EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets are heading to the postseason on a positive note.
Mark Brunell threw two touchdown passes in relief of Mark Sanchez, Joe McKnight ran for a career-high 158 yards and New York’s defense was dominant in a lopsided playoff tuneup as the Jets routed the Buffalo Bills 38-7 on Sunday.
New York (11-5) rested several stars, including LaDainian Tomlinson, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, but still earned the fourth 11-win season in franchise history – and first since the 1998 team went to the AFC championship game. The Jets, the No. 6 seed, were waiting to see where they will travel next weekend.
It’s the second time in as many seasons the Jets are going to the playoffs under Rex Ryan. Green and white confetti trickled through the air after the game, and several players high-fived fans in a victory lap around the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Sanchez is dealing with a sore right shoulder, but started and played only one series before being replaced by Brunell. He handed off nine times without a throw, including one called back for a penalty, on New York’s opening drive that ended with Nick Folk’s 28-yard field goal.
Brad Smith came in three times during the opening drive and took direct snaps from the Jets’ version of the wildcat and had three runs for 62 yards, while McKnight had seven carries for 25 yards and John Conner had a 2-yard run.
Ryan said during the week that Sanchez would start so he could maintain the rhythm he had the last few weeks, but wasn’t sure how long he’d play. Turned out, if you blinked, you missed him. Brunell replaced Sanchez to start the Jets’ second offensive series, and it was all New York the rest of the afternoon.
The defense swarmed Brian Brohm, starting for Ryan Fitzpatrick, all game and forced the Bills (4-12) into six turnovers. New York intercepted Brohm three times, including a 35-yard return for a score by Marquice Cole, and sacked him three times. Buffalo was held to 162 totals yards, compared to New York’s 388, and the Bills gained just 37 yards on the ground.
It was a good performance by a defensive unit that went back to basics during the week of practice after a handful of subpar games.
One of the biggest cheers came when Kellen Clemens, the Jets’ third quarterback, scrambled 10 yards for a touchdown to put New York up 31-7 with 9:18 left.
Brunell finished 6 of 12 for 110 yards and touchdowns to Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. He also threw an interception, which accounted for Buffalo’s only points as Jairus Byrd returned it 37 yards for a score early in the third quarter.
McKnight, making his first NFL start in a disappointing rookie season, got the bulk of the work on the ground, rushing 32 times while Tomlinson and Shonn Greene watched from the sideline.
The loss capped another lousy season for the Bills, who were trying to win their regular-season finale in consecutive years for the first time since 1998-2000. Buffalo will miss the playoffs for the 11th straight year, tied with Detroit for the NFL’s longest active drought.
Cole, starting for Cromartie, who was resting a tweaked groin, gave the Jets a 10-0 lead with 9:07 left in the half after intercepting Brohm’s pass intended for Steve Johnson and returning it 35 yards for a score. Calvin Pace popped Brohm and tipped the pass just as he was throwing, forcing the ball to float toward a leaping Cole.
Cole had another interception late in the game, setting up Conner’s 16-yard touchdown run that capped the scoring.
Holmes caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brunell to give the Jets a 17-0 lead with 15 seconds left in the opening half. It was Brunell’s first scoring throw since he tossed one against Dallas in November 2006, when he was with Washington.
Brunell threw his second touchdown pass with 6:41 left in the third quarter when Edwards leaped above Leodis McKelvin and then sprinted down the left sideline for a 52-yard score that made it 24-7.
Brohm finished 10 for 23 for 106 yards and three interceptions in his second NFL start. Fitzpatrick was inactive after missing practice all week with a right knee injury.