By Bart Hubbuch
January 3, 2016
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Rex Ryan exit the field together.Photo: Anthony J. Causi
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Rex Ryan kept the Jets out of the playoffs again.
This time, Ryan did it as the Bills coach, guiding his team to a 22-17 upset of the Jets that kept Gang Green out of the postseason for the fifth straight season.
The Jets showed up at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday with everything to play for. A win over the Bills, who were already eliminated, and they would be in the playoffs. But the Jets came out flat, falling behind 13-0, and their second-half rally fell short with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing three fourth-quarter interceptions.
“We just picked a bad time to have a bad game,” veteran linebacker Calvin Pace said.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak and ends Todd Bowles’ first season as head coach with a thud. The Jets finished 10-6, a huge improvement over last year’s 4-12, Ryan’s final season as Jets coach, but no one in the Jets’ locker room was looking for silver linings in the aftermath of the loss.
“We didn’t get our goals accomplished,” linebacker David Harris said. “There’s no moral victories in this league. We didn’t get the job done.”
The Jets played an uncharacteristically sloppy game. The offense struggled to move the ball early, going three-and-out on three of their first four possessions. The defense could not get off the field on third down, allowing the Bills to convert on 9-of-20 third-down chances. They had bad penalties, wasted timeouts and bad coaching decisions.
“I’m disappointed to lose the game,” Bowles said. “We had an opportunity and didn’t take advantage of it. We fought hard. We win as a team. We lose as a team.”
Jets owner Woody Johnson stopped briefly to speak to reporters outside the losing locker room.
“It’s a disappointing end of the season. That’s all I’m going to say,” Johnson said. “The players stuck together. They played hard. [We] just didn’t get it done up here. On to next year. We’ve got to be better next year.”
Despite a terrible start when they fell behind 13-0, the Jets stormed back in the second half. Fitzpatrick found Eric Decker for a 21-yard touchdown with 1:10 left in the third quarter to cut the Bills’ lead to 19-17.
The Jets then drove down the field on their first possession of the fourth quarter, marching to the Bills’ 14 when Fitzpatrick threw a killer interception in the end zone to Leodis McKelvin. The pass to Decker was a terrible decision from Fitzpatrick and play-caller Chan Gailey with the Jets in position to take the lead with a field goal.
“We know Fitz,” McKelvin said. “Fitz is going to be Fitz.’’
Fitzpatrick threw two touchdowns in the game to set a single-season franchise record with 31 touchdowns, breaking Vinny Testaverde’s 1998 record of 29. But it will be the three fourth-quarter interceptions that will be remembered from this one.
“I mean, it’s just not one person’s fault,” Decker said. “He’s had one hell of a year and if it wasn’t for him, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation. And a couple plays, it’s as on me as it is on him about getting in front of the DB and not letting him pick it off.”
After the interception in the end zone, the Bills drove down the field, going 56 yards in 13 plays and taking 6:54 off the clock before Dan Carpenter’s 42-yard field goal stretched the lead to 22-17.
The Jets took over with 3:49 left in the game and still had a shot. On third-and-9 from the Jets’ 45, Ryan sent a blitz at Fitzpatrick and Marcell Dareus beat D’Brickashaw Ferguson and drilled Fitzpatrick as he threw. The ball fluttered in the air and Manny Lawson intercepted it. The Jets got the ball back one last time with under a minute left. Fitzpatrick nearly hit Kenbrell Thompkins on a deep pass, but the ball fell incomplete when Thompkins was hit by Mario Butler. Fitzpatrick was intercepted again by A.J. Tarpley to seal the game.
The loss denied Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Brandon Marshall their first trips to the playoffs.
“It’s the hardest and most difficult end to a season I’ve ever had in terms of how I feel right now and how painful of a loss that was,” Fitzpatrick, who is scheduled to be a free agent, said. “At this point it doesn’t feel like a very great season.”
Fitzpatrick is now 1-8 against Ryan, who did not gloat about sweeping his former team after the game.
This is the fifth straight time the Jets have lost to the Bills. The Jets have not won in Buffalo since 2011.
Ryan’s players were thrilled with the win.
Ryan’s players were thrilled with the win.
“This was our playoff game,” guard Richie Incognito said. “This was big for us. Jets are a good football team and to keep them out of the playoffs was sweet. It was sort of our underlying message this week. Rex did a really good job of not making it about himself, about making it us playing them.”
This game and their mistakes will linger in the Jets’ minds all offseason. Why didn’t Chris Ivory, who averaged 13.5 yards on six carries, play more? Bowles said it was game-plan related. An offside penalty on Sheldon Richardson on fourth down, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Leonard Williams that put the Bills in the red zone, Darrelle Revis’ failure to stop Sammy Watkins (11 catches, 136 yards) — all of it will haunt them.
“This one definitely is going to sting all offseason and it will be hard to get over,” Decker said.
The Jets entered the day with a chance to make the playoffs even if they lost, but the Steelers’ win over the Browns ended that.
For Fitzpatrick, the journeyman turned Jets leader, he faces another January without the playoffs.
“We weren’t able to pull it off and my heart hurts so bad right now for all those guys in the locker room,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was a tough one.”