Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambled forward before launching a desperate heave downfield, intended for Terrell Owens. The Jets had played solid game on this Thursday night in Toronto, but a season-long tendency toward inexplicable mistakes had kept Buffalo within striking distance. The wobbly prayer from Fitzpatrick very easily could have meant nothing, had New York exhibited that elusive quality of consistency, a championship trait escaping their grip throughout the campaign. Instead, their lead was a slender six points, margin for error nonexistent.
Considering these uneasy circumstances, the throw may have inspired fear from all those associated with the Green and White, as it hung ominously, pressed against the dreary domed backdrop of the Rogers Centre. But any potential concerns were quickly erased, and probably should have been assuaged in the first place. For, somewhere in the Jets’ secondary lurked a cornerback named Darrelle Revis, a field presence so commanding he sometimes seems cloned, more than one player out there.
Revis corralled the pigskin and settled the pivotal contest, as his sideline went wild. The Pittsburgh product is a great equalizer, a nullifier capable of quieting the most elite receivers this game has to offer. No one else possesses a weapon quite like this. And largely for that reason, the Jets are alive in this playoff race.
“I’m just trying to do my job,” said the humble Revis after the game. “One thing I do, I study these receivers very well… I just try keeping their catches to a minimum,” the corner elaborated. His blanketing was so effective that the usually caustic Owens seemed dispirited. “First you can see body language,” said Revis, acknowledging that Owens was demoralized. “Second of all, you can just see how he’s running his routes, how he’s not blocking, doing those types of things.”
Revis was not alone, shining on Primetime. Along with their running game, which sliced and diced the Bills’ defense for the second time in 2009, the rest of the Jets’ defensive unit performed superbly. These two facets have kept the team afloat through a series of frustrating battles against the meddling forces of inconsistency and inexperience, and appropriately enough, will define the stretch drive.
The Jets were able to pressure Fitzpatrick into ugly, under-thrown passes, knocking a temporarily rejuvenated Bills offense way off stride. End Shaun Ellis provided a fearsome impact in particular, racking up two sacks. But Ellis had plenty of impressive company on the stat sheet. David Harris continues to terrorize opposing offenses, collecting eleven tackles, eight of which tallied solo. Harris spread his ferocity liberally, notching a key quarterback takedown and strip, setting up New York for a lead in the second quarter. Fellow linebacker Bart Scott was credited with nine tackles and a quarterback hit. Veteran defensive tackle Howard Green forced another Fitzpatrick fumble in the first half. In the secondary, Revis received capable aid from Lito Sheppard, who rebounded well from a shaky first quarter. The most damaging slip by the defense occurred in the second, as they allowed a thirty-five yard run from Lynch, abided by an overly passive Kerry Rhodes. Lynch would power Buffalo into the end zone immediately thereafter, punctuating the Bills’ final lead of the evening.
The Jets’ offensive outlook did not seem to deviate much from the smash mouth course taken against Buffalo earlier this season. This time, the ground and pound paid off with a win, despite a few aerial malfunctions.
Promising rookie Shonn Greene and the ever-dependable Thomas Jones paced a clock controlling running game. Jones compiled just over one hundred yards, surpassing a thousand overall for the fifth consecutive season. Greene mixed up the tempo, chipping in with eleven carries and a commendable 5.4 average. Even fullback Tony Richardson joined the party, contributing two sizable jaunts for thirty-six yards overall. The backs shouldered their heavy burden with ease, carrying a passing game that approached spectacular, only to let it slip through their fingers, or more accurately, off their facemasks.
Critically dissected quarterback Mark Sanchez seemed to develop accordingly coming off an improved effort against Carolina. Sanchez avoided the egregious coverage miscalculations usually preceding his interceptions, correctly diagnosing the Bills’ defense and making intelligent decisions. This improvement set the Jets up for an absolutely explosive offensive show. With the running game churning and Sanchez in-sync, the Bills being blown off the field was a definite possibility. Unfortunately for the offense, however, the same mistakes typifying their middling overall results returned.
Fourteen gift-wrapped points were wiped away in the first quarter when Sanchez overthrew a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery eight yards into the paint. The Jets were forced to make due with a Jay Feely field goal, a refrain that became familiar, the experienced kicker continuing his strong season. But that mistake was a mere prelude to the incredulity awaiting on the first play of the proceeding drive. Planted on his own 16, Sanchez identified an abandoned Braylon Edwards at the Buffalo thirty-five. Here was an obviously blown defensive assignment, a total breakdown by the Bills. The Jets could not take advantage. The high-arching spiral, perfectly thrown, somehow nailed Edwards in the facemask instead of landing in his hands. The pass was incomplete, and a rout had been averted.
Sanchez would not be able to amend these debacles, suffering a knee injury early in the second half, following a headfirst dive for a first down. Sanchez had been warned by Head Coach Rex Ryan to curtail his reckless scrambling methods. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had visited the Jets’ facility earlier in the week to teach the rookie had to properly slide. These warnings went evidently unheeded.
“He’s got to understand that it’s in the organization’s best interests to slide, and that was disappointing,” said an agitated Rex Ryan during his post-game press conference. “I love the kid,” Ryan added, “But he’s got to grow up and understand that he represents our entire organization.” The head coach was unsure whether Sanchez would be able to play against Tampa Bay.
“It started to hurt shortly after that play,” Sanchez said, referring to the dive when asked to pinpoint the pain. “It just didn’t feel right when I got back to the huddle. I put some weight on it to bend down under center and it just didn’t feel right when I tried to hand it off and get it to [David] Clowney on the end-around.”
Sanchez is a ferocious competitor, and admitted that in the midst of his intensity, instincts are difficult to ignore. “I’m probably going to take some heat for not sliding. But in the heat of the momentum I was just trying to get the first down,” he said, before adding, “Tough play.”
The Jets’ passing game did enjoy a highlight when Braylon Edwards scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter. Sanchez nimbly escaped the pocket and found Edwards over the middle, the receiver impressively barreling his way through defenders for a hard earned score. Had Sanchez not been injured, he and Edwards may have connected for more big plays. The two were definitely on the same page.
For the Bills, it was a game that could have gone much worse. Ryan Fitzpatrick was totally ineffective, completing only nine passes out of twenty-three. Though Marshawn Lynch made the most of his six carries, starter Fred Jackson was shutdown. Factor in Terrell Owens’ invisibility, covered by the cloak of Revis, and the Bills were suffocated on offense. Considering the defense was also below par, the Bills were fortunate to even have a chance late. Their first drive spoke of possibilities, Fitzpatrick hitting Lee Evans for 38 yards, but they would have to settle for a field goal, and little else as the evening wore on.
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