By Jason Keidel
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Whatever the Jets were supposed to be — almost all of it awful — they are exponentially better in reality. They play hard, with heart, and are actually a club their fans can watch with some measure of pride.
The 3-5 Jets played the 5-2 Bills, a game, on paper, that Buffalo should’ve won. They don’t, however, play on paper, but rather on the granite green surface of MetLife Stadium, where the Jets schooled the Bills on guts and guile Thursday night. You just had to be a football fan to feel an objective fondness for the all-around whipping the Jets put on the Bills. The final score, 34-21, was not symbolic of the whistle-to-gun dominance.
The Jets may not be pretty, but they’re gritty. And even for a team as bereft of Pro Bowl talent as the Jets are, a unified unit can win their share of games in today’s NFL. They may lack aesthetic splendor, but there is grace in one man playing for the next on both sides of the ball.
The Jets haunted and hunted Tyrod Taylor the first 30 minutes like a Super Bowl team, sacking the Bills quarterback five times in the first two quarters (they had just 11 sacks over their first eight games), and limiting Buffalo’s offense to 128 yards.
The Bills entered the game with a plus-14 turnover ratio. They were minus-3 Thursday night. But while the Jets dominated the box score, it was three plays that made their night — and the difference.
No play was more emblematic of the Jets’ effort than when cornerback Justin Burris lunged and clasped his arms around Jordan Matthews’ ankles as the Bills receiver was running toward the sideline near midfield with 49 seconds left in the first half. Matthews then fumbled the ball. Burris recovered. It was only the second lost fumble of the season for the Bills. It spoke entirely to the monolithic effort and belief the downtrodden Jets have in themselves.
Then we had Bilal Powell with 4:30 left in the third quarter. After taking a handoff to the right, the Jets running back bumped into a cluster of linemen, stutter-stepped, cut left, then dashed downfield, running 50 yards before being tackled at the 10-yard line. The Jets finished the drive with a TD run by Matt Forte, but the power of Powell symbolized the game, the night and the team.
Then, two minutes later, the Bills completed a pass downfield to tight end Nick O’Leary, who fell, got up and ran before the Jets jumped him and stripped the ball. That play, like the entire game, was a symposium on toughness and teamwork. The Jets were way ahead yet still had the inherent hunger to force a fumble.
By the time the Jets crunched Taylor on the 20-yard line in the fourth quarter, causing the ball to squirt out, with the Jets scrambling to recover and return to the Bills’ 5-yard line, it was over. Forte again trotted into the end zone, making it 31-7. Sometimes they say a score doesn’t represent the real game. This one did, and does. Two cosmetic scores by the Bills cut the final mark to 34-21, but the game was really 31-7.
As incongruous as it sounds for a 4-5 football club, the Jets are the embodiment of pro football, playing above their heads and the back of their football cards. While you want to see them finally win a Super Bowl after nearly 50 years, you can be as proud of this team as any of the intervening teams. They are a unit, selfless, playing with pride and passion.
And many in the media, including yours truly, owe Gang Green an apology. With condescending, caustic tongues, we assured you the Jets would be woeful, or worse, an eyesore of historic contours, challenging the 1992 Seattle Seahawks for the most inept offense in history, and the 1976 Buccaneers and 2008 Lions for the worst team in history.
The joke is on us. The Jets just don’t have the personnel to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East, or even the middle-rung clubs for a playoff spot. But if the more talented teams played with the Jets’ temerity, there’s no saying where they’d end the season. For the Jets, it’s already better after nine games than we thought it would be after 16 games. And, frankly, an 8-8 season by these Jets would feel way more like 16-0 than 0-16.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel