Before the season I predicted that the Jets would flirt with an 0-16 record. Tonight, on Nov. 2, I'm writing about the Jets' fourth win of the season. So much for tanking. They're flirting with an actual mediocre season and maybe -- dare I say it -- a run at a postseason spot in a conference lacking six quality teams, which is a borderline miracle considering the expectations surrounding the team at the start of the season.
On Thursday night, the Jets pulled off the upset by handily beating the Bills with a staunch defensive effort, winning 34-21. With the victory, the Jets improved to 4-5. They have the same amount of wins as teams like the Ravens, Cowboys, Packers, and Falcons.
Josh McCown played relatively well -- especially by his standards --and running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell held up their end of the bargain with two touchdowns and 151 yards, but the credit should be directed toward the defense and specifically, the defensive front. The Jets dominated the Bills up front, harassing Tyrod Taylor for seven sacks and limiting LeSean McCoy to 2.1 yards per carry. The Jets won because they prevailed in the trenches.
Beating the Bills, even if it came at home on a short week, is an impressive win. The Bills entered the game with a chance to cement their status in the upper echelon of AFC teams. They're in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Jets are just trying to survive. Desperation can be a helluva drug in the NFL, though. At 4-5, the Jets are technically still alive in the AFC wild-card race. The key word there is technically, because no person on the planet (besides Fireman Ed, probably) believes in the Jets' playoff chances.
But for one night, they deserve praise. They just beat a potential playoff team.
Take it away, Ed:
The camera found Fireman Ed. He mouths “doing this for you.” And he’s now doing the J-E-T-S chant. Loudest I’ve heard it this year.— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) November 3, 2017
McCown got them going with a 10-yard rushing touchdown. After the Bills tied the game with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Zay Jones, the Jets responded with a go-ahead field goal. The Jets' defense refused to budge. They entered halftime up 10-7. A close game turned into a blowout in the third quarter, when the Jets flew away with two touchdowns -- one via McCown's right arm and one via the running backs.
Entering the fourth quarter, McCown threw his arms up to get the crowd going. A dance party appropriately commenced on the field.
The Jets defense was literally having a dance party on the field during the commercial break— Maggie Gray (@MaggieGray) November 3, 2017
The defense put the game away for good by forcing Taylor to fumble and recovering the ball near the goal line. Forte quickly punched the ball into the end zone. They tacked on another field goal before the Bills scored a couple of garbage time touchdowns to garnish the final scoreline.
The Jets turned the Bills into cattle on Thursday night. Read on for five more takeaways ...
1. Bills blow huge opportunity
The Bills were on four days' rest -- just like the Jets -- but they only traveled from Buffalo to New Jersey. They performed like a West Coast team that traveled to the East Coast on four days' rest. Give credit to the Jets. But also blame the Bills for a putrid effort.
As a team, the Bills averaged 4.4 yards per play. Taylor finished 29 of 40 for 285 yards, three total touchdowns (one rushing), no picks, and a 108.9 passer rating. He wasn't the problem, even if his stats were boosted by garbage time. McCoy couldn't find any space to run. He carried the ball 12 times for 25 yards.
The biggest problem, as previously mentioned, was the offensive line. They allowed seven sacks.
Sloppiness also played a role. The Bills were penalized 11 times for 99 yards. They turned the ball over three times, and two were self inflicted.
The defense didn't fare much better, allowing the Jets to rumble for 4.7 yards per carry and pick up 194 yards on the ground. They dropped a gimme interception. They let McCown post a 106.2 passer rating.
The Bills' schedule is about to get brutal, which makes Thursday night's loss even more painful. Next up is a game against the red-hot Saints. Then they go to Los Angeles to play the competitive Chargers. After that, they've got dates with the Chiefs (in Kansas City) and Patriots. At 5-3, the Bills are suddenly vulnerable.
Counterpoint: It's a long season. Teams lose games they're not supposed to lose. It wouldn't be shocking to see the Bills rebound with a win over the Saints. They just traded for WR1 Kelvin Benjamin and he didn't play on Thursday night. He'll help.
Regardless of what happens, we're about to find out if the Bills are for real or not. Something tells the Bills' playoff hopes are about to sink straight to the bottom of Lake Erie.
2. Josh McCown: Good enough
McCown shouldn't be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he's making the most of his
second zillionth opportunity. He hasn't played particularly well, but he's helped the Jets avoid an embarrassing season. On Thursday night, he played well enough to get a win over the Bills. He finished 14 of 20 for 140 yards, two total touchdowns (one rushing), no picks, and a 106.2 passer rating.
McCown was by no means perfect. He threw what should've been one of the worst interceptions of the season, but he got bailed out by some slippery hands in the Bills' secondary. He missed a few throws wildly. But again, he was good enough.
No one is going to mistake McCown for a franchise-caliber quarterback who can carry a team to the postseason. By now, everyone knows what he is. But when a defense is gelling like the Jets' unit was on Thursday night, McCown can be serviceable. He was against the Bills.
Now, let's have some fun with stats. In the first quarter, McCown started the scoring with a 10-yard rushing touchdown. That touchdown was important for a few reasons, besides the fact that it gave the Jets an early advantage.
First, McCown is tied for the most rushing touchdowns among all quarterbacks.
Josh McCown: 3rd Rush TD this season, tied for most among QB— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 3, 2017
Second, McCown joined Cowboys star 24-year-old quarterback Dak Prescott in an exclusive club.
Third, McCown has more rushing touchdowns than five teams.
McCown's second touchdown -- this one came through the air -- was more impressive. To give the Jets a 17-7 lead in the third quarter, he dropped in a dime to Robby Anderson, who snatched the ball away from his body and hung on as he fell to the ground, for a 25-yard touchdown.
More fun stats:
McCown is 38 and will be 39 when next season begins, but at this point, it's not insane to think someone will sign McCown to either be a backup or compete with a struggling incumbent for a starting job, which begs this somewhat serious question: who will retire first, Tom Brady or Josh McCown?
It's just a question.
3. Running, then running some more
You know what else the Jets did well on Thursday night? Their ground game was productive. Matt Forte scored twice and totaled 77 yards (5.5 yards per carry). He looked rejuvenated.
Bilal Powell didn't score, but he rushed for 74 yards (8.2 YPC). He did it in impressive fashion.
Forte finished off that drive with a touchdown.
The Jets ran the ball all over a defense that entered the game allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards per attempt (3.5) and the third-fewest rushing yards per game (80.1). Collectively, the Jets rushed for 194 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
4. The Force is with Zay Jones
The Bills drafted Zay Jones in the second round, so expectations were high entering the season. He didn't live up to those expectations through his first seven games, catching 10 passes for 115 yards and no touchdowns, and dropping four passes (per Pro Football Focus).
One those drops cost the Bills a win over the Panthers:
Finally, Jones broke out against the Jets, catching six passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.
The celebration? Straight out of the greatest franchise in the history of the galaxy.
Disaster almost struck when Jones suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury late in the second quarter. But he miraculously ended up returning to the game in the third quarter. He did exit for good in the fourth quarter with the knee issue.
The force was calling to Jones. Finally, he let it in.
5. What's next?
A week from Sunday, the Jets will face the 2-5 Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. Given the way the Buccaneers are playing right now -- they've lost four straight entering Week 9 -- that might not be the unwinnable game many thought it'd be before the season. The Jets aren't necessarily a good team, but they're not a team that the rest of the league can walk all over.
Meanwhile, the Bills' tough stretch begins against the Saints on Nov. 12. Looming on the schedule after that are games against the Chargers, Chiefs, and Patriots.
May the Force be with you, Buffalo. You'll need it.