The Jets defense had bottled up EJ Manuel, as well as the Bills rushing attack, all afternoon. They controlled the game from the opening drive, but it slowly started to unravel and one mistake snowballed into seven mistakes and somehow the Bills were able to scratch and claw their way back to tie the game at 20.
It all started with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter, the Jets held a 20-12 lead and were driving with the ball on the Bills 37.
After Bilal Powell got stuffed on a third-and-one Rex Ryan was patiently waiting for a measurement from the refs that never came, with the play clock dwindling down Ryan decided to challenge the spot of the ball. Challenging the spot usually isn’t a wise decision, it’s a call that is rarely overturned, but since Ryan was going to have to call a timeout anyway, he decided they might as well challenge the spot, maybe get lucky and have the call reversed, but worse case scenario they get a timeout to set up the fourth down call and still have two timeouts and a challenge left with the third quarter almost over and a 20-12 lead.
Hindsight being 20/20 it’s easy to say that was a bad challenge by Ryan, but there was no way to predict how the next few minutes would go. The Jets defense had controlled the Bills offense all day, if the Jets could’ve just got a first down and salvaged a field goal they could have essentially iced the game at that point.
You can second guess the challenge if you so choose, but the real mistake was calling a fullback dive on fourth-and-one.
The ball was on the 37 so, a 54 yard field goal would’ve been asking too much of Nick Folk, but for all the creativity Marty Mornhinweg has shown the fullback dive is, and forever will be, the worst possible play call in that situation. The Bills, just as every other defense would, geared up to stop the run and Tommy Bohanon never stood a chance.
On fourth and short you need to call a play with options, or at least call a run to the outside to give the runner the option to take it inside or outside, a straight fullback dive is by far the easiest play for the defense to stop in that situation.
So, the Bills stuffed the run and got the ball back and you could practically hear the Jets fans thinking to themselves, ‘okay, fine, the defense hasn’t allowed the Bills to do anything so far there’s no reason to think that’ll change,’ but that’s when the mistakes started piling up, stacking one on top of the other until the Bills were able to tie the game at 20.
The first play of the Bills next drive was a 23 yard pass to Stevie Johnson, Antonio Allen had the coverage in the slot, and the Bills ran Robert Woods on a rub route forcing Allen to run around Woods creating just enough separation between Johnson and Allen for Johnson to make the catch and just barely get both feet in bounds, but Ryan wasn’t convinced so he used his last challenge on the play.
By themselves neither of the challenges were terrible decisions, but together and combined with how the rest of the drive played out it could’ve cost the Jets the game.
Asked after the game if he regretted using the challenges when he did Ryan said, “Well, yeah. Of course I did then, but you don’t know how the game is going to go. All of those are my responsibility. I need to do a better job of making those challenges.”
The Jets defense was able to hold strong after the missed challenge and force another punt, but the Jets offense couldn’t get anything going on the next drive and they had to punt it back to the Bills, setting up the stage for an epic collapse, or the threat of an epic collapse turned into a thrilling, clutch performance for the win.
The Bills started the drive with the ball on their own 20 with 13:22 left in the game, first down was incomplete, second down Manuel took off running after the pocket collapsed and fumbled the ball as Dawan Landry knocked the ball loose and Jaiquawn Jarrett came up with the recovery, but for some reason the refs ruled that Maunel was already down and there was no fumble on the play.
It was a clear and obvious fumble, but the Jets had already used up both their challenges and Ryan was powerless to correct the blown call. The Bills were called for a hold on the call though, which backed them up to second-and-20 on their own 10.
The third play was a 14 yard pass to Johnson, setting up third-and-six, Kyle Wilson pressed Johnson in the slot and Manuel threw it as Wilson was jamming him, within the legal five yard limit, and the ref threw a flag for defensive pass interference. If Wilson doesn’t get a flag there the Bills would’ve been forced to punt, but the call was made and was actually offset thanks to an unsportsmen like conduct penalty, for taunting, against Johnson, forcing the down to be replayed. But the costly mistakes just kept on coming.
On the next play Wilson was flagged again, this time for illegal contact giving the Bills another first down. Then Fred Jackson got stuffed and Sheldon Richardson forced a fumbled, but again the Jets get flagged. This time twice, once for illegal hands to the face and one unsportsmen like conduct penalty against Wilson, setting the Bills up with another first down on their 35, which was followed by another incompletion turned first down thanks to a Wilson penalty.
Manuel then threw an incomplete pass to Johnson, but Johnson rolled over and as he tried to get up Wilson gave him a tiny little love tap and Johnson went down baiting the refs into calling yet another personal foul against Wilson, giving the Bills another first down and another 15 yards.
Finally Ryan decided he had enough and pulled Wilson, having him cool off on the bench before inserting him back into the lineup, but the damage had already been done.
“Heat of the battle, some things happen. We needed to get him out of there, sit back, think about it, calm down and that’s exactly what we did and he came back and entered the game.” Ryan said, “But sometimes those things happen and you can’t put your personal situation in front of the team’s and that’s what I think we had to remind him of and Kyle came back and responded, played well after that.”
Two fumbles, third down stops, were all for naught as the Jets kept bailing the Bills out and by this point you could see the defense coming unhinged.
Two plays later, on third-and-seven from the Jets 33, the Jets blitzed, Calvin Pace was in zone coverage lined up on Scott Chandler at the line, then turned him free and Chandler ran up field, wide open, caught the pass and ran in for a 33 yard touchdown catch. The Bills tacked on a two-point conversion as Manuel found Johnson, who beat Allen on a double move slant, in the end zone and just like that the Bills somehow found a way to tie the game at 20.
At this point all the momentum was swinging heavily in the Bills favor, the penalties and mistakes were looking like they were going to cost the Jets a game that had no business being this close, but before the clock ran out it struck ‘Tone Time.’
With 9:40 left in a tie ballgame the Jets had a first-and-15 on their own 31, Geno Smith dropped back and made a beautiful read.
Smith recognized the one-on-one coverage on the outside, with safety Jim Leonhard cheating toward the middle of the field and delivered a gorgeous pass, right where it needed to be, to Holmes, who did an outstanding job of waiting until the last second to use his hands to snatch the pass, the corner didn’t realize the pass was coming until he was stumbling to the ground and Holmes was scooting off to the end zone for the game-winning play as the stadium erupted in cheers of approval.
“We got one-on-one (coverage). We had one-on-one pretty much the majority of the night. The wide outs did a phenomenal job of making the best of their match ups, and in that situation with Santonio one-on-one matched up on the defensive back, I fully felt he had a great opportunity.” Smith said, “So, I just wanted to give him a good chance, give him a good ball, one that he could catch, and he came down with it, a phenomenal catch-and-run and it put us ahead.”
“Our job is to go out and make plays and Geno gave me an opportunity to make the play. I think that the defense was unaware that he was even throwing me the ball at that time.” Holmes said, “The ball landed in the perfect place for me to get a chance to catch it. The rest is in the history books.”
After the game a lot of the talk was focused on Holmes’ knack for not tipping defenders off by waiting until the very last second to put his hands up for the catch, it’s a remarkably useful trick that Holmes has used throughout his career to create an advantage against the defensive backs.
“Well you don’t think you know he’s going to catch it even though I think he’s got a great chance. The thing that he does, which is amazing, is he doesn’t lay his hands out until the last second. So, he’s the best I’ve ever seen at being late hands to the football and no matter how tight the coverage is you can’t make a play on it until you see the hands go or his eyes go.” Ryan said, “Holmes is just incredible at that and I’ve seen him do it over and over again. Countless times and many times against me.”
“I honestly can’t pinpoint it, but I figured it was a good tactic to use against defensive backs because of the way they study guys and they read your eyes and your hands. And if I never give them an opportunity to see my eyes get bigger for the catch or my hands come up for a ball, he’ll never know when the ball will be there and I think the placement of the ball really played a big part in it.”
With the Bills having somehow scratched and clawed their way back into the game, momentum in their favor, Smith and Holmes stepped up just in the nick of time to seize the momentum and the lead and this time the Jets defense had no intention of giving the lead up again.
‘Tone Time,’ struck once again and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Jets.
With the team on the verge of giving up a game they had dominated and falling to 1-2, Smith and Holmes connected to give the Jets the win sending them to 2-1 and after a week filled with drops against the Patriots and an offseason full of jokes about the ineptitude of the Jets receiving core, and offense in general, Smith threw for over 300 yards, had two receivers go over 100 yards (Holmes and Hill) and Bilal Powell added 149 rushing yards.
All of a sudden this offense, if healthy, doesn’t look anything like the disaster the media has made them out to be and with this being Smith’s third game in the NFL, it’s reasonable to assume this is just a scratch on the surface.
“With Geno’s poise, he can be as great as he wants to be.” Holmes said, “His opportunity is definitely something that we’re going to look forward to for a long time.”
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