ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Jets knew it was coming. They knew their offense had weaknesses it couldn’t address. And they knew that the Bills, for all their faults, had big threats they needed to contain.
“Back to the drawing board,” Todd Bowles said Sunday after the Jets’ 21-12 loss, a result that most people predicted and that no drawing board really seems suited to prevent.
But here’s the rub: Everyone expected the offense to be this bad, especially early. But no one really predicted that the defense would struggle so much against misdirection, and that linemen Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson would be so toothless against LeSean McCoy. Or that the rest of the unit, which is supposed to carry this team to wherever it can go in a rebuilding year, would be one of the biggest liabilities on opening day.
And so whenever McCoy wasn’t cutting and weaving and hitting that back-side gap, Tyrod Taylor was scrambling and moving the ball. And the Jets’ defense made the Bills look like a team that has more than two big offensive weapons (they don’t). Williams had one tackle, Wilkerson had two, and both lamented the lack of discipline that let Buffalo get 23 first downs. The Jets had 11 and didn’t get their first until the second quarter.
“There were a lot of missed assignments,” Bowles said. “They’re surprising because it’s guys that have been here. If we can’t run the ball and can’t stop the run, we’re going to have a problem.”
McCoy ran 22 times for 110 yards. Taylor was 16-for-28 for 224 yards and two touchdowns, with eight rushes for 38 yards.
The Bills made a number of big plays, including Taylor’s 35-yard pass to tight end Charles Clay, who also scored the opening TD, a 1-yard catch. Propelled by McCoy’s 23-yard run, the Bills went 77 yards in 12 plays. Clay pushed off rookie safety Marcus Maye near the end zone and Taylor hit him on an out route for a 7-0 lead with 11:26 left in the second quarter.
Josh McCown completed 26 of 39 for 187 yards and two interceptions (two incompletions were drops by Matt Forte). Bilal Powell led the ground attack with a scant 22 yards on seven carries. In his Jets debut, Jermaine Kearse proved to be a quick study and McCown’s favorite target (seven catches, 59 yards).
“We were just trying to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, and we had one week to get six new guys in our offense caught up,’’ said Kearse, who was traded from Seattle on Sept. 1. “And I’m not using that as an excuse, but I do see positives out of that as we get going.”
The Jets actually kept it close until the fourth quarter, thanks to Chandler Catanzaro. The former Cardinal made field goals of 48 and 52 yards to draw the Jets within 7-6 with 1:44 left in the first half. But the Bills dismantled the Jets’ defense in the third quarter. Taylor threw a short pass to Jordan Matthews, who blew past Buster Skrine’s missed tackle for 47 yards to the 17. Taylor scrambled 14 yards to the 1, and he faked a handoff to McCoy before an easy pass to Andre Holmes made it 14-6 with 6:55 left.
The Jets scored their TD with 2:06 left in the third quarter on McCown’s 1-yard sneak. It was facilitated by passes of 8 and 21 yards to tight end Will Tye, who took over for an injured Eric Tomlinson (elbow). McCown went for the two-point conversion but was picked off, keeping it at 14-12.
The good feelings didn’t last long. McCoy made the defense look silly (again) on the very next possession, going up the middle and stutter-stepping downfield for 27 yards to the 26. Four plays later, the Bills scored on Mike Tolbert’s 1-yard run.
“They ran exactly what we thought they would,” Williams said. “We watched them on film, we know they run lateral, we know Shady McCoy hits the back side on the run plays. We know Tyrod can create plays with his legs.
“[We need] more discipline, it’s what I’ve been saying. All it takes is one guy to jump out of the gap, not do their job, just one play, and that creates big plays on their side, on the other side of the ball.”
They knew what was coming but couldn’t stop it. It’s a brutal Week 1 theme, but it’s one this young team might have to get used to.