Rex Ryan’s unstated message to the Jets in their regular-season finale Sunday was obviously, “Chill!”
With their second straight playoff appearance secured, the Jets not only chilled, but conquered as Ryan rested his key players while the rest of his crew shredded lowly Buffalo 38-7.
Running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, and cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie all sat inactive. So did safety Eric Smith, as all anticipated their playoff road show as AFC's sixth seed at 11-5.
And Mark Sanchez, his right shoulder still aching, played all of one series, and was not allowed to throw a pass. Instead, he handed off nine times to third-string back-turned-starter Joe McKnight, and came off the field for Brad Smith on third down.
Meanwhile, a defense that was missing pieces, but none of its aggressiveness, intercepted Bills quarterbacks Brian Brohm and Levi Brown four times, and recovered two fumbles to help the Jets expand on a 17-7 third-quarter lead.
By the Jets’ second possession, left-handed veteran backup Mark Brunell had replaced Sanchez. But the Sanchez-Smith arrangement actually worked quite well, as McKnight and Smith led the Jets into position for Nick Folk’s opening 28-yard field goal after Bills receiver Steve Johnson lost a fumble at the Jets 10. Like Sanchez, Smith didn’t throw a pass, either. Instead, he ran keepers of 40 and 20 yards to position Gang Green for a 3-0 lead.
The Jets didn’t throw a pass until Brunell tried to find Jerricho Cotchery on his second play from scrimmage.
The defense, sparked by a huge pass rush, pushed that lead to 10-0 in the second quarter as Marquice Cole picked off Brohm’s pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
Santonio Holmes’ touchdown catch with 15 seconds remaining in the half pushed the lead to 17-0.
Ryan had kept his defensive front intact, and that move also paid off. Pace had a big game, sacking Brohm once, hitting him several other times, batting down a pass and making his second career interception.