A familiar foe awaits the New York Jets in their return to action, as they’ll face the Buffalo Bills for the second straight kickoff weekend.
What: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Where: Bills Stadium, Orchard Park, NY
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
It will be deja vu all over again on Sunday afternoon for the New York Jets. For the third time in four seasons, the Jets will open their regular season proceedings against the Buffalo Bills.
Special, unusual circumstances hover over this particular meeting, however. Not only will fans be barred from entering Bills Stadium, in conjunction with COVID-19 protocols, but this will be the first time the teams are facing off against a squad in different-colored equipment. Training camp scrimmages and preseason games were put on hold as the NFL navigated its offseason through the ongoing health crisis.
“In preseason games you kind of have that feeling of, okay, this is live. I can get sacked here and things can happen and I can escape the pocket without the whistle being blown so now that it is the real deal, kind of another feeling out process,” Jets quarterback Sam Darnold remarked in transcripts from the Jets. “In the offseason, you try to simulate live reps and all that with coaches with noodles or with different things to throw out you. You try to simulate things like that, but there’s nothing like a guy who’s trying to tackle you. It’s just going to be going out there on Sunday and I think the first couple series, we’ll start to get back into a groove, especially just speaking for myself, if I get hit a couple of times, I feel like I’ll start to get back into it a little bit.”
The Jets (7-9) are coming off their best win tally since 2015, but matching that output might be a tall task with several key contributors from last season having either moved on (Jamal Adams) or opting out of the 2020 proceedings entirely (C.J. Mosley). Players from both sides of the ball are set to make their debuts, including a completely revamped blocking unit headlined by the arrival of Mekhi Becton, the 11th overall pick of April’s draft. Darnold’s top targets have likewise been adjusted, with second-round choice Denzel Mims on pace to man the receiving corps alongside veteran arrival Breshad Perriman. Adam Gase will also enter his second season as head coach of the Jets.
Meanwhile, the Bills (10-6) have been pegged by many as AFC contenders after reaching 10 wins for the first time since 1999. The Bills reached the playoffs for the second time in three seasons back in January, falling in overtime to the Houston Texans in the wild-card round. Buffalo’s offense is headlined by young talents Josh Allen and Devin Singletary, while All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White returns after inking a $70 million contract extension. Buffalo is coached by Sean McDermott, who has earned a 25-23 record over three seasons with the team.
This will be the 120th meeting between the Jets and Bills, a showdown that dates back to 1960. Buffalo leads the all-time set by a 63-56 tally. Sunday also marks the third time over the last four seasons that the Jets and Bills have met on opening weekend.
The Bills won last year’s debut in a 17-16 final at MetLife Stadium. Buffalo made up a 16-0 deficit in the second half, their comeback completed with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Allen to John Brown. The Jets built their lead through Mosley’s interception return for a touchdown and a nine-yard Darnold hook-up with Le’Veon Bell. New York would close the year with a 13-6 win in Orchard Park during the final week of the regular season, taking advantage of resting Bills starters. Darnold and Jamison Crowder united for the only touchdown of the day on a one-yard pass.
The Jets and Bills have split their yearly pair in each of the past three seasons.
History Happens: 2002
Overall, the Jets and Bills have met in Week 1 a dozen times, with Jets leading 8-4 in the subset. The 2002 get-together was one for the literal record books as the Jets’ 37-31 victory was earned through what was then the fastest overtime in NFL history.
Buffalo tied the game with 26 seconds left in regulation on a Drew Bledsoe touchdown pass to Eric Moulds but the Jets immediately put the concept of momentum aside. Chad Morton took the ensuing overtime kickoff back 96 yards, ending the extra period only 14 seconds in. It was the second kickoff return of the game for Morton, who currently serves as the running backs coach in Seattle.
They Said It
“We try to put our players in the best position possible. So, when guys do go down, when we do have some kind of change, we can’t flinch as coaches, we just adjust what we’re doing. We do everything we can to put those guys in the best position possible. Sometimes it’s through trial and error, sometimes it’s, ‘Hey prove to us that you either can do something or you can’t.’ That comes through the entire time of training camp.”–Adam Gase on the “next man up” philosophy, per Jack Bell
“We went through the (scouting) process with Sam. I have a lot of respect for Sam and his work and who he is. As you look at him, he’s mobile, he does a good job in the pocket (and) he does a good job getting them in and out of checks at the line of scrimmage based on the looks he’s presented with. So, he looks like a young quarterback with a lot of upside.”–Bills head coach Sean McDermott on Sam Darnold, per Eric Allen
Matchup To Watch
T Mekhi Becton vs. DE Jerry Hughes
The Jets were likely among the teams most affected by a lack of preseason games. Four consequence-free opportunities would’ve been a good chance for a completely rebooted offensive line to build some chemistry. Individually, Becton could’ve gotten used to the pace and surroundings of an NFL environment.
Becton has yet to play a single down in green, but he already holds an unerasable place in team history. If he succeeds, and the Jets’ offense enjoys a much-needed wake-up call, Becton will go down in the same sentence as D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. If his NFL career doesn’t pan out the way the Jets are hoping, the ever-prevalent hindsight of football fans and draft enthusiasts everywhere will question why the Jets didn’t go for one of the talented receivers available to them at No. 11. A quartet of game-paced scrimmages would’ve been a good way to start his professional career.
The Louisville alum will immediately be thrown into the NFL fire. Attacking Darnold’s blind side will be Hughes, the talented pass rusher out of TCU. In his last outing, Hughes sacked Deshaun Watson three times in a playoff game. He’s earned 51.5 sacks over an NFL career that’s about to hit a decade. He owns a career-best 43 tackles, including 10 for a loss, against the Jets. Thus, Becton has no opportunity for a “training day” afforded to countless rookies before him.
The lack of preseason games has also appeared to affect Hughes as well, as he’s had no opportunity to see Becton work in the New York offense.
“It kind of feels a little bit like college-esque in the sense of there’s no preseason games to go off of,” Hughes explained to Maddy Glab of BuffaloBills.com. “Some guys don’t even have NFL tape, so you’re pulling up things from the archives of what they did a year or two ago in college. It’s kind of eerie being in this position just because we’ve always had the preseason games to kind of catch our bearings, catch our breath and get into the whole game flow.”
The Jets Will Win If…
The lack of preseason game preparation doesn’t come back to haunt them.
Shortening or eliminating preseason games has been proposed even in “normal” times, but Gase has been a rare voice against the concept. The Jets are a team with many newcomers, both rookies and veterans alike, and they could’ve used an opportunity to build chemistry in what could well be a trying season. Teams like Buffalo are relatively set due to their sense of continuity and relatively little turnover at the top of the depth chart. Even with expanded playoff capital in the AFC, it’s going to be a tall task to ask the Jets to reach the playoffs. Getting some good wins, especially against divisional opponents filled with hope and expectations, would help a tricky season go by a lot smoother.
The Bills Will Win If…
They avoid the trap.
Almost everyone’s preseason darling has emerged from Buffalo. But how many preseason Super Bowl champion have we seen fall into oblivion once the real games get going? The “Dream Team” edition of the Philadelphia Eagles certainly comes to everyone’s mind. The Bills are so eager to be known as the Empire State’s team and they would be wise to take advice bestowed to one of the state’s most famous fictional residents: with great power, comes great responsibility. Buffalo is in a spot where they’re the team that’s in the best spot to pick up where New England left off. Thus, they’re already in a position to play trap games. The Patriots built their sterling reputation by dominating subpar divisional competition. If the Bills truly want to take over, they need to handle affairs in winnable games.
Sunday could be the start of something extraordinary. Jets-Bills has never truly been must-see, prime time television, but there’s a prime opportunity for the yearly pair to become one of the NFL’s strongest rivalries. Both teams need to take care of their business and win games for the rivalry to truly flourish, but the New York factor and the battle of 2018 draftees under center could make a premiere matchup in the coming years.
The Jets could take advantage of Buffalo’s most unusual trap game scenario. To bring up the lack of August football factor again, we could see some sloppy football in the early stages of the year. Such surroundings tend to favor the underdog. But asking the Jets to win their first game with mostly new personnel is going to be a tall task without the proper game-pace preparation. The time the favored Bills spend getting their game legs back could allow the Jets to keep pace, but asking for a win is simply too tall a task at this point in time.
Bills 19, Jets 13
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags