- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The vanilla offense was gone. The New York Jets' swagger wasn't merely back. It kept snowballing the longer this wire-to-wire laugher went on. After weeks of being mocked, doubted and uncharacteristically conservative with their own preseason boasts, the Jets earned the right -- for a week, anyway -- to cackle "I told you so" as loud and long as they wanted to Sunday.
They swamped the Buffalo Bills so comprehensively in their 48-28 season-opening win even when the Bills weren't beating themselves, by then end it was if the Jets were consciously trying to cross every so-called flaw of theirs off the list, one by one.
Just so they could say "I told you so" again.
Except then most curious thing yet happened after the game: Very few of the Jets grabbed at the chance to gloat or boast, which might be the most convincing proof yet of how badly they want to bury last season's dysfunction.
Oh, Bart Scott rolled out of the locker room snapping at reporters, "I'm not talking to you guys because you treat us like a f------ joke," and fellow linebacker Calvin Pace was among those who talked a little trash. ("We took it personal some of the things that were said, used it as motivation," Pace said.) A few other Jets also told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that they were fired up by a midweek speech from Jets coach Rex Ryan in which he urged them to answer depictions of the team as a "circus" by playing the Bills with "a chip on their shoulder."
But publicly, anyway, Ryan tried to play down the vindication talk afterward, calling it "way too strong a word." And Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez provided probably the best rationale why, noting that a far stiffer test for the Jets looms next Sunday in Pittsburgh. Besides, "This is just one game. To say, 'Yeah, we're the best' -- that's not our deal, that's not what we want here. We've got a lot of work to do.
"I told the guys in the locker room, 'Remember this feeling. Because it took a lot of hard work to get here. So, don't just throw it out the window. It doesn't just happen on Sundays. It takes six days to get here."
Sanchez, who overcame a bad interception on the opening series to finish a sharp 19-of-27 for 266 yards and three TDs, was asked how it felt to see the Jets hang up 48 points after not personally engineering a touchdown drive himself the entire preseason. "It's like we were making up for lost time," he said.
Sanchez was especially sharp. But this was such a total team win, the offense, defense and special teams all scored. Every Jet who was in the doghouse seemed to break out. Every subplot that had roiled the Jets through the preseason -- the Sanchez/Tim Tebow dynamic, the offense's unproven weapons, the coaches' strategic decision not to show much in preseason, even Week 1 subplots like how new right tackle Austin Howard would do against $100 million defensive end Mario Williams -- turned out to be bonanzas for the Jets.
And the defense? The defense was as good as expected until the game turned into garbage time by midway through the third quarter. By then, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had thrown three interceptions, and each was more egregious than the last. Antonio Cromartie returned the last one 40 yards for a touchdown.
Howard, who was making only his second NFL start, period, outplayed the Bills' Williams and exorcised the ghost of departed starter Wayne Hunter in one fell swoop. Rookie wideout Stephen Hill, who had some bad drops in preseason and looked raw at times, had two TDs and was suddenly hanging on to everything Sanchez threw at him.
Except for their Wildcat attack, finally unveiled to middling results, the Jets were exceptional in every facet of the game.
But at least Tebow officially got his first rude New York welcome out of the way. Sanchez got on such a roll that when Tebow came back into the game for just a play in the second quarter, he actually prompted groans from the MetLife Stadium crowd -- then some boos when he kept the ball on an option play for no gain.
"I didn't hear it," Tebow said, insisting the entire day was "fun."
The Jets' Ryan has said repeatedly that he's out of the guarantee business this year because, in hindsight, it didn't help the team. But he had a right to preen a little, too, after the way this game went -- and he didn't publicly grab for it, which was another significant change.
A lot of people rolled their eyes during the week when Ryan said he believes this is the best team he has had in his four years as Jets head coach. They thought it was just Hyperbolic Rex, at it again. But even after dropping this kind of beat-down on a Bills team that was touted as having a chance to leapfrog the Jets in the AFC East standings, and doing it with a performance as complete as this one, the head coach was notably evenhanded in framing what it means.
"As excited and happy as I am about this win," Ryan said, "obviously we need a lot more to get where we want to get to, which are the playoffs."
The I-told-you-so's may yet come. But not now. Not Week 1. Not yet. Holding off was the exact right pitch-perfect tone to set.
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