By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Things just got real in a hurry.
The situation is so different, the Jets, left for dead in the division race three weeks ago, are now actually expected to win the AFC East.
That, my friends, is no typo.
The Jets marched into Buffalo on Sunday off a bye and looked like the team we thought they were way back when the prognosticating started. They utterly dismantled the high-scoring Bills, winning for the first time on the road this season and handing Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co., their first home loss.
The margin was 16, but the Jets, frankly, should have won by much more.
The Jets were ferocious animals on defense, clearly picking up from where they left off in the second half against San Diego prior to last week’s vacation. They shut down Fitzpatrick, who recently signed a massive multi-year extension, until garbage time made his “positive numbers” (15-of-31 for 191 and a TD) look a heck of a lot better than they were while the outcome was sort of in doubt. Though the Jets never sacked the Bills’ quarterback, they harassed and confused him all afternoon, picking off two passes and blanketing seemingly everyone in a white and blue uniform.
The secondary wasn’t the only thing working. Had Fred Jackson not ripped off a 23-yard run with less than six minutes to play, while the Jets were preoccupied planning Gatorade baths, the impressive running back, thought of by many coming in as a serious match-up problem for the Jets, wouldn’t have cracked 60 yards on the ground.
Defensively, there is no question now that the Jets are back. Back-to-back gems against high-powered offenses of the Chargers and Bills speaks volumes about the adjustments head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have made. If Sunday’s effort wasn’t a warning shot fired across the rest of the AFC’s bow, I don’t know what would be. The Jets simply have a scary and confident defensive unit right now.
One everyone better take seriously.
Equally as impressive was the entire offensive approach under much-maligned coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. You simply have to be fair here. We often spend so much time blaming Schotty for all of the Jets’ scoring woes, but when the guy throws the football equivalent of a no-hitter, you better be standing at the door with your hat in your hands begging for forgiveness. Otherwise, you’re a phony.
Schottenheimer’s game plan was brilliant and had it not been for a few first-half momentary lapses of reason by quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets would have been up huge, instead of just 3-0 at the intermission. Over the previous four meetings with the Bills, the Jets had rushed for an astounding 1,000-plus yards, averaging more than 270 per game. Schottenheimer exploited Buffalo’s glaring weakness again Sunday, calling 39 running plays that resulted in 126 yards. And while the yards-per-carry average may seem low, the Jets never really gave the Bills a chance to get into any kind of rhythm defensively. The Bills simply had no idea what the Jets were going to do next.
Then there was Sanchez, another guy who exists each week with the world’s biggest bull’s-eye on his back. He made some dumb decisions in the first half, most notably his lone interception of the day. The Jets had marched 87 yards in more than 10 minutes, only to have his forced throw intended for tight end Dustin Keller picked in the back of the end zone. He later got a gift on a tipped pass interception that was overturned and fumbled away a snap out of the shotgun on the ensuing play following a Bills turnover.
Yet, Sanchez manned up in the second half before finishing the game a highly efficient 20-of-28 for 230 yards and a TD, to go along with the earlier pick. Sanchez’s decision making in the second half was like night and day from the first half. His throws were mostly spot on and he spread the ball all over the place.
So now the Jets find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East. Technically, they lose the tiebreaker to the Patriots, but can rectify that next Sunday night when New England comes to MetLife for a prime-time showdown.
Now, are the Patriots still the Patriots the entire football world has grown to fear for seemingly ever? I’m not so sure anymore. After watching them lose in Pittsburgh two weeks ago and on Sunday at home to the Giants, they look more to me like a team that’s lost an edge than a team that will play with one.
The Pats don’t scare anyone on the ground or defensively and, Tom Brady aside, that’s how you win once the temperature begins to drop. There is absolutely no reason why the Jets shouldn’t move the ball and contain the Patriots enough to win this game, even convincingly. The Pats don’t have a home run threat, which seems odd for a team as proficient through the air as they are. I’m pretty sure if you are looking for a repeat of New England’s 30-21 victory back on Oct. 9 — the last time the Jets lost I might add — you could be in for a rude awakening.
Vegas may still install the Patriots as the favorites, but the truth is these are two teams going in opposite directions. New England has lost consecutive games just three times since 2003, a rather amazing accomplishment considering the NFL’s parity. I just don’t think the Jets will care just how angry the Patriots will be come Sunday night. The way they are playing defense right now, I don’t think there is an offense on Earth that can light them up. And considering how pedestrian the Patriots are defensively, lighting the Jets up might be the only way they can win.
Psychologically, the Jets exorcised their Patriots demons in last season’s playoffs. Now, every time they meet it’s just a matter of which team executes better. The Pats won that battle the first time; I fully expect the Jets to win it this time.
Let’s also not forget, MetLife will be an insane asylum. All these things considered, I just don’t see the Patriots with any edges in this matchup, save for Brady. They simply don’t strike the fear of God in the Jets anymore.
Rex’s bunch really has a chance here to make a serious move in both the division and conference. After the New England game, the schedule softens a bit — with games at Denver, home for Buffalo, at Washington and home for Kansas City. Of course, nothing is a gimme, but this team has come a long way and likely hasn’t reached its peak yet.
With another solid performance Sunday, the sky, for sake of a better term, could be the limit for these Jets.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini.
Are you in from the ledge? Do you think the Jets are truly back? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.