started patting us on the back and telling us how good we are. You saw what happened tonight."
The Bills had won four of five games and were on a nice run, rejuvenating the region and encouraging their long-suffering fan base to climb aboard. This year supposedly felt different than the others. The Bills were finally in good hands, finally showing genuine promise, finally looking like a playoff team.
People who were wondering whether the Bills were for real after they blew out the Raiders on Sunday must be thinking they're a myth. You didn't think they would win the rest of their games, finish 14-2 and run away with the division, did you? The Bills were as susceptible to a smackdown as any team they had beaten.
The final score was hardly indicative of the game. The Jets delivered a sound and convincing victory and brought the Bills back to reality.
This is the NFL, which has become more unpredictable this season than any year in recent memory. Never mind the score. The loss Thursday should be treated like a minor setback, so let's not call the medical examiner quite yet. It wasn't as if the Bills' season is headed for the dumpster because they lost a road game.
Speaking of dumpsters, less than a year ago the Bills were a dumpster fire. Remember? Along came Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, who showed up with their extinguishers and doused the flames. The coach and general manager picked through the remains and helped the franchise get back in its collective feet.
The Bills are hardly in trouble, so relax – for now. They would have signed up for a 5-3 record at the midpoint of the season with a new coach and revamped roster. Would it feel better if they lost to the Falcons or the Raiders, either of which would have been expected before the season, and beat the Jets for the same record?
"It doesn't matter," Richie Incognito said. "The vision is the same. The big picture is still the same. We just keep fighting, keep grinding out wins. It will be nice to get back home. We've got the Saints next weekend."
Still, there's no denying the enthusiasm that would have come with another victory Thursday. They would have improved to 6-2 for the first time since 1993, the last time they played for a Super Bowl. It would have been hard to fathom a total collapse, even for Buffalo. And that has not changed.
Right when you think the little things were lining up, there were small reminders Thursday of how quickly, how easily, it could come apart. The Bills' defense in particular looked nothing like the unit that shut down the Raiders on Sunday. New York had 168 yards rushing in the first three quarters and finished with 194.
Tyrod Taylor had a miserable game while running for his life for most of the evening against a Jets' pass defense that was playing two rookie safeties and was ranked 23rd in the league. The Bills' running game had only 63 yards against the 28th-rated rush defense in the NFL.
So, yeah, things were backward Thursday.
And it started almost from the beginning.
Josh McCown, who hardly requires a spy on defense at age 38, scrambled out of the pocket, found open field and scored on a 10-yard touchdown run. Leonard Johnson had a sure interception in the first quarter that would have given the Bills the ball near the Jets' 30-yard line but failed to make an easy catch.
The Bills led the league in turnover differential with a plus-14, the highest of any team since the 2005 Bengals, before coughing it up three times Thursday and doubling their season total. Their pass blocking was atrocious, leading to five sacks in the first half alone. Taylor's fumble in the fourth quarter turned the game into a rout.
Anyone who has been witness to the previous 17 years must have been thinking this was the kind of game that could get away from the Bills. In past years, they might have fallen on their faces like some overdressed trick-or-treater Tuesday night. This team is far less likely to become unglued like Buffalo teams of the past.
But they could get outplayed.
And they did.
The Jets had three straight wins and played well in three straight losses before Thursday. In other words, they weren't as bad as they appeared. The Jets showed up Thursday eager to protect their turf and show they could play with the Bills. New York was ready from the outset and put the Bills back in their place.
McDermott had proved himself a sound coach in the first seven games, but he made some dubious decisions Thursday. Three days earlier, he had gushed about the Bills spontaneous reaction to Brandon Tate making a key catch Sunday. Tate was inexplicably scratched against the Jets.
The Bills had been considerably more disciplined under McDermott before getting flagged for roughing the passer on one play and a facemask on another Thursday. The latter gave the Jets a first down and led to McCown's 25-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson. Jerry Hughes reverted back to Jerry Hughes, circa 2016, when he lost his temper with an official.
Who did Anderson beat on his touchdown? Rookie Tre'Davious White, who was recently named defensive rookie of the month.
For as poorly as they played in the first two quarters Thursday, and it wasn't pretty, they trailed by only a field goal to a team that had a penchant for folding in the fourth quarter. The Bills were so far behind after three quarters that they would have needed to mount an epic comeback to win this one.
The Bills aren’t an epic team at this stage. They're still trying to prove they're a good team, one can compete with everyone else in the league. The next step is gathering themselves before playing the Saints at home a week from Sunday. We'll learn a little more by how they respond.
"We haven't had a bad game like this," Incognito said. "I know this team is going to respond really well. We're resilient. We're tough. We work hard. We have all the traits necessary to get over this. (The loss) came at a good time. It gives us time to regroup and get back it in the friendly confines of New Era Field."
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