New York Jets: Grading Week 4’s win vs. Tennessee

The New York Jets got back in the win column for the first time in 271 days on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.

New York Jets 27 (1-3)

Top Offensive Performer: QB Zach Wilson (21-of-34, 297 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT)
Top Defensive Performer: DL John Franklin-Myers (4 tackles, 3 QB hits, 2 TFL, 1 sack)
Top Specialist: Ret. Braxton Berrios (3 total returns, 56 yards)
Up Next: Sunday vs. Atlanta (@ London) (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network)

Tennessee Titans 24 (2-2)

Top Offensive Performer: RB Derrick Henry (33 carries, 157 yards, 1 TD)
Top Defensive Performer: LB Harold Landry III (7 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Top Specialist: K Randy Bullock (3-of-4 FG, long 46)
Up Next: Sunday @ Jacksonville (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

Offense: B+

The stage was set for the Jets’ offense to sink to its traditional depths: they were unable to gain traction in the run game, Zach Wilson was forced into another interception blemish when Corey Davis was swallowed up by the MetLife Stadium turf, and they faced an early two-possession deficit. On their first 10 plays, the Jets mustered a mere 15 yards.

But enough can’t be said about the Jets’ offensive resiliency on Sunday, which helped permanently changed the course of the game on a crucial third down conversion where he found Corey Davis to wipe out a ten-yard obstacle. The Jets finally earned a first half touchdown eight plays later when Michael Carter earned his original NFL score from a yard out. Strong defensive efforts have kept the Jets in games throughout the season. On Sunday, the offense finally rewarded those efforts.

Wilson’s resilience was particularly inspiring, especially considering the depths his infantile NFL career has forced him into over the first three weeks. His adaptation to the Tennessee pressure showcased the rebirth of his ability to roll out and throw on the run, which was prominent in Provo but left somewhat forgotten after a stagnant preseason in the pocket. After the interception that came via a Davis error, Wilson completed 19-of-29 passes for 291 yards and two scores, good for a 121.5 passer rating in the later stages of the afternoon.

“You get a little ball rolling, you get a little bit of confidence, and it starts to snowball,” head coach Robert Saleh said of Wilson, per notes from the Jets. “He showed everything that we see in practice we see it all and the kid was outstanding.”

In an addition to the resiliency factor, Davis recovered from two early mistakes (the fallen route and a self-recovered fumble) to showcase the deep ball, big play skills that led the Jets to bestow him an expensive contract last spring. The Jets also immediately benefitted from the return of Jamison Crowder, who helped open more opportunities for Davis and became Wilson’s top option in the second half (6 receptions, 58 yards, including the score and an 11-yard red zone output that set up the eventual winning field goal in overtime). Despite the problems in generating ground traction (Carter, Ty Johnson, and Tevin Coleman united for 58 yards on 20 carries), the offensive line allowed only one sack of Wilson.

The unit still has plenty to work on: if there was anything to be upset about, Saleh seemed to be a bit miffed by the fact the Jets weren’t able to immediately finish the game via touchdown in the extra session. But Sunday marked one of the Jets’ most complete offensive efforts in a long time. Now comes the hard part: building on this momentum so Wilson’s big play antics become routine.

Defense: A-

The Jets’ garish opening efforts on the scoreboard masked some valiant work from a defense that played the hands it has been dealt very well. Such endeavors were finally recognized against the Titans.

Week 4 should’ve gotten out of hand after the Jets’ horrifying first ten plays: an opening three-and-out allowed Tennessee to start at its own 43. The aforementioned interception, landing in the hands of Kristian Fulton, situated them only 32 yards away from six points. For all intents and purposes, the game should’ve been over then and there.

But the defense once again kept the Jets in the game, primarily through a pass rush that looks absolutely spectacular considering Carl Lawson’s noticeable season-long absence. Gang Green’s defense took down Ryan Tannehill seven times on Sunday, their best output since a November 2017 prime time game against Buffalo. The John Franklin-Myers Pro Bowl campaign began in earnest on Sunday as he spent almost as much time in the Titans’ backfield as Derrick Henry.

Though it comes with the asterisk of missing out on the A.J. Brown/Julio Jones experience, the Jets’ makeshift secondary continued to work wonders. Cornerback Bryce Hall handled both his blitz and coverage duties, tallying two pressures and allowing only two completions when his assignments were targeted. The Jets lost Brandin Echols to a late injury but undrafted replacement Isaiah Dunn held down the fort well in his absence.

The Jets also continue to enjoy the fraternal antics of Quincy and Quinnen Williams. Quincy had a dozen tackles, including two for a loss, none bigger than an open-field tackle on the renowned Derrick Henry on a fourth down in the fifth period. Though the first down was earned, the denial of extra yardage resigned the Titans to rely on potential big plays downfield without Brown and Jones, the eventual endgame being a missed 49-yard field goal that ignited the metropolitan celebration. The younger Quinnen kept his breakout rolling with two sacks, having earned 3.5 over the last two weekends.

How can one reward such a high grade when giving up 24 points, even in an overtime effort? The answer lies in Henry, who managed to do the things expected of him on Sunday (177 total yards). While Henry’s abilities nearly derailed the Jets’ comeback efforts (much like his fellow elite running back Christian McCaffrey did during kickoff weekend in Charlotte), the defense (particularly the pass rush) did enough to force Tennessee to consider its non-Henry options. Strong efforts all afternoon allowed the Jets to take the ball out of Henry’s hands when it mattered most: the renowned rusher touched the ball only three times on the Titans’ ill-fated 13-play drive in overtime.

Special Teams: B

The Jets continue to tread water in the punter’s role with Thomas Morestead (46.2 average on six attempts) still filling in for Braden Mann. They also had to overcome a silly 15-yard fair catch interference penalty from specialist ace Justin Hardee in the crucial stages of the fourth quarter, though the defense was able to bail them out through a turnover on downs in the red zone.

Even if Ammendola’s triples (from 22 and 27 yards out) weren’t anything out of the ordinary, the continued consistency and stability in the kicker’s role are certainly welcome after waddling through the post-Jason Myers landscape. Braxton Berrios (in addition to tallying 15 yards on two instances of offensive trickery) also strengthened his stranglehold on the team’s return duties, earning at least 14 yards on all three of his returns.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: 3 stars from Sunday’s win vs. Tennessee

It took all 60 minutes and then some, but the New York Jets earned their first win of the season in an overtime thriller over Tennessee.

New York Jets fans waited four weeks for their first win of the 2021 season…a nearly ten-minute extension was nothing.

Zach Wilson threw for 297 yards and two touchdown passes in conjunction with a strong defensive effort that was able to withstand 157 rushing yards from Derrick Henry en route to a 27-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. It’s the first win for both Wilson and Jets head coach Robert Saleh, as well as the Jets’ first over triumph since December 2020.

New York (1-3) earned seven sacks of Ryan Tannehill, their best output since a November 2017 showdown with Buffalo. The Jets erased an early 9-0 lead built through Randy Bullock’s field goals to earn the fateful triumph, as Wilson found Jamison Crowder (making his season debut) and former Titan Corey Davis to give the Jets a lead in the final frame.

Though Tennessee tied it on a Ryan Tannehill touchdown pass to Cameron Batson with 19 seconds to go in regulation, the Jets eternally secured the lead in overtime through a 22-yard field goal from Matt Ammendola. The defense then forced Bullock into a missed 49-yarder with 15 ticks left in the extra session to send East Rutherford into hysterics.

With their first victory in hand, the Jets will now head overseas to battle the Atlanta Falcons in London next Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network).

ESM has three game balls to bestow from a memorable win at MetLife…

Honorable Mentions

  • WR Corey Davis: 4 receptions, 111 yards, 1 TD
  • WR Keelan Cole: 3 receptions, 92 yards
  • WR Jamison Crowder: 7 receptions, 61 yards, 1 TD
  • LB C.J. Mosley: 13 tackles, 1 sack
  • LB Quincy Williams: 12 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
  • CB Bryce Hall: 5 tackles, 3 PD, 0.5 sacks
  • CB Javelin Guidry: 10 tackles
  • LB Bryce Huff: 1.5 sacks
  • RB Michael Carter: 13 carries, 38 yards, 1 TD
  • WR/Ret. Braxton Berrios: 2 carries, 15 yards, 3 total returns, 56 yards

3rd Star: QB Zach Wilson

21-of-34, 297 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

Wilson broke away from the gridiron cesspool that the rookie quarterback class of 2021 stumbled into. Things threatened to spiral out of control when another “unearned run” hit the board (an interception that landed in the hands of Kristian Fulton when Davis fell tripped while running a route), but instead recovered to post the best numbers of his infantile career. Wilson, most importantly, looked composed when Tennessee upped the pressure and moved around well in the pocket, primarily on the 53-yard scoring tally that allowed Davis his revenge.

2nd Star: DL Quinnen Williams

7 tackles, 2 sacks

The Williams brothers have flourished while working with each other and united to make NFL history on Sunday: united for three takedowns of Tannehill, they become the first fraternal pair to earn a sack in the same game since it became an official statistic in 1982. Quinnen has appeared to have rediscovered his pass rush groove, having earned 3.5 sacks over the last two games. Sunday was a particularly emotional experience for Quinnen and Quincy, as Sunday marked the Jets’ celebration of the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” initiative that raises awareness and donations for cancer battles. The two lost their mother to cancer as teenagers and met with survivors prior to kickoff.

1st Star: DL John Franklin-Myers 

4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack

When should the John Franklin-Myers Pro Bowl campaign commence: now or two weeks ago? Franklin-Myers got back on the sack ledger with a takedown of Tannehill in the first half and continues to establish himself as a premier pass-rushing threat. In addition to his sack, the former Ram had three further pressures and creating a full-scale invasion when the Titans lost some of their premier blockers to injuries. He dealt with some injuries himself, with the game stopping twice so medical examiners could get a look at him, but he wound up finishing the contest. Franklin-Myers is set to enter free agency this offseason; could the Jets have finally found a defender that they can convince to stick around for the long term?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets WR Denzel Mims will be active vs. Tennessee

The sophomore receiver is set to return to the New York Jets’ lineup after spending the last two games as an inactive healthy scratch.

New York Jets head coach announced on Friday that Denzel Mims will be part of the active roster for Sunday’s Week 4 contest against the Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Mims, the Jets’ second-round pick from 2020’s virtual draft, has not dressed in either of Gang Green’s prior couple of contests.

The announcement of Mims’ reactivation also came with the declaration that his fellow receivers, Elijah Moore and Jeff Smith, would miss Tennessee’s visit with concussions. Moore was removed in the late stages of last weekend’s loss in Denver while Smith was injured in a car accident on his way to the team’s Florham Park facility this week.

“Denzel will be active this weekend. He’s going to get (an) opportunity,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “Hopefully, he takes advantage of it, and we’re expecting him to. He’s stacked up a third consecutive week of great, deliberate practice. He’s really getting comfortable within the offense. We’re excited to see him get his opp.”

The status of Mims has been one of the premature subplots of the 2021 season. New York (0-3) upgraded its receiver corps with the services of the rookie Moore, Keelan Cole, and former Titan Corey Davis. The new arrivals partly contributed to Mims’ burial on the depth chart while Saleh also expressed concerns that the Baylor alum hadn’t mastered all three receiver positions and did not contribute on special teams.

Saleh said that the Jets were “comfortable” in using Mims on Sunday.

“It’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t even need to talk to the coach anymore,” Saleh said of Mims. “He’s just on the football field, he’s getting himself lined up and you’re seeing the speed and the athleticism that he has. So, just a matter of getting him those opportunities, taking it to Sunday and executing with his teammates and being the guy that we expect him to be.”

In addition to Mims, the Jets are also set to welcome back Jamison Crowder, who missed the first three games of the year after a bout with COVID-19. Crowder has been the Jets’ top receiver over the past two seasons. Defensively, Ashtyn Davis will return after missing the first three games on injured reserve with a foot injury that kept him out of the latter stages of his rookie season. Saleh said that Davis “obviously” won’t be fully available but expect him to work in rotation with Jarrod Wilson and Sharrod Neasman, who was likewise activated from the IR.

On the other side, Tennessee (2-1) will be missing some major contributors, head coach Mike Vrabel confirmed on Friday. Top receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones will miss the games with hamstring issues, while primary defenders Bud Dupree (knee) and Caleb Farley (shoulder) will also be missing. Punter Brett Kern (groin) is also out.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Who Ya Got Wednesday: New York Jets vs. Tennessee Titans

rob saleh, jets

In desperate need of a win, the New York Jets do battle with the defending AFC South champions and Corey Davis’ former employers on Sunday.

  • What: Tennessee Titans (2-1) at New York Jets (0-3)
  • Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
  • When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET
  • Watch: CBS
New York Giants, Corey Davis
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

Never mind the Jets and Titans; the real winner of Sunday’s tilt at MetLife Stadium is anyone blessed with the services of Derrick Henry on their fantasy football team.

Tennessee has recovered from an early slip-up by not only feeding the MVP candidate but giving him the gridiron equivalent of a six-course meal. Over the past two victorious weekends, the Titans put the ball in Henry’s hands a jaw-dropping 72 times, a count that includes a career-high 35 carries in Week 2’s overtime prevailing against Seattle. Shockingly, Henry’s opportunities may only increase against the Jets. Last week’s divisional triumph over the Colts was a costly one, as the Titans’ receiving corps could be missing both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.

While Henry prevents a literally massive challenge (6-foot-3, 250 pounds), defense hasn’t been the Jets’ problem. The unit has played well with the hands it has been dealt, evidenced by its NFL-best 33 percent touchdown rate in red zone situations (tied with Denver and New Orleans). But, as we saw against Christian McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers, the Jets’ respectable makeshift unit doesn’t have the firepower or experience to withstand an assault by a superstar player.

At this point, it’d be a mere win for the Jets to merely visit the end zone right now, having gone just over two hours of game time without scoring a touchdown. Tennessee’s issues on defense could allow the Jets to achieve that manageable goal but the prescience of Henry and lack of offensive traction continues to make an addition to the left-hand side of the standings column too much of a tall task.

Titans 26, Jets 10

Dylan Price

Last week felt like a chance for a turnaround. Expectations were low and the Jets had a chance to overachieve. Instead, they found a way to lower the bar yet again.

This week, the Jets take on the Tennessee Titans. The Jets offense was stagnant yet again in Denver and the game-plan has been pitiful the past two weeks. Zach Wilson has to take advantage of all his receivers, not just Corey Davis. The Titans’ secondary gives the Jets a prime opportunity to finally get things rolling. New York’s pass defense, which has been surprisingly good to this point, will have a strong chance to make plays this weekend as A.J. Brown and Julio Jones are out.

The Jets have a chance to win this game, but containing Derrick Henry will be the key to this game. I think they keep it close but ultimately the Jets lose a tight one.

Titans 24, Jets 20

New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Best of the Rest

Magliocchetti Price
Jacksonville @ Cincinnati (Thu.) Bengals Bengals
Carolina @ Dallas Cowboys Panthers
Cleveland @ Minnesota Browns Browns
Detroit @ Chicago Lions Lions
Houston @ Buffalo Bills Bills
Indianapolis @ Miami Dolphins Colts
Kansas City @ Philadelphia Chiefs Chiefs
NY Giants @ New Orleans Saints Saints
Washington @ Atlanta Falcons Football Team
Arizona @ LA Rams Rams Rams
Seattle @ San Francisco 49ers Seahawks
Baltimore @ Denver Ravens Broncos
Pittsburgh @ Green Bay Packers Packers
Tampa Bay @ New England Buccaneers Buccaneers
Las Vegas @ LA Chargers Chargers Chargers
Last Week 9-7 11-5
Overall 29-19 27-21

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the Buffalo Bills’ Week 4 fate in Las Vegas

Familiar faces in familiar spots came up huge for the Buffalo Bills, who hit the perfect quarter-mark jackpot in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas may have been too much for the Wolfpack, but there was no undefeated hangover for the Buffalo Bills.

Josh Allen threw for 288 yards and two scores, with 115 of those yards going to Stefon Diggs on six hook-ups. The defense also earned a pair of fumble recoveries en route to a 30-23 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in their first-ever visit to Allegiant Stadium. With the win, the Bills (4-0) are one of six remaining undefeated teams in the NFL after Week 4.

It was another big step for Diggs, who paces the NFL with 403 receiving yards alongside Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf.

“He plays so strong,” McDermott said of Diggs, per Issac Brekken of The Buffalo News. “He’s got the mentality and the attitude and it rubs off on our football team.”

A big play from Diggs is one of several plays that affected Sunday’s win and beyond, as ESM tracks down a big play from each quarter that affects the Bills’ present and future.

1st Quarter: Third’s the Word

Sunday’s matchup featured two of the NFL’s top five teams in third-down conversion rate. Through four weeks, the Raiders and Bills respectively rank third and fifth in the vital category and the two teams lived up to their strong reputation in the department on Sunday. The Bills went 7-for-13 on the down, while Las Vegas countered at 8-for-14 when they had the ball.

Buffalo had an early opportunity to show off that prowess. After converting two first downs on their opening set (including Josh Allen’s 26-yard score to Gabriel Davis), the Bills held a 7-3 lead but a tenuous 13 yards to go at the cusp of Las Vegas territory. Allen threw short of the sticks, but Isaiah McKenzie navigated through traffic to earn a pivotal first down. McKenzie’s elusiveness helped him reach the imaginary yellow line. But the Bills’ non-ball carrying skill players, namely Diggs, John Brown, and Devin Singletary got in the way of pursuing defenders to allow McKenzie the extra steps necessary to get the first.

Five plays later, another third down led to paydirt, as Allen found Cole Beasley from 11 yards out, giving the Bills a 14-3 lead in the early stages of the second.

2nd Quarter: Bitten By Witten

The sight of Jason Witten is one of the few remaining reminders of that classic, uncanny Buffalo choke in an October 2007 Monday night showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Witten came back to haunt the Bills one last time on Sunday, making his first touchdown grab in a Raiders uniform just before the end of the first half.

Witten’s score is part of what’s becoming a recurring problem in Buffalo: the struggle to cover the tight end. The four receptions for 74 yards between Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee last weekend only seemed pedestrian after Mike Gesicki had eight grabs for 131. So far, the Bills have been able to withstand the storm. But with a meaty part of the schedule looming…including a Thursday night tilt with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the defending champion Chiefs…they need to solve this problem sooner rather than later to keep the good times rolling.

3rd Quarter: 4th and Fun

Buffalo has climbed toward the top of the NFL standings and power rankings thanks to their continued willingness to take risks. That includes their situations on fourth down. Through Week 4’s games, the Bills are one of six teams with a perfect conversion rate on fourth down. Of that tally, they’re tied for second with three conversions (only Cincinnati has more at a perfect 6-for-6).

When Las Vegas cut down the lead to 17-16, it felt like they could permanently shift momentum with a stop. But Buffalo trickery, namely an end-around from McKenzie, got things rolling and put a major rut into the Raiders’ comeback plans. The Bills wound up punting on the drive…a holding penalty on the ensuing downs prevented any points…but it provided a strong message to the rest of the league that they’re not going to let fourth-and-short stop them. This is a team that’s willing to take the risks a great team is willing to take.

4th Quarter: Star Power

The Bills’ rise to power has been fueled by a sense of cashing in on opportunities. The biggest chance on Sunday came in the third quarter with the Raider breathing down their necks. Buffalo led 23-16 but stifled a counter when newcomer Josh Norman officially became a member of the Bills by forcing and recovering a Derek Carr fumble. It took only four snaps to cash in, snaps that allowed the Bills to showcase their marriage of homegrown and acquired talent. Allen hooked up with Diggs for a 49-yard gain, a leaping grab over Erik Harris that would set up a two-yard score from Devin Singletary that more or less ended any true Las Vegas threats.

The difference between good teams and great teams is that the latter group finds a way to capitalize to the fullest extent on every opportunity. That’s among the many reasons they’re among the remaining undefeated squads and ready to make the leap toward NFL elitehood.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills Game Preview Week 4: Las Vegas Raiders

The Buffalo Bills look to hit a 4-0 jackpot in Sin City, as they battle the Raiders in a Sunday late afternoon showdown.

What: Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas NV
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS

Las Vegas has a way of ending streaks of good luck. The Buffalo Bills certainly hope that isn’t the case when they make a visit on Sunday.

The Bills (3-0) look to keep the good times rolling in America’s Playground, as they prepare to do battle with the Las Vegas Raiders. Buffalo is one of seven undefeated teams left in the NFL.

That streak was kept alive by a gutsy 35-32 win over the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. The Bills earned a 28-3 lead by the middle stages of the third quarter, but Los Angeles fought back to take the lead in the fourth. Buffalo would avert disaster by embarking on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Josh Allen’s three-yard game-winner to Tyler Kroft. It was the last of Allen’s 311 yards and four touchdowns, while Kroft earned his second score of the day.

On the other side, Las Vegas (2-1) battles its second consecutive AFC East opponent after falling 36-20 to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium last weekend. Derek Carr threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in defeat. The Raiders return to Allegiant Stadium for the first time since their nationally televised win over New Orleans in Week 2 that opened the 65,000-seat facility.

The Series

This will mark the first time that the Bills will face the “Las Vegas” Raiders. They were 14-17 against the Oakland incarnation, and the Raiders lead the all-time set 21-20. Buffalo fell in their most recent visit to the Raiders’ organization in 2016 but won the last overall meeting when the then-Oakland Raiders visited Orchard Park a year later. LeSean McCoy picked up 151 yards and a score as the Bills earned a 34-14 decision.

History Happens: 1994

The last time the Bills played a Raiders team that wasn’t in Oakland came in the 1993-94 AFC playoffs. Down 17-6 to the Los Angeles Raiders in the late stages of the divisional round’s first half, the Bills enjoyed a touchdown from Thurman Thomas in the final minute. Despite a Bill Brooks touchdown from Jim Kelly and Steve Christie field goal in the third, the Raider took a lead into the final frame on an 86-yard connection between Jeff Hostetler and Tim Brown.

Brooks, however, came up big once more, earning another scoring grab from Kelly in the early stanzas of the fourth. Buffalo ran out the final six minutes on a lengthy final drive mostly sustained through runs from Kenneth Davis. Bruce Smith also became the all-time sack leader in NFL playoff history, passing Richard Dent. The Bills used the momentum from the triumph over Los Angeles to top Kansas City a week later before falling to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII.

They Said It

“Offensively, I think (Josh Allen) has a good grasp of what we do. We try to tailor things to his strengths as best we can, as a coaching staff. But he’s got other pieces that are helping. It’s a group effort.”-Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on the offense, per Chris Brown

“The quarterback is eye-opening. He is a fun guy to watch, man. He can really throw the ball. He’s got a great playing style. He’s got a lot of John Elway playing style. He can scramble, he’s strong, he’s tough. He’s a big-time player. And they’ve got an arsenal around him.”-Raiders head Jon Gruden on Josh Allen, per Josh Dubow

Matchup to Watch

WR Stefon Diggs vs. CB Trayvon Mullen 

Stefon Diggs was brought in to give Allen a big-play target. For all intents and purposes, the trade and taking on of Diggs’ big contract has been well worth it.

Through three weeks, Diggs ranks fourth in the league in receiving yardage (288), becoming the gamechanger the Buffalo offense was missing. Allen has an experienced, reliable catcher with a knack for coming through in big situations. It’s admirable what Allen and company have down with homegrown talent and journeymen, but Diggs is proving himself to be the missing piece that was keeping Buffalo from true contention amongst the NFL elite.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas will be without first-round rookie Damon Arnette for the foreseeable future, having undergone thumb surgery, Trayvon Mullen will take over a good share of secondary responsibility. The sophomore corner has been impressing in the Raiders’ resurgence, topping Pro Football Focus’ grades in pass coverage. He’ll likely be matched up against Diggs on Sunday, as each team faces a major opportunity to establish position in the AFC playoff chase at the quarter-mark.

“It’s going to be a challenge this week,” Mullen said of the showdown with Diggs in a report from Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun. “I know he’s top five in receiving yards right now, which makes me more excited to go against him. It’s going to be a competitive matchup. I’m excited and ready for it.”

The Bills Will Win If…

They don’t try to get too fancy.

The Bills are in rare territory where they have a chance to be 4-0 for only the ninth time in franchise history. Their strategy has been working. There’s no need to change for a game that has taken on increased importance. With the game between New England and Kansas City postponed at the very least, a brighter spotlight will be cast upon a game of two teams seeking football redemption. Las Vegas, after all, is known as the “Capital of Second Chances” by some.

Doubt still follows the Bills, but winning against an equally hungry team two time zones away would certainly send a strong message to the rest of the league, one that would eliminate more doubters. Buffalo also needs to acquire as many wins as they can, as a scary stretch of the schedule awaits. An October 25 reprieve against the Jets notwithstanding and depending on how the COVID testing processes work out, the Bills’ next games come against the Titans, Chiefs, Patriots, Seahawks, and Cardinals. As long as they don’t get caught looking ahead, that desperation should fuel them against the Raiders.

The Raiders Will Win If…

They shut down the Bills’ weapons.

Diggs has been making his catches. A 4-0 start is on the line. If he earns another 300-yard, two-touchdown game, he’ll forever go down in the same sentence as Steve Young and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to earn four consecutive such games. They did so against New Orleans, limiting an aging Drew Brees to short throws underneath and only one touchdown. The Week 1 matchup against Carolina even saw them limit to Christian McCaffrey to 97 yards on 23 carries, his longest carry going only 15 yards.

Buffalo has struck the next level in their development thanks to the arrival of Diggs and Allen reaching the next level of his development ahead of schedule. If Las Vegas can put even the briefest pause in those steps, they’ll be able to earn a big win of their own.

Prediction

The Bills are in a good place to reach the rare air of 4-0. A visit to Las Vegas provides several trap opportunities, but the sense of desperation with elite competition on the way could fuel them further as they work their way to the dangerous middle portion of their schedule. Additionally, the Raiders are still in a position where topping an undefeated squad is just a little too much to ask for at this point.

This matchup should be one of the more intriguing sights on Sunday with several other high-profile tilts postponed. A win here could be the difference between a division title and a wild-card berth. Right now, the marginal experience the Bills have in the big game department and their modern desperation could well serve as a vital difference in a game filled with implications beyond October.

Bills 27, Raiders 21

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 4: Denver Broncos

The New York Jets have an opportunity in primetime to earn their first win against the likewise-reeling Denver Broncos.

What: Denver Broncos @ New York Jets
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
When: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Watch: NFL Network

Thursday night will show just how badly the American public missed football, as two winless squads prepare to do battle in primetime.

The embattled New York Jets (0-3) return to MetLife Stadium on Thursday, seeking to end a streak of brutality against an equally woebegone Denver Broncos squad. New York and Denver (0-3) account for a quarter of the eight winless teams left in the NFL after three weeks.

Back at home, the Jets have been crushed by a combined 47-point margin over the last two weeks. The latest defeat was a 36-7 shellacking at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Their lone score was a 16-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Braxton Berrios in the first quarter, shortly before the Colts opened up a barrage on 29 unanswered points. Darnold threw three interceptions during the afternoon, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Denver has failed to live up to preseason expectations as an AFC darkhorse, partially due to injuries that have decimated the top of the depth chart. The Broncos likewise fell to 0-3 on the road last weekend, dropping a 28-10 decision in Tampa Bay. Missing franchise quarterback Drew Lock, the Broncos made a change at quarterback in the late stages of the defeat, sitting Jeff Driskel for Brett Rypien, the nephew of former Super Bowl MVP Mark. Rypien is expected to make the first start of his NFL career on Thursday night.

Thursday’s game will serve as a reunion for former bearers of orange Connor McGovern and Joe Flacco. McGovern played his first four seasons with the Broncos after joining them as a fifth-round pick in 2016, while Flacco started eight games in Denver last season.

The Series

This will be the 38th meeting between the Jets and Broncos, a series that dates back to the days of the American Football League. Denver leads the get-togethers by a 20-16-1 tally, but the Jets won the last one 34-16, also at MetLife Stadium. Isaiah Crowell ran for a Jets single-game record 219 yards on a mere 15 carries, the biggest chunk of that coming from a 77-yard touchdown sprint that opened New York scoring. Denver had won the prior three meetings, including a 31-17 win in East Rutherford in 2014.

History Happens: 1999

Ironically, the Jets and Broncos have squared off with matching 0-3 records before. Seven months after their meeting in the AFC Championship Game (a 23-10 Denver win), the loss of starting quarterbacks from that showdown brought about hard times in each locale. John Elway retired after riding off into the victorious sunset in Super Bowl XXXIII, while the Jets lost Vinny Testaverde in a Week 1 loss to New England at Giants Stadium. The rematch at Mile High Stadium matched Rick Mirer and Brian Griese.

Girdiron ugliness ensued, with Mirer, Griese, and another Denver thrower, Bubby Brister, uniting for seven interceptions. Victor Green and Marcus Coleman had two each for the Jets, who erased a 13-7 deficit in the fourth quarter on a two-yard scoring rush by Curtis Martin. Mirer provided insurance on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dedric Ward, while Coleman’s turnovers against Brister, each coming within the final four minutes, sealed the deal in a 21-13 Jets victory.

They Said It

“It’s wasted energy for me. It’s not going to help me at all. All I can do is make sure I get our guys in the right headspace to go out there on Thursday and play well.”Jets head coach Adam Gase on rumors his job could be in jeopardy, per the Associated Press

“I think no matter who we’re playing right now, we definitely need a win…that’s the main focus. The focus for me is just to try to get better these next two days. We’re not going to get a lot of reps full speed with the guys. It’s about the mental reps and making sure I’m dialed in on protections and things like that.”Broncos QB Brett Rypien on Thursday’s game, per Field Level Media

Matchup To Watch

Brett Rypien vs. Gregg Williams’ Defense

On paper, going up against Rypien, an undrafted college hero from Boise State making his first career NFL start seems simple enough. But, as they probably should’ve figured out by now, the Jets are in no position to take any opponent lightly, no matter his experience and resume.

The pass rush is coming off a tough weekend in Indianapolis, struggling to attack Phillip Rivers while dealing with the Colts’ experienced blocking unit. Facing the far younger, far more agile Rypien will be a change of pace, one the Jets must make as uncomfortable as possible for the debuting thrower.

However, this challenge could yet present a positive opportunity. Over the past couple of dreary defeats, it’s clear that the defense is also part of the Jets’ endless list of issues. Opening weekend’s lapses were understandable…the unit spent over 40 minutes in the field during Week 1 against Buffalo…but no one has been immune from football shortcomings in New York.

There have been plenty of individual silver linings. Marcus Maye had a strong debut as the leader of the secondary against the Bills. Quinnen Williams had his first multi-sack showing in the first game at MetLife. But it’s time to build some consistency. Going up against an inexperienced offensive leader…one who won’t have weapons like Courtland Sutton at his disposal…would be a strong way to do so. Williams can do his part in making Rypien miss his days as a collegiate Bronco by turning up the blitz.

The Jets Will Win If…

They take advantage of a team in more dire straights than they are.

Unlike the Jets, Denver had preseason accolades thrust upon them, energized by a strong conclusion to 2019 (7-5 after an 0-4 start, including a 4-1 stretch to end it). Injuries to several crucial starters (Lock, Sutton, Von Miller, A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey) and general inconsistencies have give way to a brutal start.

The playoffs are an afterthought, even after only three games, but the early de facto elimination grants them a macabre gift: the ability to play with little consequence and generally little to lose. They have to play like that, though. Barring a long to-go situation, there’s probably no reason to punt once the Jets get past their 40. Kicking field goals down 24-3 isn’t the way to do it either. There’s a rare opportunity here through the most morbid of must-wins, one that could potentially save the job of Adam Gase or several others. It’s a dire situation, but the Jets can feel a little bit better about the way things of gone if they take advantage.

The Broncos Will Win If…

They treat the Jets as they would any other opponent.

Each of the NFL’s 31 other teams can probably look at their situation and, no matter how dire it is, remark “at least we’re not the Jets”. But Denver is winless as well and are in no position to underestimate or disregard any opponents. It’s easy, perhaps, to let your guard down when one watches the New York film and sees lost efforts against San Francisco’s de facto second unit and a Colts team whose ceiling likely looms on wild card weekend.

One way to do that is not rely entirely on Rypien to win the game. Their matchup against Tampa Bay saw he and Driskel unite for 39 passes while Melvin Gordon received only eight carries. If Gordon is joined by Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos can rely on veteran rushing to help them get through a difficult primetime situation.

Prediction

Thursday’s game is perhaps the perfect storm for many in the Jets organization. While things are disappointing from a statistical standpoint in Denver, the Jets are in a position where a loss could lead to a sweeping change, one only exacerbated by the facts that they’re facing an equally desperate squad, haven’t played with anything resembling competitiveness over the first trio, and have ten days to prepare under a potential interim boss.

Desperation will be the name of the game on Thursday night, which will likely see strong ratings if only through nihilistic curiosity and internet meme potential (comparisons have already been drawn to the erratic presidential debate seen on Tuesday). At this moment, the Jets fit the description better. Denver, even with a plethora of medical woes, can still hang their helmets on the fact they’re relatively satisfied with their core. Time will tell how that desperation fuels New York in the future, but it well could be the key to temporary solace on Thursday.

Any given Sunday comes three days early. The Jets may be in dire straight, but dooming them to 0-16 is just a little too harsh.

Jets 17, Broncos 13

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags