Commentary

'This is the week it has to happen'

After bullying Bills, the Jets can take charge of AFC East when Pats visit next Sunday

Updated: November 7, 2011, 10:54 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The New York Jets are back. We're talking really back, as in: back-to-putting-heat-on-the-New England Patriots kind of back.

It's always about the Jets and the Patriots in the AFC East, and that's the way it should be, right?

The Jets took care of the would-be party crashers Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, teaching the upstart Buffalo Bills a hard lesson in big-game football.

The final score was 27-11 -- it should've been 40-something to 11 -- and the Jets immediately turned their attention to the "divisional championship game," as Mark Sanchez called it.

In the final seconds of the blowout, LaDainian Tomlinson's thoughts drifted to next Sunday night's showdown against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium. He said players on the field started to talk about the Patriots, the first sounds of a drum beat that will grow louder by the day.

"If this is our time to take over the AFC East, this is the time to do it," Tomlinson said later at his locker.

"This is the week it has to happen. … I'm telling you, it's on guys' minds."

Technically, the division is wide open, with the Jets (5-3), Bills (5-3) and Patriots (5-3) in a neck-and-neck-and-neck race, but let's be honest: Considering the way the Jets dismantled the Bills, beating them with brawn and brains, it looks like the Jets are the Jets again and the Bills still are learning what it takes to play with the big boys.

It took a mature team to accomplish what the Jets did. After a week of hearing about their road struggles (0-3) and post-bye funks under Rex Ryan (0-2), not to mention the shrill boasts of wide receiver Stevie Johnson claiming it was the Bills' turn to own the division, the Jets went out and played their best game of the season.

After a sloppy 30 minutes that included two turnovers by Sanchez -- "Bad News Bears," Ryan said of the team's first half -- the Jets scored on four straight possessions and took a commanding 27-3 lead. They made running back Fred Jackson look like Fred Sanford, and their aggressive, man-to-man defense turned the Harvard man, Ryan Fitzpatrick, into a skittish, mistake-prone quarterback.

"Obviously, the Jets couldn't win away, the Jets couldn't win after a bye," nose tackle Sione Pouha said with a hint of sarcasm. "Our whole attitude is, don't tell us what we can't do."

[+] EnlargeNick Mangold
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireNick Mangold and the Jets won the battle of the trenches in Buffalo -- again.

Pouha described the Jets' attitude as "Jetstitude." If the definition of "Jetstitude" is beating on an opponent, dominating in the trenches on both sides of the ball … well, the Jets showed that. And they knew they would. They've manhandled the Bills in the past five meetings, and they felt confident they'd be able to disrupt their gimmicky spread offense.

The Bills wanted to play basketball. The Jets turned it into an MMA event, running the ball out of a two-back package and holding Jackson to 59 rushing yards through 3½ quarters. The Jets held the ball for 37:52 to the Bills' 22:08.

That's domination.

"As long as we play like we did in the second half," guard Matt Slauson said, "nobody in the NFL can stop us."

The Jets overcame a slow start -- sound familiar? -- but raised their level of intensity. The Bills wilted under the pressure, showing the difference between a "now" team and a "tomorrow" team. When Bills coach Chan Gailey started his postgame news conference, the first thing he lamented was how they were physically overpowered.

"We've won a lot of football games around here with that style," guard Brandon Moore said.

The Jets turned "Whiteout" conditions -- a stadium filled with white-wearing fans -- into a blackout for Buffalo. Clearly, they have regained their mojo, rallying from a three-game losing streak that nearly ruined their season. They're running the ball again, and they're playing good defense, the hallmarks of their success.

Of the Jets' past three wins, this was the most impressive because it came on the road against a division opponent. They walked into the Ralph knowing it was a two-game season -- Bills and Patriots -- and managed to keep their focus on the Bills without looking ahead. Mature teams have that ability.

Now the Jets can look ahead. They control their own destiny, and the Patriots -- losers of two straight -- are coming to town.

"I tell you what, it's all there in front of us," Tomlinson said.

Ryan was surprisingly low-key after the win, not displaying his usual bravado. But that's because the Jets face the Bills again in three weeks, and he didn't want to say the wrong thing. But this was a satisfying win for Ryan, who pushed all the right buttons through the bye week and through the final gun.

"If you want to win our division, you've got to beat New England," he said. "It's much easier said than done, but we're just the guys for the job. We get to prove it next week."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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