Jets save season with stifling D, strong running game
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Muhammad Wilkerson challenged the New York Jets’ defense to hold the Buffalo Bills to 60 yards rushing. Steve McLendon thought 80 would be more realistic.
The two D-linemen compromised and settled on 70 — and then went out and got the job done.
The Jets kept the Bills to just 63 yards on the ground, including 25 on 12 carries by LeSean McCoy, in an impressive 34-21 victory Thursday night. It was a glimmer of what New York has been hoping to see all season from its beleaguered defense.
“Mo, after the last game, brought us all up and said, ‘This isn’t who we are going to be. This isn’t us,’” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He said, ‘We have to keep fighting. We have to stop messing around, and we have to finish.’”
After blowing fourth-quarter leads in their last two games, the Jets (4-5) snapped a three-game skid by making big plays on defense and harassing Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor all night. New York came in second-to-last in the NFL with just 11 sacks through the first eight games. The Jets had seven in this one, including two by Jenkins.
“We’ve got a high ceiling,” said defensive end Leonard Williams, who got his first half-sack of the season. “We showed we can get takeaways, we showed we can get sacks, we showed we can stop the run. This is our first game putting it all together in a complete game.
“I feel like now that we showed it and put in on film, we’ll definitely challenge ourselves to keep progressing.”
Add in a rejuvenated running game that rumbled for 194 yards just four days after Matt Forte complained about offensive coordinator John Morton not sticking to the run, and New York might just be able to stick around in the AFC playoff hunt.
“The defense was lights out,” said quarterback Josh McCown, who threw for 140 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score. “They set the tone getting stops. We went three-and-out that first drive and we were committed to running it and we showed it.”
Here are some other things to know from the Jets’ victory over the Bills:
THUMBS DOWN ON THURSDAYS: Buffalo guard Richie Incognito made it clear that he’s no fan of the short work week.
“It’s tough man. These Thursday night games (stink),” he said. “They throw a wrench in our schedules. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to do this. As physical as this game is and as much work and preparation that goes into this, to force us to play games on four-day weeks is completely unfair and ... the league makes money off it and that’s all they care about anyway.
“We just keep trucking, we have a tough group of guys in this locker room, and back to the drawing board and back to Buffalo.”
COOL RUNNING: New York had just 43 yards on 22 carries in its 25-20 loss to Atlanta on Sunday in rain-soaked conditions. That prompted Forte, who gained 7 yards on four attempts, to criticize Morton for not sticking to the run-heavy game plan.
Well, no complaints after this one.
Forte had a season-high 77 yards on 14 carries, Bilal Powell ran for 74 yards on nine attempts and rookie Elijah McGuire added 30 yards on 13 rushes.
“We had some difficulties and frustrations, and on a short week, addressed them on Monday,” Forte said. “And to come out on a Thursday and run the ball like we did and throw the ball like we did as well, we did a great job. Kudos to coach Johnny Mo for sticking with the run, like he said he’d do.”
SHUT DOWN SHADY: McCoy ran for 110 yards in the teams’ first meeting, Buffalo’s 21-12 victory in Week 1. He also had five catches for 49 yards.
The Jets made him a non-factor this time around, with his 25 yards being his second-lowest rushing total this year. McCoy was also held without a catch for the first time this season.
“They beat us down,” McCoy said.
DON’T LET IT LINGER: The Bills had won four of their last five to start turning some doubters into believers.
But they struggled all night in pass protection, running the ball and with their discipline. While no one was saying they should forget what happened, the message throughout the locker room was to not allow the loss to poison the rest of the season.
“I don’t think this is who we are,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “It’s about pride and how we approach the game. You’ve got to be strong in your fundamentals and we weren’t tonight.”
Taylor likes where the Bills stand at 5-3 in what looks like a wide-open AFC wild-card race.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said. “Tonight definitely was a challenge for us and we didn’t step up. As a team, we have a choice to make and I think we will make the right steps and move forward.”
NO KELVIN: The Bills opted to deactivate wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who they acquired Tuesday from Carolina. Benjamin, in his third NFL season — he sat out 2015 with an injury — is expected to be a starting wideout when he’s ready.
“You don’t want to put a guy out there who isn’t ready,” Taylor said. “It was a smart move.”
Coach Sean McDermott wouldn’t speculate when Benjamin might be ready, but the Bills are off until Nov. 12, when they face New Orleans.
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