The Buffalo Bills spoiled the New York Jets' playoff plans in Week 17, denying their AFC East rival a spot in the postseason with a 22-17 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Jets' loss also gives the Pittsburgh Steelers a spot in the postseason.
Bills coach Rex Ryan went against his former team and defeated New York for the second time this season. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was once the hopeful franchise QB in Buffalo, but he was denied his first trip to the playoffs by his former team and had a disastrous finish to the game.
Before the game, Bob Pompeani of KDKA TV mentioned that Fitzpatrick and his favorite target, Brandon Marshall, have waited a decade each for a taste of the playoffs:
Brandon Marshall has played 151 NFL games WITHOUT ever being in Playoffs...Fitzpatrick 112...They could end those streaks today #NYJvsBUF— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) January 3, 2016
Interceptions by Fitzpatrick on New York's final three possessions proved costly. The first came in the red zone with New York trailing by only two points and the second on an attempted deep pass that fluttered to Manny Lawson after he was drilled.
Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar weighed in on the fourth-quarter giveaways before Fitzpatrick's desperation pick:
Fitzpatrick is who we thought he was.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 3, 2016
Mario Butler made an outstanding play before Fitzpatrick's third intereception to dislodge the ball from the arms of Kenbrell Thompkins on a deep pass that could've been a game-winning touchdown.
ESPN's Bill Barnwell was unsure why Buffalo opted to leave Butler in coverage on the back end:
No idea what Mario Butler’s doing on that long bomb down the sidelines to Thompkins. Nearly cost them the game.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 3, 2016
To the Bills' credit, they fed off their home fans' energy, pounded the rock and played exceptional defense to set the tone and never really wavered. Blustery conditions made it difficult to spin the ball. That didn't stop Tyrod Taylor from thriving, though.
The Jets stuck their best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, on touted receiver Sammy Watkins as a means of taking away Buffalo's most dangerous playmaker. Unfortunately for New York, Watkins refused to be marooned on Revis Island, recording 11 catches and 136 yards.
Joe Buscaglia of WKBW had a fitting reaction to the surprisingly lopsided matchup:
Darrelle Revis today vs. Sammy Watkins pic.twitter.com/VRxcneQUaF— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 3, 2016
Taylor made plays with his legs and was hardly pressured all afternoon. His spectacular 18-yard touchdown run opened the scoring at the 5:43 mark of the first quarter. Ample time for Taylor to throw also helped Watkins burn Revis more often than not.
A Jets three-and-out followed that possession, before Karlos Williams plunged into the end zone from two yards out to make it 13-0.
Fitzpatrick found Marshall on a 41-yard connection and two plays later on a 17-yard TD strike to make the score 13-7 in the second quarter, only to see the Bills chew up 9:16 en route to a field goal. The 16-7 Jets deficit at the half was particularly notable, since they were 3-5 when trailing at halftime entering Week 17.
Mike Gillislee's fumble deep in Bills territory allowed New York to get on the board after the break with a 39-yard field goal by Randy Bullock. Fitzpatrick had a clutch third-down, 21-yard TD pass to Eric Decker on the next drive with 1:10 left in the third to make it a 17-19 game.
ESPN Stats & Info outlined the historical significance of Decker's trip to pay dirt:
This is the 9th game this season in which Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker both have a TD catch, extending their NFL record.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2016
But the gunslinger's mentality Fitzpatrick has displayed throughout his career came back to bite him not long thereafter. He looked for Decker in the back of the end zone after driving all the way to the Buffalo 14-yard line. but was intercepted by Leodis McKelvin on an ill-advised throw.
ESPN.com's Rich Cimini mentioned to how well the veteran signal-caller had avoided blunders of late before the poor decision:
Fitzpatrick's worst throw in 6 weeks. Comes at the absolute worst time. Entered game with 13 TDs, 1 INT in last 5 games. #NYJvsBUF— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) January 3, 2016
Third downs went a long way in determining Sunday's outcome, as the Jets failed to convert in eight of 11 such situations, while Buffalo converted nine of 20 opportunities. This allowed the hosts to dominate time of possession (39:13), preventing Fitzpatrick and his unit from getting into a rhythm for the most part.
Standing on the sidelines for a long time and then being put in obvious passing situations against Ryan's complex schemes is hardly a recipe for success. It showed, as the Jets were unable to put enough points on the board to earn the right to play in the postseason.
The Bills' official Twitter account gave a shout to the Pittsburgh Steelers following the win:
🚨🚨🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨🚨🚨 (You're welcome, @steelers.)— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 3, 2016
Since the Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, they beat out New York for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.
Although the season ends on a sour note for the Jets, they largely exceeded expectations and have something to build on following coach Todd Bowles' first year at the helm.
Despite being out of the playoff race, Buffalo still played hard for Ryan and may well take the next step to the postseason in 2016. The talent on the roster is there to make a run, and Taylor acquitted himself well in his audition as the Bills' potential QB of the future.
Adding to the tragedy of the Jets' letdown was the fact that star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson suffered a broken leg, per Bowles, via the team's official Twitter feed.
Wilkerson is a free agent this offseason, and his injury makes his future in New York or elsewhere more difficult to predict.
After posting eight catches and 126 yards in defeat, Marshall uttered a quote that fits well into the Jets' outlook:
Ryan didn't dance around the fact he was facing the team that let him go as their head coach after last season but did pay respect to the Jets when addressing the media.
"I've got a lot of friends on the Jets and I want them to be successful but not at my expense. Proud of my team," said Ryan, per the Bills' official Twitter account.
The boss in Buffalo added he was pleased with his team's effort, saying, "There's a lot of teams that would have mailed it in. This team fought through a lot of outside negativity."
"We had fun during the week, and we had fun during the game. We came out and did what the coaches asked us to do," said Watkins of the general disposition his side had leading up and during Week 17.
Taylor said, "This win is about the attitude we're taking into next season."
The player-friendly atmosphere Ryan is reputed to create seems to be paying dividends and should have the Bills excited for next season.