It has become the dominant theme of the past month, a one-word mantra the Jets have repeated on a daily basis, only to show an inability to deliver on game day: Finish.
They failed in a 24-17 loss to the Patriots in a game that was there for the taking.
And again in Miami when Josh McCown was at his best with three touchdown passes before throwing a game-deciding interception as the Jets lost, 31-28, after leading 28-14.
And once more last Sunday against the Falcons, who pulled away at rain-swept MetLife Stadium for a 25-20 win.
There was another chance on Thursday night against the Bills, a chance to finally produce a knockout blow and beat a credible opponent. And this time the Jets delivered.
Playing their finest game of the season when they needed it most, the Jets dominated the Bills, 34-21, at MetLife Stadium after building a 34-7 lead. They breathed new life into a season that had threatened to unravel after those three demoralizing losses.
They were efficient on offense with a smart mix of run and pass and finally put together the kind of dominant defensive performance they had talked about for so long yet had failed to produce. Until now.
Two months after a woeful defensive effort in a 21-12 loss at Buffalo in the regular-season opener, the Jets (4-5) looked as good as they had all season. This time it was a start-to-finish effort that left the visitors stunned; a Bills team that entered the game 5-2 was completely overmatched.
“Obviously, when you’re coming off a three-game skid that we were in — especially the manner in which those games were lost — to close this one out, albeit a little shaky, it’s a great feeling,” said quarterback Josh McCown, who passed for one touchdown and ran for another. “It’s a good win for us.”
Coach Todd Bowles hopes it can become a learning experience for later in the season.
“You always learn from them, hopefully,” he said. “We have resilience, because we came out and played [well] tonight. You have to put ’em behind you. If you don’t learn anything from [the losses], you’re going to keep making the same mistakes. We made the same mistakes for three weeks.”
Not on this night, though.
The Jets set the tone in the first half, erupting for five sacks of Tyrod Taylor and, just as importantly, containing a rushing attack that had produced 190 yards in the opener. LeSean McCoy had only 30 yards on seven carries in the first half. Taylor didn’t hurt them on the ground, either, rushing once for 18 yards and finishing the half with one touchdown drive.
McCoy finished with only 25 rushing yards on 12 carries. The Jets flipped the script from Week 1 and ran for 194, including Matt Forte’s 77-yard, two-touchdown outing.
It was the kind of performance receiver Jermaine Kearse had expected from his team — even in the face of first-half struggles that left the Jets at 3-5 after those three straight losses.
“I look at us, and we’re not far off,” the 27-year-old receiver said earlier in the week. “It just takes doing the little things right. Once we can correct that stuff, I really, truly believe we can flourish.”
That may have sounded like a counterintuitive assessment about a team that was coming off three straight losses, especially from a player who already had won a Super Bowl and been to another with the Seahawks. But Kearse insisted that his enthusiasm about the Jets is neither misplaced nor misguided.
“We’re still learning as we go, and that’s not an excuse,” said Kearse, who entered with 29 catches for 342 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. He had two catches for 38 yards Thursday night.
“I hate to say that, because at the end of the day, we want to win football games, and everybody feels that way. But as I look at us, we’re still in the process of learning how to win, learning how to win consistently, learning how to finish.”
This time they finished.