New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss at New England

New York Jets

The New York Jets’ chronicles of futility hit a depressing new low on Sunday in New England, falling by a six-touchdown margin.

The New York Jets are undoubtedly used to coming up short against the New England Patriots. Sunday afternoon’s failure, however, sunk to new depths entirely.

New England put up a jaw-dropping 554 yards of total offense at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, scoring on all but two of their 11 possessions in a 54-13 triumph over the hapless Jets (1-5), who lost franchise quarterback Zach Wilson to a knee injury in the second quarter. Wilson was taken to the locker as the Jets scored their first touchdown of the day and did not return.

Sunday marked the Jets’ 10th straight defeat at the hands of the Patriots. The 551 yards of offense was the eighth-worst output in team history and worst since they let up 557 to San Francisco in September 1998.

ESM has three silver linings from the brutal defeat.

3rd Star: RB Michael Carter

8 receptions, 67 yards, 11 carries, 37 yards

Carter’s first NFL instance of earning triple figures in yardage will likely be forgotten in the aftermath of this ugly defeat. It’s nonetheless good to see the Jets further establishing Carter as a consistent offensive option, one that could earn further opportunities if Wilson is out for an extended period.

2nd Star: WR Corey Davis

4 receptions, 47 yards, 1 TD

For what it’s worth, Davis has turned into the Jets’ most reliable scoring option. Having scored his fourth of the season on Sunday (the first toss of backup quarterback Mike White’s career), Davis has played a role in four of the Jets’ nine touchdowns this season.

1st Star: WR Elijah Moore

1 carry, 19 yards, 1 TD, 1 reception, 13 yards

In a shocking twist, the Jets (briefly) discovered that good things can happen if they put the ball in their weapons’ hands. Denzel Mims’ chances remained limited (a six-yard reception on two targets) but the Jets tried to get the rookie Moore involved after only two balls went his way against Atlanta in London. He had only a single catch but a score on a third quarter reverse provided the Jets’ last good vibes of the day. New York magic has been relatively rare, but it was good to see the Jets try to use their weapons of the future, even if it took unconventional means.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Marcus Maye addresses trade rumors, commits to New York Jets

Set to return to the field on Sunday, New York Jets Marcus Maye addressed several happenings from an eventful time on the injury report.

This New York Jets rollercoaster drama involving a star safety appears destined for a happy ending, at least in the immediate future.

Thursday saw safety Marcus Maye speak publicly for the first time since the team announced that he injured his ankle during the Week 3 loss in Denver. The ailment has kept Maye out for the last two games but he’s set to return for the Jets’ return to action on Sunday afternoon in New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS). It’s New York’s first game since taking their mandated week off during Week 6 action.

Much has transpired while Maye recovered: when his initial diagnosis of a three-to-four week injury was announced, Maye’s agent Erik Burkhardt curiously noted that his client would be healthy by the trade deadline on Nov. 2. A February arrest for DUI was also made public, one that Maye failed to inform the Jets about in a violation of league rules.

Maye spent Thursday expressing remorse and setting the record straight. While he was unable and/or unwilling to divulge details of his conversations with the coaching staff stemming from his arrest, he apologized and said he addressed the issue with his teammates.

Time will tell what the future holds for Maye both on and off the field. His immediate prospects, however, won’t involve a change of address if he has anything to say about it.

In Thursday’s statements, Maye clarified that he never asked for a trade. As long as the NFL allows him to do so…discipline could arrive for his failure to report his arrest…he plans to do so in a New York Jets uniform.

“They know I want to be here. They know I’m 100 percent with my guys and teammates and things like that,” Maye said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “I feel like they know I’m 100 percent with those guys every time I step on the field.”

“Every time I’m in this building, I’m 100 percent. Every time I’m on the field, I’m 100 percent. I’m going to be with my guys no matter what.”

Maye brushed off the Burkhardt tweet by merely claiming he doesn’t “have control over (Burkhardt’s) phone”. The defender has been the subject of hypothetical deadline deals, as the holder of a $10.6 million franchise tag has been public about his desires to be one of the NFL’s highest-paid safeties. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Jamal Adams saga, one that ended with Adams burning every New York-based bridge he had before the Jets traded him to Seattle in the latter stages of the 2020 offseason. The primary yield was a pair of first-round draft picks, one of which was traded to Minnesota for the right to draft primary left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Maye admits that he has no control over the rumors but vowed to hand what he can handle as the Jets return to the game field.

“My duty is to play football the best as I can,” Maye said, per notes from the Jets.

To that end, Maye expressed no ill will toward the team when they bestowed a four-year extension (accompanied by a guaranteed $30 million) to fellow defender John Franklin-Myers. He instead celebrated the pass rusher’s windfall and hopes to resume talks toward his own when this season ends.

“He deserves it, he earned it, he worked hard for it. That’s my guy. I’m happy for him,” Maye said. “We’re all in different situations…I can’t control what happens to him. But I’m definitely happy for him.”

With extracurriculars set to be sidelined upon Maye’s return, the Jets (1-4) are overjoyed to be welcoming him back as a matchup with a divisional rival’s rookie sensation, Mac Jones, looms large. Through six weeks, the Jets are the only team in the NFL that has yet to earn an interception. Turnovers as a whole have been hard to come by: the Jets earned four fumble recoveries in their five pre-bye contests but half of those came in their most recent showing, a loss in London to the Atlanta Falcons.

New York management is confident that Maye’s rearrival can help further bolster what has otherwise been a pleasantly surprising defensive effort in the early going.

“He heightens everybody just with his awareness and his communication skills,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Maye, per team notes. “Although it’s the first year in the system for him, for this particular system, there’s a lot of carry over stuff that he’s done. The veteran presence, it will be big for us back there.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets at New England Patriots

John Franklin-Myers, jets

Can the New York Jets kick off their post-bye slate on the right note? ESM’s experts of green endeavors share their thoughts.

  • What: New York Jets (1-4) @ New England Patriots (2-4)
  • Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS
zach wilson, jets

Geoff Magliocchetti

Though one of the quieter games of a relatively sparse NFL Sunday (six teams are taking Week 6 off), Sunday’s AFC East divisional showdown between the Jets and Patriots showcase (an admittedly uglier case of) the unstoppable force meeting an immoveable object trope.

The Jets are coming out of a bye hoping to cling to the momentum of a decent second half against Atlanta in London, one that would’ve been flawless from a defensive perspective if not for a crucial touchdown drive allowed in the dying stages. Their hosts, the developing New England Patriots, have a prime opportunity to feast: they sandwiched an unfashionable win over the lowly Texans with highly respectable losing efforts against the NFC’s finest (Tampa Bay and Dallas). It’s certainly not the heights fans of the Flying Elvises are used to after they were spoiled by Tom Brady and Co. for nearly two decades, but it’s a sign that the franchise is heading in the right direction after last season’s meandering 7-9 effort.

Whether it’s fair or not, both the Jets and Patriots’ progress in their respective rebuilds, embarked upon under the supervision of a Western New York overlord, is going to be judged solely upon the performances of their rookie quarterbacks. Zach Wilson has shown flashes of brilliance but the British-based effort against the Falcons was undoubtedly a step backward. Mac Jones, on the other hand, has steadily improved with each passing (pun intended) week. The results have yet to make themselves known in the win column, but the proof is in the pudding of freshman statistics: the Alabama alum has found familiar footing, as he’s the top-ranked first-year passer in completion rate, yardage, rating, and touchdown passes. Turnovers have been a problem, but the Jets (the only team in the NFL without an interception) have done little to inspire the idea that they’re capable of forcing consistent, momentum-shifting turnovers.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the Jets to grow as they resume play after their week off. But there still isn’t a lot of evidence that they’re ready to compete with the middling Patriots. Despite a resilient defensive effort, they were soundly beaten by three possessions in the MetLife Stadium portion of the yearly series. The Foxboro affair should be closer…surely Wilson can’t throw four first-half interceptions again…but the Patriots have only gotten better since that September showdown.

The Patriots’ stranglehold of supremacy over their rivalry with the Jets is one of the final remnants of their dynasty; as they slowly mount a march toward another, don’t expect that to dissipate.

Patriots 27, Jets 16

John Franklin-Myers, jets

Dylan Price

This week the Jets travel to New England for their second matchup with the Patriots. The Patriots are coming off a tightly contested battle against the Cowboys this past weekend, one that ended in a heartbreaking overtime defeat. Mac Jones played a good game against America’s team going 15-for-21 for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Jones made some sloppy plays, but that’s to be expected from a rookie thrower. The killer for the Patriots was Bill Belichick getting outcoached by Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys: Belichick was too reluctant to take chances and called too conservative of a game, calls that ultimately cost his team a high-profile win.

Meanwhile, the Jets are coming off a bye and remain 1-4, but the team went into its week off on a sour note: Just when everything was thought to be clicking after Week 4 win over Tennessee, they lost in London to the Falcons.

These are two teams looking to regain some semblance of momentum. In the last meeting, Belichick had Zach Wilson looking like Nathan Peterman. I think Wilson performs better after having extra time to prepare, and the defense likely does well. But the Patriots will likely still force the Jets to shoot themselves in the foot, so I reluctantly go with New England to win this one.

Patriots 23, Jets 10

michael carter, jets

Brendan Carpenter

The Jets have had more than enough time to decompress from their subpar trip to London as they’re coming off of a bye week. They now have to travel to Foxboro to face the Patriots for the second time this season.

This could be a game where both offenses struggle and the defenses prevail. The Patriots don’t have an explosive offense and the Jets offense is…inconsistent, to say the least. To their credit, the unit has been playing somewhat better over their past few games.

If neither offense gets in a groove early, this is going to be a tight, low-scoring game. If that’s the case, homefield will play a large enough role for the Patriots to sweep the season series, no matter how much it pains me to say.

Patriots 17, Jets 14

Best of the Rest

MagliocchettiPriceCarpenter
Denver @ Cleveland (Thu.)BroncosBroncosBroncos
Atlanta @ MiamiFalconsDolphinsFalcons
Carolina @ NY GiantsPanthersPanthersPanthers
Cincinnati @ BaltimoreRavensRavensBengals
Kansas City @ TennesseeChiefsChiefsChiefs
Washington @ Green BayPackersPackersPackers
Detroit @ LA RamsRamsRamsRams
Philadelphia @ Las VegasRaidersRaidersRaiders
Chicago @ Tampa BayBuccaneersBuccaneersBuccaneers
Houston @ ArizonaCardinalsCardinalsCardinals
Indianapolis @ San FranciscoColts49ersColts
New Orleans @ Seattle (Mon.)SaintsSaintsSaints
Last Week11-310-47-7
Overall59-3559-3555-39

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
Dylan Price is on Twitter @dylanprice27
Brendan Carpenter is on Twitter @brendan_carp

Should the New York Jets look into WR N’Keal Harry?

n'keal harry, jets, patriots

Would the embattled first-round pick from New England fit into the New York Jets’ receiver evolution? ESM investigates.

Could an enemy of the New York Jets’ greatest enemy become their friend?

Wide receiver N’Keal Harry entered the NFL with a fair amount of hype as a 2019 first-round pick (32nd overall) of the New England Patriots. Fresh off three dominant seasons at Arizona State, the 6-foot-4 Harry was set to pick up where the (temporarily) retired Rob Gronkowski left off, serving as a big downfield target for Tom Brady. Alas, injuries ate away at his rookie season and he struggled to find a role in the post-Brady era.

Through two seasons, Harry has tallied 414 yards on 45 receptions, the latter tally being worst amongst first-round skill players. Those are tough numbers for the final pick of the 2019 first round, chosen before second-round standouts like A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.

It appears that Harry is looking to hit the reset button before his third season gets underway. His agent Jamal Tooson released a statement detailing their desires for a trade.

“Through two seasons, he has 86 targets, which obviously hasn’t met the expectations the Patriots and N’Keal had when they drafted a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college,” Tooson’s statement, released on Tuesday, reads in part, per ESPN. “Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That is why I have informed the Patriots today I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”

With Harry on the block, should the New York Jets inquire? ESM investigates…

The Case For Harry

What Harry could use right now is a stable situation where there’s relatively little to lose.

A change of scenery to such a locale helped fellow first-round receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo, 2014) reclaim the narrative on his NFL career. Watkins was in a bit of a different situation, as injuries derailed his career in Orchard Park. After a tough third season marred by injury, Watkins was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams and later caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. Through those destinations, Watkins rediscovered his spark as a supporting piece on a contender. By the 2019-20 postseason, he was a vital contributor to a Super Bowl run. He recently earned himself a new contract in Baltimore (one-year, $6 million)

Alas for fans of green New York football, their “nothing to lose” situation stems from no one expecting anything out of them as they prepare to write the next chapter of their rebuild anthology. But they provide what Harry appears to be looking for: opportunities and relative peace.

The Jets’ offensive revolution this offseason yielded receiving building blocks of both the rookie (Elijah Moore) and veteran (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) variety. While, on paper, Zach Wilson has a better arsenal to work with than anything granted to Sam Darnold, there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver in this group yet. Adding Harry, a receiver with something to prove, could intensify an already-firey and potentially high-octane receiver situation in New York.

Additionally, the Jets have some day three draft pieces to work around if they were to inquire about Harry. A deal for the receiver likely wouldn’t cost, say, the 2022 second-rounder gleaned from the Darnold deal with Carolina. The Jets currently own three picks in the next spring’s sixth round, the extra pair stemming from trades of Steve McLendon (from Tampa Bay) and Jordan Willis (San Francisco).

The Case Against Harry

An arsenal of receivers with something to prove sounds delightful in a relative gap year. No one expects the Jets to do much in 2021, but the year can serve as an explosive coming attraction for what’s on the horizon for the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. Davis, Moore, Cole, as well as returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims, have a chance to prove their mettle as top targets.

At what point, however, does one have too much of a good, yet uncertain, thing?

The Jets did a solid job of avoiding co-authorship on redemption stories this offseason. Attempting to ghostwrite such a tome was one (of many) reasons the Le’Veon Bell gambit didn’t work out. Sure, they brought in some potential comeback stories…such as former San Francisco rusher Tevin Coleman…but those are ones they can not only afford (Coleman’s deal is a $2 million single season) but can stage with relatively little fanfare.

The Jets have enough things to worry about as they get to work in trying to snap a playoff drought that’s by far the longest in pro football. Adding a rare Bill Belichick washout just adds unwanted attention to what they’re trying to build.

The Verdict

Trades between the Jets and Patriots are rare, but there is precedent…the recently retired Demaryius Thomas began the final stages of his NFL journey through a 2019 deal and the teams swapped picks during the 2020 proceedings. Those picks have thus far netted James Morgan, Cameron Clark, and current rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen.

That alone should probably scare the Jets off in terms of bartering with New England. But even if you’re not superstitious, the Jets’ receiver room is fine as it is. Sure, if Harry emerged as a superstar in New York…succeeding where the almighty Belichick failed…it’d be fun to leave that lingering over the heads of Patriots fans. But, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, the Jets aren’t in any position to make moves out of spite.

If the Jets were in a further position of need when it came to receiver…i.e. the early stage of last season when Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith were their top targets…it would’ve been understandable for them to rise to the occasion and send a pick or two over before Harry potentially hit the free agent market after final training camp cuts. But, frankly, Harry isn’t the Patriot they should have their eyes on. If anything, the team would be better served to try and land one of the New England backups (preferably Brian Hoyer) to serve as Wilson’s understudy and/or mentor.

Harry should find some takers, but it doesn’t make sense for the Jets to expedite the process right now.

Verdict: Pass

Should the Jets keep an eye on Harry? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets’ debut 17th game comes against Philadelphia

The first-ever 17-game regular season will feature a matchup between the New York Jets and their cross-conference green rivals.

The NFL confirmed plans to move forward with its first-ever 17-game regular season on Tuesday afternoon. League owners voted in the new change, which also trims the preseason slate from four games to three.

Under this new format, which will take effect immediately, the Jets will host a ninth home game, this debut edition coming against the Philadelphia Eagles.

A 16-game schedule had been an NFL staple since 1978, with exceptions in the strike-shortened 1982 and 1987 seasons. These newly minted extra games will apparently be interconference matchups, corresponding to the matching divisional finish with another quartet. For example, under the first year, the squads of the AFC East will battle those in their NFC equivalent.

By virtue of their fourth-place finishes, the Jets (2-14) will battle the Eagles (4-11-1) at MetLife Stadium. Division champions Washington and Buffalo will square off in Orchard Park while the Miami Dolphins will make a second visit to East Rutherford to battle their fellow runner-ups, the New York Giants. The matchups are rounded out by a battle between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots in Arlington.

The Jets and Eagles have met quadrennially since the league switched to the current eight divisions in 2002. Alas for the Jets, the matchup has proven torturous as they have lost all 11 regular season meetings, the last being a 31-6 shellacking at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019. The teams have met annually in the preseason since 2001, a get-together that has proven far more lucrative for New York, who owns a 13-6 advantage.

In further NFL news, the 2021-22 season will open on Thursday, September 9 in a game that will likely involve the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the extra game on the schedule, the playoffs will begin on January 9 with Super Bowl LVI scheduled for February 13 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The Pro Bowl is set to return after being forced to virtual settings last season, with the 2022 edition set to be held at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills’ 2021 opponents finalized after Week 16 action

The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 was finalized during Sunday’s action, as the outliers are shown to be fellow division champions.

While the Buffalo Bills are doing their best to make 2020 tolerable, it’s hard not to join the rest of the nation and look toward next year, especially with December 31 mercifully approaching.

Through a series of scenarios, the Bills’ 2021 list of opponents was finalized, primarily through the crowing of fellow division champions. The Bills are also set to face competition from the AFC South and NFC South, as well as their yearly pair against AFC East divisional competition.

ESM looks ahead at the Bills’ 2021 slate below…

Atlanta (Home)

The Bills and Falcons don’t meet often, but it’s often dramatic when they do. Five of the six most recent meetings have been one-possession games, including Atlanta’s overtime victory when they last visited Orchard Park in 2013.

Carolina (Home)

Buffalo will welcome Carolina to Bills Stadium for the second edition of the de facto Sean McDermott Bowl. McDermott’s former employers gave him a rude welcome to head coaching in the first meet-up in 2017, when the Panthers prevailed in a 9-3 win in Charlotte.

Houston (Home)

Houston’s visit will be their first since 2015, a 30-21 Bills victory. This will also be the first get-together between the teams since their instant classic wild-card showdown back in Janaury, won by the Texans in a 22-19 final.

Indianapolis (Home)

This former AFC East rivalry will mark the first time the Colts come to visit since their snow battle in December 2017. Indianapolis took home a 37-5 triumph in 2018 at home in the interim.

Jacksonville (Away)

The Bills will visit Duval County for the first time since making their playoff return in January 2018, falling 10-3 in a wild-card slugfest to a Jaguars team destined for the AFC title game. While the presumed addition of Trevor Lawrence should generate headlines, this game will also be the first showdown between Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen.

Kansas City (Away)

Could this be an AFC title game rematch come next season? Time will only tell, but hopefully, there will be less drama around its staging. The 2020 matchup between the Bills and Chiefs was initially scheduled for Fox and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package, but had to be shifted due to complications with the ongoing health crisis.

Miami (Home/Away)

The Dolphins are one of two opponents remaining on the Bills’ ongoing slate, as the team will square off in the Week 17 finale. Buffalo will be going for its second straight sweep of Miami, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2006-07.

New England (Home/Away)

Another opportunity for a divisional sweep comes on Monday night, as the Bills have a chance to truly cement their status as the new kings of the AFC East with a sweep of the eliminated Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). Buffalo’s last sweep of the Patriots came in 1999, the final year before Bill Belichick’s Foxboro-based reign of terror began.

New Orleans (Away)

The Bills have ended countless dubious streaks this season, but will have to wait until next year to conquer a demon that has been anything but The Big Easy. Buffalo has not beaten New Orleans since 1998, with the Saints winning all five meetings since.

NY Jets (Home/Away)

Will this meeting feature a new quarterback adversary for Allen instead of his offseason buddy Sam Darnold? Either way, the Bills have taken control of the rivalry, winning four of the past six meetings, including their first season sweep since 2015.

Pittsburgh (Home)

Victories over the Steelers that set off big celebrations are becoming a bit of a tradition in Western New York. The Bills clinched a playoff spot with a win in Pittsburgh in 2019 and NBC’s Sunday Night Football cameras made their first trek to Bills Stadium since 2007 to document the team’s 26-15 triumph earlier this month.

Tampa Bay (Away)

The Tom Brady nightmare isn’t over quite yet, or at least Buccaneer fans hope it won’t be. Buffalo has been one of the biggest victims of Brady’s dominance, as the arguable GOAT owns a 32-3 record against the Bills.

Tennessee (Away)

It was the delay in the Tennessee visit that caused the aforementioned rescheduling of the Bills’ meeting with the defending champion Chiefs. This will mark the fourth consecutive season to feature a showdown between the Bills and Titans, whose most recent tilt had the honor of being the NFL’s first Tuesday game in almost a decade.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills: Division clinch means everything to playoff drought leftovers

The Buffalo Bills’ AFC East title meant just a little more to Jerry Hughes and Lee Smith, the two leftovers from their lean years.

Arguing over who is most deserving of the Bills’ long-awaited division title is extraordinarily moot. The team has captured its success through a strong sense of unity and would likely scoff at such a debate. But it’s safe to say that this one might mean a little something more to Jerry Hughes and Lee Smith.

No one on the current Bills roster has played more games with a charging pair of buffalo on their helmet than Hughes and Smith, respectively serving as a defensive lineman and reserve tight end. Hughes has partaken in 103 games since coming over in a 2013 trade with Indianapolis while Smith has shown up in 80 contests over two Buffalo stints. In comparison, guard Dion Dawkins and long snapper Reid Ferguson, both 2017 arrivals, are next on the list with 62.

As the longest-tenured Bills on the roster, Hughes and Smith are the only players in Western New York to play on-field witnesses to the dryest spell in Buffalo football history: a 17-year playoff drought that becomes a distant memory with each passing week. This historic season has seen the end of many dubious steaks, including an AFC East division title drought that has stopped at a quarter-century. A good part of Hughes and Smith’s respective tenures, however, have been consumed by building those streaks, even if they personally had little to no role in the gridiron malarkey.

Hughes, for example, has been one of the more reliable veteran pass rushers in football since debuting as a first-round pick of the Colts in 2010. Since the 2012 season, only nine weeks of regular season NFL football have been played without Hughes taking the field…and that’s only because his team had a bye week. In that span, Hughes ranks in the top 25 in sacks (55), quarterback hits (120), and tackles for a loss (80). Hughes has seen his share of individual accolades as well, appearing on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players list in 2015 (No. 63).

But the lack of team success always irritated Hughes. While he partook in a pair of playoff games during his three years with the Colts, he was subjected to several frustrating seasons of football purgatory in Orchard Park. Those campaigns were often defined by wasting fast starts, such as their 5-3 opening in 2014 that led to a 9-7 campaign.

As serviceable comrades dwindled in the defensive locker room, Hughes took on the mantle of locker room leader. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier saw that brand of leadership during Buffalo’s October win over the New York Jets. Facing a strong challenge from a desperate opponent in East Rutherford, Frazier remarked that the only thing more impressive than Hughes’ play on the field was his composure off of it. The assistant coach mentioned that Hughes’ tenacious brand of defense encouraged him to raise the pressure on opponents following one-sided losses to fellow AFC contenders from Tennessee and Kansas City over the fall. It paid off in the form of an 18-10 win over the Jets, one that saw the Bills earn six sacks and allow only 191 yards.

“We didn’t talk about things that needed to be done with the D-line, it was more Jerry taking it upon himself as a leader to pull those guys together,” Frazier said, per John Wawrow of the Associated Press. “Jerry was so positive, and encouraging his teammates on the sideline. I remember saying to myself, `Man, that’s what you need out of one of your star players who’s a leader.‘”

Hughes was the headliner in the aforementioned New York victory, picking up six tackles, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. He was awarded the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week Award for his efforts.

In the fateful win in the Rockies, Hughes put a dagger in the Broncos during the early stages of the third quarter. Immediately after Buffalo build a 28-13 lead, Hughes treated Bills fans to a showcase from the past, namely from his days as a running back at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, Texas. The defender dodged five would-be tacklers from Denver to score a 21- yard touchdown, giving the Bills a 35-13 advantage. From there on out, a countdown began to commemorate the Bills’ first AFC East crown since 1996.

Eschewing expectations, Hughes’ postgame attitude mirrored his teammate’s jovial mood, but the division title has proven to be anything but gridiron nirvana for a man desperately seeking it.

“Man, it feels amazing,” Hughes said in a report from Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com, clad in a celebratory t-shirt bearing the insignia “Won Not Done. “This is something that we talked about once I got to this organization. We spoke about bringing a division championship home to Buffalo. So, it feels great to be a part of this team, the way we did it, the way Sean and Brandon Beane were able to assemble the team together and put guys in the right spot so we can be success and the results are showing.”

“I know that we’ve still got a lot more to accomplish. That’s what I like about these guys. We can enjoy a milestone and still understand that the goal is still not reached. So, I’m excited. We’re going to enjoy this tonight and then we’re going to get ready for next week.”

Hughes did enjoy at least a taste of postseason glory last season, earning a career-best three sacks during Buffalo’s playoff cameo in Houston.

Smith may be one of the lesser-heralded members of the Bills’ roster, though his impact cannot be denied. The former fifth-round pick has built a sizable career since experiencing his first NFL release before taking his first snap, bid farewell by the New England Patriots at the end of his first training camp. He partook in parts of four seasons with the Bills before signing with the Raiders in 2015. Smith was asked to rejoin the Bills in 2019 and he was quick to accept, as the tight end was drawn to a Buffalo reunion by the good vibes he drew from the organization, particularly its new direction under current owners Kim and Terry Pegula.

“Mr. and Mrs. Pegula have spared no expense around here. It’s invigorating and makes the players feel not just respected but appreciated. This place is first class,” Smith said in a 2019 episode of team program One Bills Live. “I’m all about enjoying coming to work everyday. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to make a decision of where you want to go then my thing has always been that being around good men that I want to work for.”

Smith’s modern work has mostly come through special teams participation. He did earn a one-yard score in Buffalo’s September win over the Los Angeles Rams and seemed poised to add to that tally on Saturday, but his fourth-quarter catch from Josh Allen was called back due to a penalty.

Buffalo (11-3) is still in contention for one of the top seeds in the AFC’s playoff bracket. Their next contest comes on the road against the New England Patriots next Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

VIDEO: Bills Mafia greets division champs upon return to Buffalo

Precipitation and the wee hours of Sunday morning were no match for Buffalo Bills fans welcoming their team home.

The Buffalo Bills received a welcome fit for division champions as they arrived home from Denver early Sunday morning.

A contingent of fans, many of whom appeared to adorned in masks and face coverings, braved darkness and rain to greet the Bills at Buffalo Niagara International Airport upon their return from a Week 15 win in Denver. The victory allowed the Bills (11-3) to clinch their third playoff berth over the last four seasons and their first AFC East division title since 1995.

Bills fans, known as “Bills Mafia”, have been known to gather at the airport after big victories on the road, most recently doing so when the team returned from a Sunday night win in Pittsburgh last season. Social distancing protocols in the wake of the ongoing health crisis have prevented Bills Mafia, often referred to as one of the most entertaining and passionate fanbases in the NFL, from visiting Bills Stadium in Orchard Park this season. But they apparently sought to capture the game day experience, if only for a short while, after this monumental occasion.

With games in Orchard Park staged in front of empty stands, many newcomers to the team experienced the passion of Bills Mafia for the first time.

Among the chants uttered by the crowd were “Super Bowl” and “MVP”, the latter in reference to quarterback Josh Allen, who referred to the gathering as “wild” in his Instagram story. In other social media shares, Dion Dawkins and Josh Norman documented their drive out, where some overzealous, unmasked fans get somewhat close to their open windows. Trumaine Edmunds also shared his exit, though he kept his windows up.

Despite this, many fans appeared to be masked at the event. A socially distanced viewing party of Saturday’s game, a 48-19 win over the Denver Broncos, was held at the Transit Drive-In, which also hosted a viewing of the University of Buffalo’s football tilt in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game in Detroit the night before. The Bulls fell to Ball State 38-28.

The Bills return to action next Monday night against the New England Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) before their regular-season finale in Orchard Park on January 3 against Miami.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: Buffalo Bills clinch AFC East division title

The Buffalo Bills’ Saturday win over the Denver Broncos allowed them to clinch their first division title since 1995.

After a 25-year sabbatical, AFC East supremacy is returning to Western New York.

Josh Allen tallied 392 total yards of offense, with 259 of his passing tallies going to Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. Jerry Hughes took back a fumble for a score, while Devin Singletary capped things off with a long touchdown of his own, giving the Buffalo Bills a 48-19 victory over the Denver Broncos on Saturday night in the Rockies. The victory allowed Buffalo (11-3) to capture their first AFC East division crown since 1995 and Orchard Park will likely host its first playoff game since the 1996 wild-card round. In closing yet another dubious streak, Buffalo has also won 11 games for the first time since 1999.

It’s the latest big accomplishment of the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott era, one that began back in 2017. The pair inherited one of the longest active playoff droughts in American sports, but have now made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.

Appropriately, it was the on-field cornerstones of the Beane-McDermott regime that rose to the occasion during their historic evening, launching themselves up the ledgers of Orchard Park’s record books. Josh Allen put in 392 yards and four total touchdowns, the latter tie tying him with Jack Kemp for the most ground scores by a quarterback in team history (25) and moved into the top ten amongst all rushing scorers (passing Willis McGahee and tying LeSean McCoy). The Minnesota transfer Diggs began his Week 15 exploits by breaking his with Eric Moulds for Buffalo’s single-season receptions, creating an 11-reception margin with two more games to go. Diggs wound up with 147 receiving yards, joined in the brotherhood of triple-digits by Beasley (117), who is breaking the career-highs he set in Dallas.

McDermott’s former Carolina pupil Mario Addison was a constant backfield invader on defense, while undrafted gem Levi Wallace helped hold Denver’s potent rookie receiving pair in check, with Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler combining for 23 yards on a reception each. A first-round choice, Houston’s Ed Oliver, likewise earned a sack and got an early pass breakup in. Only adding to the fairy-tale setting was Hughes’ march of glory, as one of the two leftovers from the lean years took back a Drew Lock fumble for six points. While the other, tight end Lee Smith, was denied a touchdown due to a penalty, Hughes’ six-pointer more or less kept the game in Buffalo’s control. Another Beane choice, running back Devin Singletary, put one last exclamation point, a 51-yard touchdown dash that served as the unofficial kickoff to Buffalo’s divisional title party.

The effort led to one of the biggest dominoes toppled in the Bills’ return to respectability. Buffalo has officially ended the stranglehold the New England Patriots held on the quartet, as they become the first non-New England to finish atop the four since Miami in 2008.

However, in their celebration, the partygoers made it clear: the AFC East, while spurring a celebration a quarter-century in the making, is nowhere their ultimate goal. Words weren’t even necessary to convert such a message. The Bills’ celebratory t-shirts commemorating the division title bore what’s sure to become an oft-repeated insignia: “Won Not Done”.

“(The shirt) says ‘won not done’. Everything is still in front of us,” Allen said of the slogan per Daniel Fetes of WHAM. “This just gives us an opportunity to give it a shot and that’s all we can ask for.”

“This team here, we’re on a mission,” cornerback Tre’Davious White added in a report from Jenna Callari of WKBW. “I can feel it.”

But in more jovial matters, Saturday’s victory was a strong culmination of brotherhood and perseverance. No one can deny that this is a team whose camaraderie is riding at an all-time high as the most important games of their NFL careers approach. It was a development seen in the preparation for Denver, as the Bills turned Winter Storm Gail into a battleground, partaking in a snowball fight after practice earlier this week.

Expectations will widely vary with this Buffalo squad. Some see them as the biggest threat to a budding dynasty in Kansas City. Others feel like this they should be satisfied with topping the eastern quartet, confident that they’ll be a staple on the AFC bracket for years to come.

Either way, the Bills have made it clear…whatever they do in the near future, they’ll be doing it as a family…a family that has ended some of the most dubious streaks in professional football.

“Buffalo has been waiting for this for 25 years. It’s just special. It’s just an unexplainable feeling,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said in Callari’s report. “It’s a family, a family that stays together will win, cherish, and conquer it all. This was just step one.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Saturday’s win at Denver

The Buffalo Bills departed Denver on a Rocky Mountain high, clinching an elusive division title through a dominant showing.

The Buffalo Bills are coming home for Christmas…and the playoffs as well.

Through a 48-19 victory over the Denver Broncos during the NFL’s Saturday showcase, the Bills (11-3) clinched not only their third playoff berth over the last four seasons but also their first AFC East division title since 1995. Restrictions pending, Orchard Park’s Bills Stadium is likely set to host its first postseason contest since a 1996 loss to Jacksonville in the wild-card round. Buffalo has also reached the 11-win plateau for the first time since 1999.

ESM gives out game balls for the victorious Bills…

3rd Star: DE Jerry Hughes

1 fumble recovery, 1 TD

Hughes’ fearsome size may lead to incredulousness on this end, but he got his football start as a running back at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, Texas, earning 19 touchdowns during his senior season. His ensuing time spent in Fort Worth (with TCU) and Orchard Park have rarely given him a chance to showcase his rushing talents, but Saturday’s tilt provided a welcome exception.

With Buffalo holding a 28-13 lead, they closed the book on any idea of a Denver comeback with Tre’Davious White’s sack and forced fumble of Drew Lock. Hughes picked up the loose change and athletically avoided several pursuing Broncos to put in a touchdown that took far more than the 21 yards dictated in the final box score. The 32-year-old earned the second touchdown of his career and his first since November 2014.

 

2nd Star: WR Stefon Diggs

11 receptions, 147 yards

On a historic day for Buffalo football, Diggs was sure to get his personal achievement out of the way early on. His first reception of the late afternoon allowed him to break a tie with Eric Moulds from 2002 for the most receptions in a single Bills season. With 11 grabs on the night, Diggs is likely ensuring that it will be a long time before his contemporaries even sniff his records. Diggs and Cole Beasley each broke the century mark on Saturday, uniting to earn 259 yards from Allen’s arm. Buffalo, however, may have to hold its breath when it comes to Diggs’ status moving forward. Fox Sports’ Lindsay Czarniak revealed toward the end of the game that Diggs was carted to the locker room with a foot issue, though he later returned to the sidelines before the clock let out.

1st Star: QB Josh Allen

28-for-40, 359 yards, 2 TD, 3 carries, 33 yards, 2 TD 

Allen’s success in Colorado probably shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. After all, he was perfect in terms of the scoreboard during Wyoming’s visits to Colorado State and Air Force. But, for Allen, Saturday’s business was personal. Denver previously passed on him during the early stages of the 2018 NFL Draft, choosing Bradley Chubb two picks before Allen got his call from Western New York.

In his first visit to Mile High, Allen showed a Broncos team at a crossroads when it comes to their franchise quarterback exactly what they were missing. He was responsible for four touchdowns on his own, two each of the aerial and ground variety, and racked up 392 total yards. Technically speaking, Allen was more or less the culprit behind six scores, but the latter couple was wiped out due to penalties. His rushing scores carried historic importance on the Buffalo landscape: he not only tied Jack Kemp for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (25) but also passed Willis McGahee to move into the top ten in the rushing score category tying Kemp and LeSean McCoy.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags