ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The list of disappointments for Nick Mangold is as long as it is gloomy, be it playoff losses or regular season implosions. But even by the veteran center’s standards, what happened in the final game last season was close to the top.
As the reality sunk in after a loss to the Bills, Mangold stood in the middle of the Jets’ locker room, his red-rimmed eyes welling with tears. Mangold patiently answered questions after the game, waiting until all inquiries were done. He then walked out of the room, head bowed in despondency.
“There was no one in that locker room that would have ever expected that outcome, and it was very frustrating,” Mangold said. “I’ve had some rough times, we missed [winning] two AFC [Championship] Games, 4-12 [in 2014] was a terrible experience.”
And where did last year’s loss, which knocked the Jets out of the playoffs, rank for the 11-year veteran?
“It’s definitely up there,” Mangold said. “I mean, it’s pretty depressing to rank things like that. It’s like, let me rank all the bad breakups I’ve had with girls that have broken my heart. No one wants to do that.”
It was therefore entirely understandable that Mangold came into Thursday night’s rematch with the kind of resolve he expressed earlier this week. With a chance to wipe away some of the bad taste from last year’s game, Mangold felt confident the Jets would put together a more respectable performance than the one that doomed the team’s season a little more than eight months ago. Throw in the fact that the Jets couldn’t find a way to beat the Bengals in the regular season opener on Sunday, and the motivation was perhaps a bit higher than usual.
“You look at it objectively, if we get touchdowns in the red zone [against the Bengals], it’s a different ballgame,” Mangold said. “It’s a short week, so you really don’t have time to think back on anything, because you’ve got to cram a whole week’s worth of preparation into two or three days.”
“I think in the outside world, you have plenty of time to sit there and think about it,” he said. “But in our world, it’s bang, bang, bang. You’ve got to get moving and you can’t dwell on the game, win or lose. It’s not like you can celebrate the win until Tuesday and try to play on Thursday night. And you can’t beat yourself up for a loss until Tuesday and try to figure out how to win on Wednesday. It’s something that’s unique to Thursday night games. But I feel good about what we can do.”
The Jets certainly started off impressively enough Thursday night, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit on Marquise Goodwin’s 84-yard touchdown catch over Darrelle Revis and taking a 20-10 lead into halftime. The offense was mostly crisp, although there were two more red zone failures, both of which ended with curious play calls by offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
He had quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick try shovel passes and both times the Bills snuffed it out and forced field goals from Nick Folk. But Fitzpatrick began to unwind as the half progressed, and he directed two touchdown drives in the second quarter. The first ended with Matt Forte’s 1-yard scoring run, and Fitzpatrick hit Eric Decker in the end zone for the other score to make it 20-7.
It was a promising start for Fitzpatrick, who melted down in the fourth quarter of last year’s loss by throwing three interceptions. Like Mangold, Fitzpatrick had expressed confidence during the week that the Jets’ offense could regain its rhythm.
“You just want to go out there and show everybody what kind of team we have,” he said.
But things unraveled quickly, as the Jets allowed a long touchdown pass and a fumble return for touchdown, as the Bills went ahead, 24-20.
Fitzpatrick did everything except the most important thing last year, producing his career-best statistics with 31 touchdown passes, a franchise record, yet falling short at the end. His poor play against Rex Ryan’s Bills meant that he missed a chance to go to the playoffs for the first time.
It was also the latest in a series of miserable performances against defenses coached by Ryan; the loss dropped Fitzpatrick’s record to 1-8 when facing Ryan as either a head coach or defensive coordinator.
“Rex’s defenses over the years, the thing about them is they’re so multiple, so it’s changed a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s gotten a little bit different based on personnel. When he’s here versus when he’s there, and year to year, you see differences too. I just think he’s a smart coach. He does a good job.”
Ryan got the best of Fitzpatrick twice last year, giving the quarterback even more impetus to improve his play and put the Jets in a better position on Thursday night. There is little margin for error, especially with the Jets’ early-season schedule posing such a challenge. Five of their first six opponents qualified for last year’s playoffs, and the other team was Buffalo.
The stakes weren’t nearly as big Thursday night as they were last January, but it was about as big an early-season game as you could expect, given the circumstances.
“It’s an important one for us,” Fitzpatrick said. “It always is, but it’s a division game, we’re 0-1, and we’re trying to get that bad taste out of our mouth from Sunday.”