- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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What does it mean: Very little. This was a game only the stat geeks could love, as the New York Jets downshifted into preseason mode. Their JV squad beat the Buffalo Bills 38-7, as Rex Ryan prepared for the upcoming wild-card game by resting many of his key starters. The Jets locked up a playoff berth last week, and their chance of moving up to the No. 5 was ruined by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win at Cleveland.
Do the positives count? The Jets dominated the Bills, but so what? The Bills started their third quarterback of the season, Brian Brohm, who replaced the injured Ryan Fitzpatrick. Brohm was awful and the Jets’ defensive players padded their individual stats, especially OLB Calvin Pace (one sack, one interception) and CB Marquice Cole (two interceptions, one returned for a TD).
For historical purposes, the Jets finished 11-5, their winningest season since 1998 and marking the fourth time in history they surpassed 10 wins in a season. They finished 4-2 in the division, a reversal from last season. These factoids will dress up next week’s press release, but that’s about it.
Cameo QB: As expected, Mark Sanchez started, but he played only one series -- a total of eight snaps. This amounted to a glorified walk-through, as Sanchez didn’t attempt a single pass. The Jets were so concerned about keeping him healthy that, in three third-and-long situations, they put Brad Smith in shotgun and ran the Wildcat.
The obvious question: Why play Sanchez at all, especially with a sore throwing shoulder? He got less out of this game than a midweek practice. The only possible explanation is that Ryan didn’t want to disrupt Sanchez’s game-day routine. If Sanchez lays an egg in the wild-card round, it’ll provide plenty of fodder for the second-guesser.
R & R: And on their 16th Sunday … the Jets rested a lot of players. RBs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene were inactive, as were CBs Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and Antonio Cromartie (groin), both of whom are nursing minor injuries. DE Shaun Ellis dressed, but didn’t play. RG Brandon Moore and C Nick Mangold played only one series. TE Dustin Keller was gone after a series, with WRs Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes playing less than 20 snaps apiece. Edwards and Holmes each scored a touchdown, padding their final regular-season stats.
For Tomlinson, the day off ruined his chance for a ninth 1,000-yard season, as he finished with 921 yards. Of course, the way he has been running, he probably wouldn’t have made it anyway. He averaged only 48 rushing yards per game over the last 10, the reason why Ryan was so eager to let him rest.
Oldie, but Goodie: With Sanchez on the short program, the Jets pulled Mark Brunell, 40, out of mothballs and played him until the fourth quarter. That squeaking sound you heard was Brunell’s joints getting their most extensive workout in a year. Brunell (6-for-12, 110 yards) threw his first touchdown pass since 2006, if you can believe it. His previous scoring toss came as a member of the Washington Redskins. Showing his rust, Brunell gift-wrapped six points for the Bills, throwing an interception that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by S Jarius Byrd. Kellen Clemens handled the fourth-quarter mop-up.
Young and Restless: Several young backups received significant playing time, including RB Joe McKnight, FB John Conner, RG Vladimir Ducasse, TE Jeff Cumberland (active for the first time), LB Josh Mauga, DT Marcus Dixon, CB Kyle Wilson and Cole.
McKnight (32 carries for 158 yards), Conner (16-yard TD run) and Cole were the standouts. McKnight, he of the nightmarish preseason, flashed some promise, giving the Jets’ decision makers a chance to say, “We told you so.” McKnight showed plenty of giddy-up in the open field, but he’ll go back to his usual special-teams role now that it’s money time. Cole, who started for Revis, probably secured a role in the sub packages. He’s more reliable than Wilson in coverage. Conner -- aka The Terminator -- actually got work as a tailback, showing a move or two.
Sackless wonder: Alas, DE Vernon Gholston completed his third season without a sack. That makes 45 career games, zero sacks. He started for Ellis and saw plenty of action in the base defense, but he didn’t get anywhere close to Brohm. Ryan said his No. 1 priority from an individual standpoint was to get a sack for Gholston. They accomplished a lot of firsts, but not that one.
What’s Ahead: The Jets, the No. 6 seed, will open at Kansas City or Indianapolis. It all depends on the outcome of the Indianapolis Colts-Tennessee Titans game at 4 p.m. If the Colts win, it’ll be Jets at Colts -- a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game.