ORCHARD PARK – So much for the Rex Hex. This was a night to Fear the Beard, as the one-time Bills fan favorite with the whiskers as thick as a hedgerow finally got the better of the bloviating coach whose reputation as a defensive wizard took another pounding.
Coming into this game, much was made about how Rex Ryan owned Ryan Fitzpatrick, winning eight of their previous nine matchups, including the 2015 season finale when Fitz threw three fourth-quarter interceptions as the Jets frittered away a win-and-in playoff opportunity.
But Thursday night in front of a national television audience and 70,256 spectators at newly named New Era Field, Fitzpatrick carved up the vaunted Bills secondary for 374 yards in a 37-31 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score.
To borrow an old line from a friend, Buffalo cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore couldn’t cover a sauce pan. Eric Decker (126 receiving yards) and Brandon Marshall (101) torched them, and the Jets dynamic duo almost was joined in the century club by Quincy Enunwa, who had 92 yards before leaving the game for good with an injury in the second half. Toss in 100 rushing yards by Matt Forte, 21 by Fitz and two by Bilal Powell, and you have a total of 493 yards of total offense.
And this on a night when the Bills retired the number of the greatest player in franchise history – Bruce Smith.
“They had our number tonight,’’ Gilmore said.
And here’s an even worse set of numbers: 0-2. That’s the Bills record just five days into the regular season. Teams that start 0-2 have a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs. And what makes Buffalo’s odds even more daunting is a schedule that has the Super Bowl-contending Arizona Cardinals coming to town a week from Sunday, followed by a trip to New England to face a Patriots team that appears quite capable of weathering the storm of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
In other words, the Bills might very well be looking down the barrel of a 0-4 start. And if that scenario unfolds, the heat on Rex will burn hotter than the core of a nuclear reactor.
The most disconcerting aspect of this loss was the ease with which Fitzpatrick, a journeyman, interception-prone quarterback, threw the ball against the Bills, and the difficulty their shut-down corners had shutting down the Jets’ big, physical receivers.
“We thought we could cover them,’’ Ryan said. “We thought we’d have a chance.’’
Instead they had no chance as Marshall, Decker and Enunwa beat Gilmore, Darby and several other defensive backs for ball after ball after ball. “They made plays and we didn’t,’’ sighed Gilmore. “We were in position, but they got their hands on the ball. I tip my hat to them. They really went after it.”
If you’re looking for a positive, the Bills offense played much better than it had in the opener when it mustered just seven points. Tyrod Taylor threw three touchdown passes, including an 84-yarder to Marquise Goodwin and a 71-yarder to Greg Salas. But the unit still lacked consistency.
The final totals of 393 yards and 31 points were respectable, and would have been good enough to win had defense made some stops.
The only big play by the Bills “D” came early in the third quarter when Nickell Robey-Coleman scooped up a fumble and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown that gave Buffalo a 24-20 lead. For the rest of the night, the Bills defense couldn’t make a stop; couldn’t get off the field as the Jets put together drives of 65, 75, 66, 77, 84 and 69 yards and dominated the time of possession, 39 minutes, 12 seconds to 20 minutes, 48 seconds.
And so, now, just two games into the regular season, the Bills find themselves in a pickle. It’s a place they’ve visited often these past 16 seasons.