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NFL AM- TNF Takeaways: Bills Survive To Win Rex’s Return to Jersey

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Rex Ryan’s return to the Meadowlands was a success for his Buffalo Bills, but before Ryan could celebrate jubilantly on the opposing sideline at MetLife Stadium for the first time, he had to sweat it out a little bit.

Buffalo built a 22-3 lead midway through the third quarter, then nearly let it slip away, but managed to survive for the 22-17 victory on Thursday night. That win pushed the Bills to 5-4, even with the Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers for Wild Card playoff spots in the AFC.

It was fitting that the game ended with Ryan’s defense on the field making big plays. First, after a botched punt gave the Jets the ball on the Bills 13-yard-line with just over five minutes remaining, the Buffalo defense stood tall with a four-and-out to turn the ball over. Then, after the Bills offense wasted away most of the time remaining in the game, the first play of New York’s last gasp drive was intercepted by Buffalo safety Baccari Rambo, sending an equally euphoric and relieved Ryan into celebration mode on the sidelines.

After the game, the former Jets coach who was fired at the end of last season, dropped the week-long facade that this was just another game for he and his team, and peeled back the curtain to awkwardly describe the emotion of his return.

“It’s pretty satisfying, without question,” he told reporters in his postgame news conference. “It’s definitely satisfying. And, you know what, now I can talk the truth, and say the truth. I look at this way, it’s kind of like being dumped by some girl that you had the hots for. You guys can [relate] to that. Every guy in the room has been dumped by some girl before. That’s really what it feels like. Hey, you move on and every now and then they call you back. But they can’t get you back.”

The emotion was appropriately awkward for one of the most awkwardly contested games of the season thus far. The Jets dominated the game with defense early, which has been their calling card this season. But in a span of less than two minutes in the second quarter, two New York turnovers quickly flipped the momentum in favor of Buffalo.

The first came on an innocent pass that just happened to glance off the hands of Jets receiver Brandon Marshall into the waiting arms of Bills safety Corey Graham, setting Buffalo up in Jets territory. The Buffalo offense went three-and-out, but a Dan Carpenter field goal knotted the score at 3-3. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, things went from bad to worse for the Jets. Devin Smith was held up on the return, but while trying to get a few extra yards he had the ball punched out by Rambo. It was then scooped up by Duke Williams, who brought it back 19 yards for a touchdown. Carpenter missed the ensuing extra point, giving Buffalo a 9-3 lead.

In a span of nine seconds, the Bills had turned a 3-0 deficit into a 9-3 lead. They got one more possession in the first half and drove deep into Jets territory, but settled for a field goal to make it 12-3 at the half. That drive was the first sign of life from the Buffalo offense, and it carried over into the start of the second half.

The Bills got the ball out of the break and appeared to assert dominance and control over the game on their opening drive out of the locker room. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor led a seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 26-yard touchdown toss to running back Karlos Williams that gave Buffalo a 19-3 lead.

The Jets were reeling and when, on the first play of the ensuing New York drive, Rambo forced his second of three turnovers by stripping the ball from Jets running back Chris Ivory and recovering it at the Jets 23-yard-line, it appeared to be the knockout blow for Ryan and the Bills.

The next play was a screen pass from Tyrod Taylor to LeSean McCoy that picked up 16 yards to the 7-yard-line and put the Bills on the doorstep of a 23-point lead. But it was there that the Jets defense stood tall, sacking Taylor on the next play and then limiting Buffalo to a field goal. The chip shot gave the Bills a 22-3 lead, but the red zone stop created momentum for the Jets and they got rolling off of it.

New York finally broke through for a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to Marshall on the ensuing drive to make it 22-10, and it stayed that way entering the fourth.

Both teams struggled offensively in the final frame, but it was especially difficult for Buffalo to get anything going. After the pass from Taylor to McCoy that nearly produced a touchdown, the Bills went five consecutive series without a first down. The Jets finally made something of the repeated stops midway through the fourth when Fitzpatrick engineered a nine-play, 69-yard drive, capped by a 31-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker that made it a five-point game with plenty of time to play.

The Buffalo offense again produced nothing on the ensuing drive, and disaster nearly struck when on fourth down, the punt attempt was misplayed by punter Colton Schmidt, who recovered but was tackled at the 13 before he could get a kick away. That set the Jets up on the doorstep of the end zone with a golden opportunity to pull ahead. But this time it was the Bills defense that stepped up with their back against the wall. After an eight-yard run by Ivory to the 5-yard-line, Buffalo forced back to back one-yard losses. Jets coach Todd Bowles elected to go for it on 4th-and-4 and Fitzpatrick had Kellen Davis wide open in the end zone, but the Jets tight end never looked up for the ball and it fell incomplete, turning it back over to Buffalo.

From there, the Bills got just enough out of their offense to salt away most of the final three minutes of the game. After going more than 20 minutes of game time without a first down, Buffalo got a pair on their final offensive possession of the game, bringing the clock all the way down to 24 seconds before they were forced to punt. Then the Bills seized the game on New York’s first offensive play, when Rambo intercepted Fitzpatrick to clinch the win.

It was a banner night for the 25-year-old Rambo, who finished with the interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. But the safety, who was picked up by Buffalo off waivers from Washington last season, deflected credit to Ryan and his coaching staff.

“The coaches came up with a tremendous scheme. They knew these guys like the back of their hands and knew what was coming. They put us in the right position to make plays, and that preparation made opportunities for myself and the rest of the guys,” he said. “I’m just here to make plays and have fun. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities. I’m going to go out there and play full speed and give it my all for the coaches and the rest of the players because I know they’re going to do the same for me.”

That’s the type of attitude that Ryan gets out of all of his players and it was clear how much getting the win on Thursday night meant to them because of what it meant to their coach. After Rambo’s interception, Ryan was spotted hollering and pumping his fist on the sideline and hugging any Bills player he could get a hold of. It was a familiar scene for Ryan at MetLife Stadium, except this time it was on a different sideline in a different color.

That, and the fact that his team had to fight to survive late, made the moment that much more special for the Buffalo coach.

“How do you think it feels? It feels great,” he said. “We beat a hell of a team, a very talented team. … We had to keep fighting as a team and that’s what we did.”

JETS FOURTH DOWN CALLS LOOM LARGE

For the Jets, Thursday’s game turned on two-key special teams plays, one a mistake on their part which they overcame and one a mistake by Buffalo that they couldn’t take full advantage of.

New York seemed in control of the game until the sudden change of a fumbled kickoff return and the easy Bills touchdown that came from it gave Buffalo an instant lead that they had hardly earned. From that point, for the next quarter of game time, everything was a struggle for the Jets

They failed to slow the Bills offense before halftime, allowing them to drive 57 yards in the final 4:50 of the half to tack three points onto their lead. Then, they failed to stop Buffalo at all on the opening drive of the second half, allowing the Bills to drive the ball down their throat and take a commanding 16-point lead just over three minutes into the second half.

In between, the two Buffalo touchdowns, New York barely got a chance to do anything on offense. In fact, from the time Fitzpatrick was intercepted on the ball off Marshall’s hands midway through the second quarter — which set up the game tying field goal — to the moment Carpenter connected to make it 22-3 Bills midway through the third quarter, the Jets ran just four plays on offense.

The last of those was the fumble by Ivory, which seemed to seal New York’s fate. But all the Jets needed was a chance to build some momentum and they got it with the stop on the ensuing bills drive, limiting them to that Carpenter field goal that made it a 19-point game instead of 23 or 24 points.

The Jets rallied for a touchdown on their next drive and the defense got New York the ball right back. The Jets offense continued to roll on the ensuing drive, with pickups of 16 and 21 yards on the first two plays to get deep into Bills territory. But the drive stalled on the fringe of the red zone and on 4th-and-2 from the 20, rather than kick a field goal to pull within nine just three seconds into the fourth quarter, New York coach Todd Bowles elected to go for it. On a poorly designed and executed play, Marshall was tackled for a loss of two yards, turning the ball over to Buffalo on downs.

The points left on the field would loom larger later. After the teams traded punts, the Jets managed a touchdown with 7:28 left in the game to pull within five, 22-17. Then came another stop by the New York defense, and the botched punt attempt by the Bills put them in business at the Buffalo 13 with a chance to pull ahead once again. But the limitations of the New York offense once again left them just short of what would’ve been a game-winning score.

An eight-yard run by Ivory put them inside the five, and after Ivory was stopped for a loss on second down, the Jets went back to the air. Once again, a poorly designed and executed play saw Fitzpatrick throw a short pass to Decker who was hit immediately for a loss of one, to bring up 4th-and-4 from the 7.

Bowles again opted to go for it instead of taking the points, a decision that was 0-for-2 on the evening. This time, at least, the play design was right, as the play unfolded to perfection, allowing Fitzpatrick to float a pass in the direction of an open Davis. But the Jets backup tight end, who has one catch in the last two years, never looked up for the ball and it landed incomplete in the end zone.

The merits of going for it on fourth down in those situations can be argued to death, but the plays and the execution need to be there when the Jets are presented with such golden opportunities, and on Thursday night, they simply weren’t. In addition to those two missed fourth downs that turned the ball over to the Bills, New York fumbled the ball away twice and Fitzpatrick was picked off twice, a total of six turnovers for the Jets in a game they had to have.

With or without Ryan, New York continues to thrive on defense — they currently rank fourth in the league in that department under Bowles — but just like under Ryan, the limitations of their offense continue to hold them back. A great defense alone can only take you so far and that’s the primary reason why the Jets continue to come up short.

COLTS ADD WHITEHURST

The Indianapolis Colts are desperate for depth at the quarterback position. So desperate in fact that they’ve turned to a castoff from a division rival.

With Andrew Luck scheduled to miss at least two weeks and almost certainly more with a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle, the Colts on Thursday signed veteran Charlie Whitehurst, formerly of the Tennessee Titans to serve as the backup to Matt Hasselbeck.

Whitehurst played in seven games for the Titans last season, including five starts and was decent, completing 58.6 percent of his passes for over 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns against just two interceptions. But the veteran was phased out of Tennessee’s plans this season with rookie Marcus Mariota and 2014 draft pick Zach Mettenberger occupying the top two spots in the rotation. So when rookie running back David Cobb was activated this week, Whitehurst was lifted from the Tennessee roster.

In swooped the Colts, who have been desperately seeking help behind Hasselbeck since the season began. When Luck missed time with a shoulder injury earlier this year, the Colts twice signed Josh Johnson to backup Hasselbeck. But Johnson is now the backup for the Buffalo Bills. Indianapolis also reportedly pursued 33-year-old journeyman Jason Campbell, who has an existing relationship with new Colts offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski from their time together in Cleveland. However Campbell, who spent time with the Bengals last season but has not been on a roster this season, told ESPN 980 in Washington that he resisted the overture.

“I talked to Coach Chudzinski, a guy I’ve got the utmost respect for,” Campbell said. “We were together in Cleveland, spent some time together, and we had some conversations about some things. But as of right now, I told him I’m kind of enjoying what I’m doing right now. And it’s kind of hard just to up and change what I’m doing. And I told him I appreciate the interest and everything … [but] I’m just kind of chilling right now.”

So the lonely eyes of Indianapolis turn to Whitehurst, hoping they’ll never have to see him him put into a game. To do so would surely mean things have gone even more horribly wrong than they already have for the 4-5 AFC South-leading Colts.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys