LB C.J. Mosley Gives MVP Effort; QB Zach Wilson Endures Tough Day Against NFL’s No. 1 Defense by Eric Allen & Ethan Greenberg
The Jets' 2021 season ended Sunday evening in Buffalo as the Bills clinched their second consecutive AFC East championship with a 27-10 win. The Jets finished the year with a 4-13 record while the Bills captured their fourth game in a row to run their mark to 11-6.
And while DT Sheldon Rankins and the rest of his teammates didn't get the redemption they wanted, they certainly earned respect the last two weeks. After taking the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers down to the wire in Week 17, the Jets pushed the Bills well into the second half before Buffalo pulled away to earn a home playoff game next weekend. The stats were lopsided in Buffalo's favor, but the Green & White turned in a gritty defensive effort that was worthy of January football.
Haack Job and a House Call
Maybe earlier in the season, the Jets would have got blown out of the stadium. They had been dominated in the early going and after entering the contest minus Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios, Jamison Crowder exited in the first half after re-injuring his calf.
But the Jets defense tightened the screws and then P Matt Haack gave the visitors a gift with a 21-yard shank. Zach Wilson made the Bills pay on a fourth-down blitz, hitting veteran Keelan Cole over the middle and the veteran was off to the races for his first score of the 2021 season. Wilson's 11th TD of the season covered 40 yards on the catch-and-run and it cut the deficit to just 10-7 with 3:51 remaining in the half. Despite not converting a third down (0-for-6) and getting outgained 236 to 69 in the first half, the Jets went into the break trailing just 13-7.
Following his four-game absence due to a PCL sprain, Wilson totaled 9 TDs with just three turnovers and he finished the season with five consecutive games without an interception. He was just 7-of-20 for 84 yards and was constantly under duress and was sacked a career-high nine times.
"I don't look at this result in terms of if it's a plus or negative," HC Robert Saleh said of Wilson's performance. "I think his development over the course of the year is spot on. I think the things we wanted him to get better at, he's gotten better at. I think he had a couple plays today where he was showing progression and showing that what he's been doing hasn't been flukey. Any quarterback when they face the pressure that they're going to face, it's going to be tough sledding. We could've run the ball better. Being able to run the ball would've been able to alleviate a lot of pressure. When you're living in second-and-11, second-and-12, that's tough sledding for any quarterback in this league. I'm not discouraged at all just because of this performance from our offense. I think our offense has done great things and obviously ran into a little bit of a buzz saw with this Buffalo defense."
Haack survived a woeful day that also included a failure to handle a snap, a subsequent recovery and a 7-yard punt in the third quarter. The Jets crept even closer when Eddy Pineiro nailed a 49-yard field goal with the wind at his back made it a 13-10 game. Pineiro, who signed with the Jets on Dec. 6, was a perfect 8-for-8 on field goals this season.
"We have to take advantage of our opportunities," Wilson said. "I have to play better, I have to do my job. I had some really frustrating plays on my end where I was just trying to do too much. Three-and-out, three-and-out and in my head I'm like, 'Make a play.' I have to just do my job. [Pineiro] makes a heck of a kick and we're fortunate to get three points there, but I put him in a bad situation there. I just have to keep doing my job and let the guys around me work, but it was a frustrating day.
"I think there was a lot of learning here from me in general to understand that when you try and do more than you're supposed to do, especially when the game is going the way that it is, sometimes it just makes it worse. As we got to the end here, it was about how could I handle what I have to handle and trust the guys around me. There was no quit from anybody, so some positives there. We're all going to get better from this."
Mosley Leads D' Final Statement
Jets Team MVP C.J. Mosley, who entered the game with a career-high 155 tackles, recorded his 11th game of double-digit tackles. He was all over the place leading the way again, registering 10 solo tackles in the first half and ended up with 13.
Josh Allen started hot for the Bills, but he went as cold as the Buffalo winter for long stretches. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who said in the lead-up to the game that Buffalo throwing deep late in a 45-17 rout of the Jets back in Week 10 had left a mark, led a unit that forced Bills' punts on seven of eight possession at one point. Allen finished 24-of-45 for 239 yards with 2 TDs and he also ran for 63 yards.
"It was just a matter of hunkering down and executing our jobs, winning some 1-on-1s and making it harder for the quarterback to throw the ball in terms of getting tighter with our windows and making the quarterback throw accurately in windy conditions," Saleh said. "We felt like because of the aggression in the way we were covering today, it made [Allen] throw perfect and in these conditions it's hard to do that. Really pumped up for the defense. I thought they played their absolute butts off. I know stats don't look like that, but if you watch the tape, it was tough sledding. We were out on the field a little while on defense and just couldn't get anything going on offense to give them a break, but really proud of the defense and the way it played today. Hopefully it's something we can take with us into 2022."
Run Game Discrepancy
In each of the previous two games, the Jets had rushed for 150+ sacks and allowed one sack. And after doing that in consecutive games for the first time since 2015, the Jets rode some momentum heading into Week 18 despite having backups at center and left tackle with Dan Feeney and Conor McDermott. But the Bills had the better of play at the line of scrimmage Sunday, limiting the Jets to just 48 yards on the ground while sacking Wilson nine times. Wilson's 20-yard scramble was the Jets' longest rush of the afternoon.
"I think there's a bunch of different variables," RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said. "I think playing together in a loud environment with cadence, silent, under, making sure we're all on the same page, that was a big part of it and it's disappointing to finish the season this way that's for sure. I felt like over the last few weeks we were building something. We have to learn from this and make sure we show up to OTAs and training camp with that mindset that we put up good numbers over the last six or seven weeks, but we have to close games. We have to find a way to score, get something going, make plays when it's important in the third and fourth quarter. Today we weren't able to do that."
Michael Carter added: "A lot of credit goes to Buffalo. They're a great team, they got it going on and we didn't execute the way we could've today. I'll have to go back and watch the film to see exactly, but I know we just didn't execute the way we could've today all over the field, all aspects of the game, all phases. We could've played a better game and we look forward to correcting that."
Conversely, the Bills amassed 170 yards on the ground, averaging 5.2 yards a carry. Devin Singletary led the way for Buffalo, churning out 88 yards on 18 carries including a 1-yard TD run in that put the game away in the fourth quarter.
The Jets inactives were RB La'Mical Perine, RB Austin Walter, OT Greg Senat, DE Jabari Zuniga, DT Jonathan Marshall, QB Mike White and CB Isaiah Dunn. ... Jason Pinnock and Elijah Riley started at safety while WRs Jeff Smith and Keelan Cole started on the outside. ... DT Quinnen Williams, RB Tevin Coleman and TE Tyler Kroft all returned to action after a stint on the reserve/Covid list. ... WR Jamison Crowder exited the game in the second quarter with a calf injury, which kept him out of the last two games. ... WR Tarik Black and OL Ross Pierschbacher made their Jets debuts after they were called up from the practice squad. ... The Jets started 10 rookies this season, tied for most in the NFL. They'll enter the offseason with nine draft picks including two in Rounds, 1, 2, 4 and 5 plus the fourth-most cap space under the cap projected at $60.9 million. ... RB Michael Carter had 19 yards rushing and was just shy of 1,000 yards from scrimmage (964) in Year 1.