Ryan Fitzpatrick dices up Rex Ryan's Bills in wild win for Jets
Thursday night was why the New York Jets needed Ryan Fitzpatrick back. Given the chance to rebound against the team that gave him the most trouble last season, Fitzpatrick delivered with a clutch performance in a 37-31 Jets win Thursday night.
Fitzpatrick, who signed a two-year contract on the eve of training camp after a summer-long standoff with his team, outgunned the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor and withstood two big pushes from the Bills as the Jets evened their record at 1-1 heading into a brutal stretch of their schedule that include four straight games against contenders (at Kansas City Chiefs, vs. Seattle Seahawks, at Pittsburgh Steelers, at Arizona Cardinals).
The Buffalo Bills were the one team — his former team, mind you — that Fitzpatrick couldn’t seem to crack in an otherwise big 2015 season. The Jets lost twice to them last season, both by 22-17 scores, and in both games he struggled. The Bills held him below 45 percent passing in both games, below 200 yards passing in each and intercepted him five times in the two games. The latter in Week 17 cost the Jets a playoff spot. In his career, Fitzpatrick had been 1-8 vs. Rex Ryan-coached defenses.
But this doesn’t appear to be a vintage Ryan unit. On Thursday, Fitzpatrick delivered a huge passing night (24-of-34 passing for 374 yards and a score) and receivers Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa and Jalin Marshall combined for 364 of those yards. It was the fourth-most passing yards in Fitzpatrick’s career.
Ryan is 0-2 and staring at two potential Super Bowl contenders — the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots — up next on the schedule. Is this the end of the honeymoon? It certainly feels like it, and the presence of brother Rob as defensive coordinator has not brought relief. The Bills’ defense was beat up most of the night, allowing nearly 500 yards, as Jets running back Matt Forte ran for three scores in a hot start for his new team.
It wasn’t pretty early — and the Jets had to weather a big Bills storm early in the second half.
The Jets opened the game with a 15-play, 65-yard drive, but with two fumbles, a false start, some shaky play calling (shovel pass on third-and-7 from the 10?) and some missed plays from Fitzpatrick. They were fortunate to earn points in the form of a field goal as their red-zone struggled from Week 1 carried over.
The Bills responded quickly and raised questions about whether Revis Island is taking on water. Jets corner Darrelle Revis, coming off an awful Week 1 game, was torched by Marquis Goodwin for an 84-yard TD, the longest score by the team since 2009. Adding insult to injury, defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (back from his Week 1 suspension) celebrated giving up the long touchdown by being called for a taunting penalty. The Jets looked wild and unpredictable early.
The Jets drove again — 75 yards this time — but once more bogged down in the red zone. With their second field goal of the game, New York started the season with a mere two touchdowns in its first seven red-zone trips. Did head coach Todd Bowles not even think about going for it on fourth-and-1 from the 11?
After a Bills three-and-out, the Jets’ red-zone futility streak ended. Forte rumbled in for a 1-yard touchdown to cap a 66-yard drive and give the Jets a 13-7 lead. Brandon Marshall hauled in two balls on the drive for 52 yards but also suffered a scary-looking knee injury, yanked down by the Bills’ Stephon Gilmore by the facemask. Marshall would return and drop a long, wide-open pass later in the third quarter, but he gutted through the game and finished with six catches for 101 yards.
The Bills stalled again, and the Jets struck again. Enunwa (six catches, 92 yards) and Decker each caught two passes on the Jets’ final drive of the first half, and Decker capped it with a 5-yard TD catch to make it 20-7, Jets. The Bills converted third- and fourth-and-shorts on their final crack before halftime, but mismanaged things a bit and settled for a field goal and a 20-10 deficit.
That’s when things got wild. On the third play of the second half, Taylor hit a streaking Greg Salas, who got loose in the secondary, for a 71-yard score. Did the Jets forget their former wide receiver was still in the league? Salas has been in the NFL since 2011, been with five different teams and yet that was the first TD catch of his career.
Less than three game minutes later, Jets rookie receiver Jalin Marshall coughed up the ball on the turf after a hit from the Bills’ Preston Brown and it was run back for a 36-yard touchdown by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman — and a stunning 24-20 Buffalo lead less than four minutes into the half after trailing by 17 late in the second quarter.
After both teams swapped punts, the Jets went on a statement response drive. Fitzpatrick went to work on the secondary, connecting on six passes for 58 yards, and Matt Forte barreled in — the fifth lead change of the game — for his second short-yardage touchdown run.
The Jets picked off Taylor — after clocking him the play before — on an underthrown fade pass intended for Sammy Watkins. It was clear that Watkins’ injured foot was preventing him from separating, as he caught a mere two passes for 20 yards on another frustrating night.
A Nick Folk field goal made it 30-24, Jets, with 10:40 remaining as Fitzpatrick kept picking on the Bills’ cornerbacks on the 69-yard, four-minute drive. The Bills moved the ball into Jets territory but stalled when they twice failed on fourth-and-short. First, the Bills tried to draw the Jets offsides with a hard count — with EJ Manuel at QB for the trick play — to no avail, having to burn a timeout. Then they were stuffed on the short-yardage run try, as the Jets’ Richardson closed down any running room for Shady McCoy.
From there, it was academic. After the Jets milked some clock, Forte ran untouched for his third score of the game and the nail in the Bills’ coffin for the night. The Bills scored a touchdown with 1:22 left, but the Jets recovered the onsides kick and ran out most of the lock.