The football floated in the air for a few moments, and Marquice Cole shot his head skyward, searching with his eyes for a big play opportunity. He caught sight of the pigskin as it began a downward trajectory. The special teams ace alertly made the catch, scoring a pivotal interception in the second quarter. But the punt gunner was hardly through, making the most of his chance to truly shine. He jetted thirty five yards toward the end-zone, converting the turnover into six momentum establishing points.
New York would take a 10-0 as a direct result of Cole’s efforts, and would not look back, eventually downing a beleaguered Buffalo squad by the score of 38-7.
Head Coach Rex Ryan was predictably boisterous after the victory. “We were able to accomplish a lot of guys getting rest,” said the second year Boss, making his second consecutive playoff appearance. “I felt great about the performance of an entire football team.” Unsurprisingly, Ryan was giddy about the tournament getting underway. “We’re ready to go… we’re not happy getting to the playoffs… They’re [opponents] gonna get my best shot.”
In addition to his superb tipping and receiving of the interception, Cole broke out an impressive touchdown dance, combing the archives of American culture and producing a Saturday Night fevered styled bit of choreography. It was a bit of joy expressed in a contest which ultimately did not matter much, featuring Mark Sanchez not even making a pass, and Kellen Clemens admirably scrambling for a fourth quarter score. After the game, Clemens was complimentary of a genuine mentor, Mark Brunell. “You know, it was neat. He was up, he was excited.”
Among the other Jets inactive players were the principal running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, joining starting safety Eric Smith and offensive lineman Damien Woody. It was Joe McKnight, the often maligned rookie, who performed impressively in the stead of the halfback starters, collecting 158 yards in his first career start. The Jets, in fact, had not produced a 100 yard rusher since way back in their week four matchup against these same Bills, when Tomlinson and Greene scorched the turf in Orchid Park. This time Buffalo was burned by McKnight. The target of criticism over his unfortunate bout of sickness during minicamp, which inspired slights against his work ethic, and an object of derision due to his place on the roster, especially following the expulsion of fan favorite Danny Woodhead, McKnight definitely flashed a tantalizing sliver of potential against a porous Bills run defense. When Woodhead became a genuine star with the archrival Patriots, McKnight became even more unpopular among the Green and White faithful. While this individual performance will not keep the criticism permanently at bay, it does display why the Jets possessed such belief in the former USC standout. “I feel like I still got more to do,” McKnight admitted afterward. “It was hard… but I feel good.” When asked whether he would be sore after such a long period of inactivity, McKnight replied, “I won’t know ‘till tomorrow morning, when I wake up.”
Other notable performances from this preseason sequel included Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. Edwards capped off an impressive campaign by catching 52 yard touchdown pass from the experienced, but rusty backup quarterback Mark Brunell. Edwards celebrated his end zone visit by mimicking Santonio Holmes’ signature airplane homage.
Brad Smith concluded another scintillating season with sixty yards rushing, notching a notable 12.0 average. For Smith, who performed even more impressively against the Bengals’ in last season’s finale, it was another showcase, exhibiting why he will be a highly sought after free agent following the playoffs, despite being slightly in the shadow of Edwards and Holmes, as it concerns an impending rendezvous with the free market.
Mark Brunell was not perfect by any means, providing the Bills with their only points on a poorly thrown; and terribly timed interception practically hand-delivered to Jairus Byrd at the start of the second half. The play seemed to temporarily galvanize the Bills’ sideline, before the Jets resumed work on a rare blowout. Brunell rebounded from the mistake, finding Edwards’ with that aforementioned bomb, his second touchdown toss of the afternoon. He had found Holmes earlier on a 17 yard needle thread through coverage.
The Jets defense was the star of the show. They did not allow an entirely overwhelmed Bills offense to notch an offensive point. Their starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was given the finale off, a precautionary measure in response to his knee injury. Brian Brohm, a former second round pick of the Packers, and a highly thought of signal caller while plying his trade at Louisville, got the start. Brohm appeared impressive early, firing off a few notably crisp passes, and assuming a comfortable posture in the pocket. He and the entire Bills offense appeared to disintegrate however, following Cole’s game changing pick six. Brohm was drilled by Calvin Pace on the play, unfurling a genuine wobbler. For the Jets, the leading tackler was the day’s hero, Marquice Cole, with six. Cole even scored a second interception during the Jets’ dominant fourth quarter. Cole later notched another interception, and just may have secured legitimate playing time in the playoffs, especially with the Jets now slated to play the pass happy Colts. Jason Taylor’s sack tied him with pass rushing icon Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list. Pace had his best game of the season, recording a sack and a rare interception. Overall, this was a satisfying afternoon for the Jets, but it must be recognized as a mere prelude to the excitement ahead. The Jets finish 11-5, and playoff football is on the horizon.
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