By Peter Schwartz
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It’s amazing what a difference three weeks can make.
Three weeks ago, the Jets were stumbling through a three game losing streak with another trip to the playoffs looking like a long shot. But, after consecutive wins over Miami and San Diego, followed by a bye week, the Jets are back in business as they head into Sunday’s game against the Bills in Orchard Park.
All of a sudden, the Jets find themselves just one game behind the Bills and Patriots for first place in the AFC East.
A pretty good position to be in considering everything that has happened this season.
“Yes, shoot, yes,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “Would we like to have a better record? Absolutely, we would, but we don’t. We’re 4-3, but we have it right in front of us. This is what I talked about before. The teams you have to beat are right in front of you, so we’ll know. These next few weeks are going to be critical for us.”
The next month will be a critical stretch for the Jets. After the Bills, the Jets will host the Patriots before traveling to Denver, on a short work week to meet the Broncos. The Jets will conclude the month of November with a rematch with Buffalo Thanksgiving weekend at MetLife Stadium.
“Obviously it’s huge,” said safety Jim Leonhard. “You can’t say enough about how important these next three, four games are for us. So we need to come out of this bye strong. We can’t afford to come out flat. We need to carry over that emotion that we’ve been playing with before the bye.”
The Jets primary focus right now is Sunday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills are off to a surprising 5-2 start and the play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a big reason why. He has thrown 14 touchdown passes this season and recently signed a new long-term contract.
However, he has thrown seven interceptions so the Jets will try to force him into some mistakes.
“He’s a good quarterback,” said linebacker Calvin Pace. “He’s efficient. He doesn’t make mistakes. He scrambles around if need be. I just think what they’re doing on offense fits him and he’s making the most of it.”
The bigger concern for the Jets will be shutting down running back Fred Jackson. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 721 rushing yards and is tied for fifth with six touchdowns.
Jackson is coming off a brilliant performance against the Redskins when he totaled 194 yards from scrimmage.
“(Jackson) has run the ball on almost everybody,” said Ryan. “He’s made some huge plays, too. Not just in the running game, but in the screen game. So, we have to be really ready for him. He’s probably, if you’re talking an MVP of their team, it’d have to be him, I’d think.”
Offensively, the Jets have to be extremely careful on Sunday. While the Bills defense is ranked 26th in the NFL giving up just under 386 yards per game, they are an aggressive group that has been forcing turnovers.
The Bills lead the NFL with 14 interceptions and are tied for first with 18 total takeaways.
Buffalo’s defense has come a long way since last season.
“Well, they’re just playing a lot smarter and are just playing a lot better,” said Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. “And those two additions of their draft pick (Marcel) Dareus and (Nick) Barnett at linebacker make them an already good unit, really good. So we need to play smart, can’t give them anything and we have to be in it for all four quarters and not let up.”
The Jets have had plenty of success running the ball against Buffalo in recent years and they should be able to produce on the ground this week. The “ground and pound” offense has returned over the last couple of weeks.
Shonn Greene is coming up off a 112-yard performance against the Chargers. Look for Joe McKnight to get some touches. In last year’s regular season finale, McKnight rushed for 158 yards against Buffalo.
NOW THEY HAVE TO FACE HIM
When Brad Smith was a Jet, they had the luxury of having one of the top kick returners and wildcat specialists in the NFL. Smith was one of many Jets free agents when the lockout ended and they wanted him back. But they put Smith on hold when they went on a failed pursuit of free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Smith didn’t feel like waiting so he signed with the Bills.
Sunday, he’ll face the team that drafted him.
“It’s going to be crazy,” said Smith. “It’s kind of a surreal experience. “Knowing those guys and playing with just about all of them, I expect to hear something from Bart (Scott), Eric Smith, (Calvin) Pace, David Harris and those guys. It should be fun.”
Joe McKnight has done a very good job returning kicks for the Jets, but Gang Green hasn’t had the wildcat success without Smith.
With the Bills, Smith has 5 catches for 43 yards, 19 rushes for 84 yards and a touchdown and 5 kickoff returns for 103 yards.
Obviously, it’s a huge game for the Jets. At the very least, a victory ensures the Jets of a chance to tie the Patriots for first place next Sunday night. Gang Green will certainly be bleeding a little blue on Sunday as the Giants take on the Pats in Foxboro.
A Jets win and Giants win would create a three way tie atop the AFC East.
And just a few weeks ago, Jets Nation was thinking the worst.
MAYHEM RETURNS TO ORCHARD PARK
Former Bills first round pick Aaron Maybin certainly had this game circled when he re-joined the Jets. The Bills chose Maybin with the 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft but was released this past training camp after two unproductive seasons in Buffalo.
“That’s the organization that brought me in (to the NFL),” said Maybin. “It means a lot. It means bragging rights. It means a lot to me and to the guys in this locker room.”
Maybin has found a home with the Jets as a pass rushing specialist and special teamer. In four games with the Jets, Maybin has recorded three sacks and three forced fumbles.
So is he eager to show the Bills that they made a mistake in giving up on him?
“No,” said Maybin. “(Revenge) doesn’t play. I’m trying to go out there and win a football game. It’s just another game to me.”
Hmmmm. Let’s see what he does if he gets a sack or two.
Hey, you can’t blame him for being excited about the game. Everybody would love to prove to a former employer that they made a mistake.
THE JETS/BILLS SERIES
The Bills lead the all-time regular season series 53-47 but the Jets have won five of the last six meetings including a sweep last season by a combined score of 76-21. The only blemish over the last three years was a 16-13 overtime loss to the Bills at the Meadowlands on October 18th, 2009 when Mark Sanchez threw five interceptions.
Gang Green has won three straight road games against Buffalo including a victory over the Bills in Toronto back in 2009.
The AFC East rivals have met once in the playoffs with the Bills beating the Jets 31-27 in the 1981 Wild Card Playoff Game at Shea Stadium.
With two wins in a row, the Jets are on the road to recovery. Now, with some of the top teams in the AFC coming back to them, they have a real shot hear to get on a playoff run. In fact, they are very much alive for a division title as they trail the Bills and Patriots by just a game.
Other than the Sanchez interception fest at Giants Stadium back in 2009, the Jets have had plenty of recent success against the Bills. Buffalo has played well this season but I think this will be another coming out party for the Jets. They are starting to run the ball effectively and they always run the ball well against the Bills.
Jets 24 – Bills 17
That’s all for now. Enjoy the game. Check back Monday for more!