Sunday, November 6, 2011
Jets' defense has its swagger back
By James Walker
An aggressive Jets defense limited Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 191 yards passing on Sunday.
ORCHARD, PARK, N.Y. -- In a rare occurrence this season, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan stepped to the podium Sunday with very little to complain about with his defense.
"We gave up an 80-yard drive at the end of the game there when we were up a bunch of scores," Ryan scoffed. "So that was disappointing."
Ryan pointed out the only blemish in an otherwise stellar day for New York's talented but, at times, underachieving defense. The Jets' strongest unit turned back the clock -- circa 2009 and 2010 -- to cruise to a 27-11 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
More than 70,000 Bills fans came to Ralph Wilson Stadium expecting a "whiteout." They nearly witnessed a shutout, as New York battered and confused Buffalo's offense for four quarters. The Bills turned over the football three times and gained only 287 total yards.
New York's defense officially has its swagger back. That could only mean trouble for the rest of the NFL.
Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha even has a nickname for the defense regaining its identity.
"It's totally attitude -- it's 'Jetstitude' the way we look at it," Pouha said. "It's playing like a Jet, aggressiveness, going out there in attack mode. I think today kind of displayed just what Jet football is all about."
Although they don't always put it together, the Jets have the NFL's most talented collection of defensive players.
The cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie is tops in the league. The linebackers, led by David Harris, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, are physical playmakers. The safeties and defensive line play good, complementary roles when the Jets are at their best. All of those things came together in a big game.
"When everybody is rolling, this team is very hard to beat," Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said.
It marked the first time Buffalo was held to fewer than 20 points this season. Afterward, the Bills sounded perplexed about how the game went downhill so quickly.
"If it was one thing, we could have solved that," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "You can always solve one thing in a game. They would bring pressure, they would play coverage. ... They would give us something we hadn’t seen or they would bring an extra guy. It was a combination. They kept us off balance and that’s what we can’t allow to happen."
The Jets' defense took apart Buffalo's offense systematically. It started with punishing Bills tailback Fred Jackson.
Jackson has bullied defenders all season. But New York matched and exceeded Jackson's physicality. The Jets even knocked Jackson (82 rushing yards) out of the game temporarily in the second half with big hit that caused a fumble and shoulder stinger. Buffalo's offense never recovered from that blow.
With Jackson not his usually dominant self, the Bills couldn't get anything going offensively.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had his worst game of the season. He threw for 191 yards, two interceptions and a late touchdown in garbage time. Most of the game the receivers were blanketed, and Fitzpatrick dangerously threw into tight coverage.
"For us, we were on our heels trying to figure out what they were doing and trying to figure out what was going on," Bills receiver David Nelson said. "It wasn't because of play calling or anything like that. We only had the ball twice in the first quarter and going three-and-out. We couldn’t get in rhythm."
It didn’t take long for several Jets players to turn toward the New England Patriots. The reigning AFC East champions are up next for the Jets with first place in the division on the line. The Patriots -- currently in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East with the Jets and Buffalo -- beat New York 30-21 in the first meeting at Gillette Stadium.
Pardon me, but the Jets "can't wait" for next week's rematch at home.
“If you can’t get fired up and ready to play for this game, you shouldn't be playing," Jets tailback LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That's plain and simple."
Last month, New York was a team close to imploding during its three-game losing streak. This month, the Jets have their sights set on first place in the AFC East after a three-game winning streak.
It's a stunning turnaround for the Jets, who have found the winning formula with an aggressive defense and a ground-and-pound style on offense.
New York showed on Sunday it has as good a shot as anyone in the second half of the season.
"We know what we're capable of doing. We know we're not a team that's going to fold in the tank," Wilkerson said of the midseason turnaround. "We lost three in a row, but it's a long season. We kept preparing like we’ve always been doing, knowing that we'd get things turned around."