ORCHARD PARK – For anyone who thought the New York Jets were just going to lay down for the Buffalo Bills on opening day, you were sadly mistaken.
The Jets are bad, very possibly the worst team in the league, especially on offense, but nothing came easy for the Bills in their 21-12 victory on an absolutely perfect Sunday afternoon at New Era Field.
Buffalo did enough to win, and thus will go into Carolina next week sitting alone atop the AFC East thanks to New England’s loss, and Miami’s inactivity in Week 1.
However, we can all agree that the Bills have a lot of work to do if they hope to beat just about everyone else (except the Jets later) on their schedule because in many ways, they were fortunate it was the Jets on the other sideline Sunday.
The usual problems hurt the Bills all day. The passing game was inconsistent and was bailed out by a couple big catch-and-runs; the defense looked vulnerable to the short passing game as Josh McCown had a little too much success against Sean McDermott’s zone; and mistakes in the form of a Tyrod Taylor interception in the end zone and missed field goal by Steven Hauschka cost Buffalo points.
Still, a win in the NFL is a notable achievement, and the Bills enabled McDermott to become just the second coach in franchise history (Rex Ryan was the first) to win his debut game on Kickoff Weekend.
The Bills offense got off to a tremendous start, sort of. A couple of big plays by LeSean McCoy and Mike Tolbert, and a key third-down conversion pass to Charles Clay had the Bills on the move. However, disaster struck after they reached the Jets 2-yard-line. Tolbert was stuffed for a six-yard loss, Taylor threw an incompletion, and then a Taylor pass when through Clay’s hands at the goal line and was picked off by Juston Burris.
The Bills, and Clay, made amends a couple possessions later as they drove 77 yards in 12 plays with Taylor flipping a 1-yard TD pass to Clay who was wide open in the right front corner of the end zone early in the second quarter.
On that drive, wide receiver Jordan Matthews made his first catch for the Bills a big one, a 14-yarder to convert a third-and-11, and then McCoy broke a 23-yard run. Later, Tolbert had a punishing 14-yard run to the Jets 8.
New York responded by driving to the first of Chandler Catanzaro’s two field goals, this one a 48-yarder, and after Buffalo’s Steven Hauschka missed a 46-yarder, Catanzaro made a 52-yarder to cut Buffalo’s lead to 7-6 heading into the intermission.
At the half, the Bills had a 236-85 advantage in total yards as the Jets managed only four first downs. Thus, it was a rather disappointing 30 minutes for Buffalo because the offense coughed up 10 points on the Hauschka missed field goal and the interception in the end zone.
The third quarter began raggedly for both offenses, but then came back-to-back-to-back touchdowns. First Buffalo drove 64 yards in six quick plays as Matthews made a nice catch over the middle and turned it into a 47-yard gain which set up another 1-yard Taylor TD pass, this one to Andre Holmes.
New York had an immediate answer as Josh McCown picked the Buffalo defense apart with short passes, and then he capped the 75-yard drive with a fourth-and-goal quarterback keeper from the 1. The Bills’ Ramon Humber intercepted McCown’s two-point conversion pass, protecting a 14-12 lead.
Buffalo then turned around and marched 80 yards in nine plays to Tolbert’s 1-yard TD plunge up the middle. On this series, McCoy was on fire. He caught two passes for 26 yards, one of which converted a third down, and then he ripped off a 27-yard run. Nick O’Leary also had a nice 22-yard reception to set up first-and-goal at the 4.
From there, the rest of the fourth quarter was a battle of punters, including one called by Jets coach Todd Bowles that had everyone shaking their head. Down nine points with 4:27 left and facing fourth-and-8 from the New York 47, Bowles punted. Former Bills coaches everywhere must have been applauding.