Under the bright lights in a Thursday night primetime matchup, the New York Jets ended their three-game skid with an emphatic victory over the Buffalo Bills. Which players were imperative in this key divisional triumph?
Oh, optimism my good friend, how I’ve missed thee.
After three weeks of agony and dispair suffering heartbreak after excruciating heartbreak, the New York Jets were able to get back in the win column on Thursday and they did so in impressive fashion. The Jets trounced the Bills in a game in which New York controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, something that has been a major problem in recent weeks.
The running game came alive and put forth its best effort since Week 4 against Jacksonville as the team combined for 194 yards on the ground split between the healthy trio of Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, and Elijah McGuire.
On the defensive side of the ball, the front seven was in command for the majority of the game as the team came away with seven sacks and 11 quarterback hits. To put that in perspective, the team had just 11 sacks coming into the game. It seems Muhammad Wilkerson was right, sacks DO apparently come in bunches.
It seemed like a scene straight out of Freaky Friday as the two teams may have very well switched places sometime before kickoff. The Jets employed a powerful rushing attack and dominated up front on defense while the Bills struggled to get anything going on offense (be it on the ground or in the air) while committing countless stupid penalties and turning the ball over three times.
Any given Thursday, right?
That being said, what individual performances led to this game’s unexpected outcome?
Next: 5. Jordan Jenkins
5. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins
Jordan Jenkins may have very well just had the best game of his career against the Bills.
He finished Thursday’s game with two tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits, a tackle for loss, and a forced fumble. That’s quite the day for the second year outside linebacker out of Georgia who’s been a steady presence on the edge but had yet to have his breakout performance before this week’s game.
Jenkins is a solid player. He doesn’t necessarily excel in any area in particular, although his run defense would probably be his best asset. He does a nice job of setting the edge on run plays and usually performs his role in containing effectively. But the Jets have been waiting for him to come into his own as a pass rusher.
The team finally got what they had been waiting for as Jenkins exploded with a two-sack performance against the Bills. The first of which came on the Bills very first play from scrimmage and the other came in the fourth quarter and resulted in a Tyrod Taylor fumble.
The former 3rd round pick also had another solid game in run defense including one play in which he bull rushed Bills tackle Cordy Glenn into the backfield completely disrupting a stretch run to the left side and resulting in a loss of yards for Buffalo.
Inconsistency and irrelevancy have plagued the Jets outside linebackers this season, but more play like this from Jenkins will not only strengthen that unit going forward but could also help to prove that his name should be talked about more when discussing the young core of this team on defense.
Next: 4. Robby Anderson
4. Wide Receiver Robby Anderson
Robby Anderson has made it clear that he’s out to prove one thing in football: speed kills.
Honestly, where would this offense be without the playmaking potential that follows Anderson everytime he steps onto the field? He is always a deep threat lurking in the shadows ready to pounce on the one or two opportunities that come his way in the form of go-routes. Simply put, there is no other player on this Jets roster that commands the type of downfield presence that Anderson does.
Thursday’s game was no different as he recorded a touchdown catch for the third consecutive game, this time on a 25-yard pass from Josh McCown early in the third quarter to extend the Jets lead to 17-7. He used his natural speed to blow past rookie standout Tre’Davius White and a perfectly thrown ball from McCown led to a huge over-the-shoulder touchdown reception that kept the Jets rolling to start off the second half.
It’s amazing at this point that teams haven’t been able to catch on to the Jets strategy with Anderson. He’ll run his fair share of underneath patterns but he’s such a natural fit for a vertical route that it’s hard to justify him matching up one-on-one with no safety help for much of the game.
However, credit must be given to Anderson as he’s clearly worked hard to improve the other areas of his game as his release off the line of scrimmage seems a lot quicker than the start of the season, his routes look a bit more polished, and the chemistry between him and McCown is growing each and every week.
The Jets appear to have found themselves a keeper in Anderson and if he could continue to improve his play and become a more polished receiver, the sky is the limit for the undrafted man out of Temple. All of that is teachable, however. What isn’t is his physical quickness, which he already has an abundance of.
And because of that, he’s already a step ahead of the game…..and opposing cornerbacks.
Next: 3. Darron Lee
3. Linebacker Darron Lee
Darron Lee had gotten his fair share of criticism from Jets fans over the past year or so but it appears he may have finally turned a corner. After numerous weeks of steady improvement, Lee put together one of his finest games as a professional in Thursday’s victory over the Bills.
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The second-year linebacker finished with eight tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits, and two tackles for loss in a game in which he was all over the field and had minimal mistakes.
Lee has shown the ability to make splash plays over the past few weeks but has failed to demonstrate the consistency needed to be an NFL starter. In many ways, Thursday’s performance was his most complete as a Jet. He was able to limit his blunders, was excellent in run defense throughout the contest, and wasn’t picked on in the passing game, which has been his Achilles’ heel thus far.
On top of that, Lee flashed his big-play ability coming away with a sack and a couple of stops behind the line. Much like the aforementioned Anderson, Lee is a raw talent who is a stellar athlete but doesn’t quite have the nuances of the game down pat yet. He’s getting there though.
The Ohio State product is doing a better job at remaining disciplined with his assignments and is filling gaps more consistently. The play of both Lee and Demario Davis, who has also been quite good over the past few weeks, was a major reason that the team was so effective at stopping the Bills rushing attack on Thursday. LeSean McCoy was only able to muster up 25 yards on the ground as compared to the 110 he rushed for the first time these two teams met this season.
Lee has the ability to be a special player and there will likely be more speed bumps on the road ahead. But more games like this will perhaps halt the criticism for now and maybe even give him a bit of well-deserved praise.
Next: 2. The Running Game
2. The Running Game
Run the ball.
That was more or less running back Matt Forte’s message to offensive coordinator John Morton following Sunday’s loss to the Falcons in which the Jets abandoned the run early on in a game being played in a torrential downpour and may very well have paid for it with a tick in the loss column.
If Thursday’s game was any indicator: message received.
The Jets put together their most complete rushing attack since Week 4 against the Jaguars rushing for a grand total of 194 yards on 36 carries. If you factor in McCown’s rushes, the team’s run/pass ratio was 41/20, a far cry from last week’s 22/33.
Forte had his best game in quite some time rushing for his first two touchdowns of the season en route to a team-high 77 yards on 14 carries. He wanted the ball more, he got the ball more, and boy did he deliver. The veteran running back also had four receptions which tied for a team-high showing this old geezer still had something left in the tank.
Bilal Powell had himself a quiet, yet effective game rushing for 74 yards on just nine carries which included a beautiful 51-yard run reminiscent of a (dare I say it) Beast Mode-like play. Elijah McGuire even managed to contribute 30 yards of his own as the Jets deployed a three-headed rotation in the backfield.
The offensive line also deserves a lot of credit for opening up the holes necessary for the running backs to succeed. The unit certainly had its best game in quite some time and was an integral part of the team’s success on Thursday.
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If the Jets could figure out a way to have a more consistent rushing attack week-to-week, it could be a real tempo setter and allow the offense to be more balanced as a whole. Games like this are not only a showcase of the running game’s potential but also a friendly reminder that Matt Forte still has some good football left in him.
Next: 1. The Defensive Line
1. The Defensive Line
Party like it’s 2015.
That seems to be the motto of Muhammad Wilkerson as over the past few games the defensive end has looked like the 2015 Pro Bowl version of himself that finished the season with 12 sacks. Wilkerson was able to notch his first sack of the season (the first sack by a Jets defensive lineman in 2017) last week against the Falcons and followed that up with another sack in this week’s game against the Bills. Only this time he wasn’t alone.
Each of the Jets three starting defensive linemen were able to record at least part of a sack as both Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon combined for one full sack. Williams had perhaps his best game of the season as he finished with five tackles, good for fifth on the team, and was a consistent presence in the run defense all game long.
We’ll even throw rotational defensive end/outside linebacker Kony Ealy on this list as he came away with one of the team’s seven sacks. Ealy may have had a relatively quiet game but he deserves a fair amount of praise for how he’s played this year, particularly with how often he’s been able to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage.
The real stars here are Wilkerson and Williams. They received a considerable amount of criticism over the first seven weeks of the season but they appear to finally be picking up their level of play.
Wilkerson, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for how well he played this game as he’s been dealing with both a shoulder and a toe injury yet he still managed to be one of the game’s biggest impact players. While his future with the team may still be up in the air at this point, it’s certainly an encouraging sign to see him playing at such a high level for the first time in what feels like years.
The Jets defensive line was supposed to be one of its strengths going into this year and perhaps we’re finally seeing that strength show up in game. Wilkerson did insist that sacks have a tendency to come in bunches.
Consider this bunch number one.