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Jets 20 Bills 17: The Jets Are for Real

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Things for an NFL team are seldom as bad as they seem at its lowest moments.

For the better part of a decade, the New York Jets have been an exception to that statement. Things have almost always been as bad as they have seemed, if not worse.

For that reason fans of this team could be excused for overreacting to last week’s loss to the New England Patriots. The defeat demoralized the fanbase. I presume MetLife Stadium would not have had as many Bills fans attending today’s game had the Jets won last week.

The loss brought back familiar feelings. Was the hot 5-2 start just a mirage fueled by a fortunate string of games against backup quarterbacks? That was certainly one perspective.

Anybody who thought that now must reassess because the Jets beat the best team in the AFC, the Buffalo Bills 20-17 today at MetLife Stadium.

There isn’t much question that the Bills are the more talented, more complete team right now. Buffalo is a couple of years deeper into its building process. For the Jets to win, they would need some good fortune.

The first couple of plays of the game, it felt like the Jets had nothing but bad fortune. Braden Mann slipped on the opening kickoff, mishitting the ball. This resulted in Buffalo starting its opening drive on its own 45. When Stefon Diggs beat Sauce Gardner for a 42 yard reception on the first play from scrimmage, it felt like the Jets were in for a long day.

The Jets then got their first break of the game two plays later when Josh Allen threw an ugly interception to Jordan Whitehead.

Still though much of the first half the Bills dominated. They led 14-3 more than halfway through the second quarter. This was the point where the Jets put together a critical drive. They marched 75 yards on 14 plays. Just as importantly, they ate up 5:58 of game time. A fourth and one completion from Zach Wilson to CJ Uzomah just after the two minute warning did more than keep touchdown hopes alive for the drive. It allowed the Jets to run the clock and leave the Bills without enough time to mount a serious drive before halftime.

The Jets scored a touchdown on a 6 yard run from Michael Carter. Buffalo drove to the fringes of field goal range with its minimal remaining first half time, but Tyler Bass missed a 55 yard field goal as time expired. If the Bills had more time, they certainly could have driven into a more makable field goal range at the very least. They might have even scored a devastating touchdown.

Instead the Jets escaped a half where they were dominated down only 4 points.

The second half was a different story. The Jets began it with a long 14 play drive that ate up 8:39.

It felt even longer than that because of a delay from a camera malfunction. Many Jets fans feared the delay would stall the momentum of a promising drive. The drive did end in a Zach Wilson fumble, squandering a scoring opportunity.

However, I don’t think you could say the skycam incident played a major negative role for the Jets. To the extent it mattered, it might have even had a slight positive impact.

A Buffalo offense that was rolling in the first half averaged less than 2 yards per play in the second half. Between the halftime break, the Jets’ long opening second half drive, and the skycam delay, that offense spent a lot of time on the sideline. How much did that take the unit out of its rhythm?

That is impossible to answer with precision. What I can say is the second half followed the perfect formula for the Jets. Their defense dominated. Zach Wilson played efficient football, and the run game took over.

A lot of the credit for the team’s offensive success has to go to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. A week after his quarterback fell apart, LaFleur did a masterful job rebuilding his confidence with a passing gameplan ton of short, simple throws.

This had three impacts.

  1. It simplified the game for a quarterback who has struggled with his reads in recent weeks.
  2. It got the ball out quickly, negating a ferocious pass rush facing a patchwork offensive line.
  3. It allowed the Jets to sustain drives, keeping that dynamic Buffalo offense on the bench and out of rhythm.

It helped that Zach Wilson has developed trust with a rookie receiver who has the same last name. It also helped that Garrett Wilson was so frequently open. Few things can help a struggling young quarterback than a dependable target he knows will be there when he isn't sure what coverage he is seeing. Wilson the receiver caught 8 of Zach Wilson’s 18 completed passes and registered 92 of the quarterback’s 154 passing yards.

This is how you help a young quarterback rebuild shaken confidence and take a step forward.

Of course an offensive gameplan like this is difficult to pull off if the run game isn’t working. Fortunately for the Jets, their new two-headed monster of Michael Carter and James Robinson played at a high level. The duo combined for 124 yards on 25 carries. Carter had a rushing touchdown. Robinson had one as a receiver.

Their most impressive work came on the drive that decided the game. With just under 8 minutes to go and the game tied at 17, Buffalo pinned the Jets on their own 4 yard line after a punt.

The Jets put together a 13 play drive that covered 86 yards and took 6:10 off the clock. On the drive the Jets had a single completion for 12 yards. Robinson and Carter took the Jets from their own 4 to the Buffalo 20 without ever facing a third down. Greg Zuerlein connected on the go ahead field goal with 1:43 left.

Then it was up to the defense to close it out. The unit responded. Bryce Huff had a critical strip sack, and Sauce Gardner smothered Gabriel Davis in coverage on Buffalo’s final passing play.

The Jets showed their formula of stout defense, strong rushing, and efficient enough passing could work even against arguably the best team in the league.

What does this win mean? It is true that things are seldom as bad as they seem for an NFL team at its lowest moments. The reverse is also true. Things are seldom as good as they seem for an NFL club at its best moments. We need only to remember how the Jets were riding a four game winning streak into their game against the Patriots last week to remember that.

Nobody should assume the Jets are suddenly the AFC East favorite after this win or the most likely team to go to the Super Bowl from the conference.

However, it isn’t an overreaction to say this is a legitimate team. The Jets are clearly ahead of schedule. They are 6-3 with a win over maybe the most talented team the league has. There aren’t many great teams in the AFC right now, and the Jets just outplayed one of the few.

At the very least, this Jets team has a chance to make some noise in the conference this year.

Imagine saying that at the start of the season.