This is exactly the way it was drawn up during the off-season: The Jets, spending the Fall battling for their share of first place in the AFC East, Curtis Martin following up his league rushing title with twisting, darting jaunts down the field, leading the Jets to victory. Except that the Jets lost. And except that, while they were playing for a share of first place, it was more a product of a Patriots’ funk than it was because of the Jets stepping up to the challenge. In fact, their season continued to slip away on Sunday in Buffalo, as the Bills took the game, 27-17.
While the Patriots ran out of time in their comeback attempt in Denver to set the AFC East bar at 3-3, the Bills followed Kelly Holcomb’s steady play at QB and Willis McGahee’s powerful, dominant, running to tie the Pats at the top of the division. Vinny Testaverde was picked off twice and fumbled away a snap in the fourth quarter that scuttled the Jets’ own comeback hopes in just his second start of the season. Facing a relentless pass rush, Testaverde was was sacked five times but was able to lead the Jets down the field twice before seeing both drives end in turnovers. The Jets scored their two TD’s after a pair of interceptions: a one-yard dive by Martin after a Ty Law pick, and then a one-yard sneak by Testaverde after a Mark Brown pick-and-return down to the Jets two. Following Testaverde’s plunge the Jets trailed by a touchdown before Ryan Lindell sealed it for the Bills with a 38 yard field goal with 5:41 to play.
The story of the game centered around the two running backs in the contest, Martin and McGahee. Martin, struggling all season with a paltry 2.7 YPC average, broke out in a big way against the league’s 28th ranked rushing defense, dicing the Bills for 148 yards on 18 carries. McGahee was just as good, helping the Bills control the clock with 143 yards rushing on 29 carries. The Jets defense had a brutal day tackling, missing numerous tackles not only on McGahee, but also whiffing on TD catch-and-runs by Eric Moulds and Jonathan Smith. In all, the Bills racked up 341 yards of total offense, allowing them to win the time-of-possession battle by an almost 2-to-1 margin (38:35 to 21:25).
The road ahead gets tougher for the Jets, as they head to Atlanta for a Monday Night match-up with Michael Vick and the Falcons. The Jets may be without John Abraham, Ty Law, and Kevin Mawae, as each left this game with injuries. Law’s was potentially the most serious, as he left the game in the third quarter and did not return, replaced by rookie Justin Miller. Mawae looked to have a hyperextended elbow and John Abraham limped on and off the field with an unspecified leg injury. Mawae will be counted on to make the line calls versus the Falcons aggressive blitzing schemes and Abraham will be needed to track down the elusive Vick. With Chad Pennington and Derrick Blaylock already out for the season with injuries, adding any more core players to the sideline in street clothes will put the Jets even further from chasing down their once oh-so-close share of first place.