BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images)
Sunday served as a seminal moment for the Jets. They showed that they have come a long way as a franchise despite an 11-year playoff absence that continues. They served notice that they can contend for the AFC East title. Most importantly, they have arrived.
You bet the Jets’ 20-17 win against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium was a signature win. They were a conversation on CBS’ The NFL Today after the game. With the young talent that the team has in place, there is no doubt this team can do good things now and in the future. This win validated what they accomplished by winning five of their six games heading to the bye week. This is a team that knows how to win now.
Don’t even call it an upset. In the NFL, anyone can beat anyone on any given Sunday. It’s what this league is designed for. The Jets have the talent to go out and beat the Bills to achieve that cliche.
On this given Sunday, the Jets displayed their talent in this victory. The Jets defense allowed the Bills only three points in the second half. They had Bills quarterback Josh Allen make only one big play, a late fourth-quarter throw to Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs. When the Jets needed a stop or a big play, the defense came through.
It was Jets No. 4 overall draft pick Ahmad Gardner that led the defense. He came up with an answer in the second half. With the Bills leading 14-10 with 5:36 to go in the third quarter, he intercepted Allen’s pass on 2nd and 17 from the Bills’ 22. The Jets parlayed that into a touchdown when Jets quarterback Zach Wilson threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to James Robinson, giving the Jets a 17-14 lead. It was the rookie that broke up Allen’s fourth-down Hail Mary desperation pass to Gabe Davis that put an exclamation mark to the ending of this game. It was he that rendered Diggs a nonfactor.
Gardner might have as well won the defensive player Rookie of the Year after this performance. He could be the defensive player of the year. He’s definitely going to the Pro Bowl this season.
He brings such a swagger to that Jets defense that it becomes infectious. He knows what he’s doing out there. For rookies, the game can be too fast for them. It takes time for players to develop as Jets quarterback Zach Wilson can attest. Yet, Gardner defies conventional wisdom and makes the game look so easy. He was born to play in the NFL. He has such great instincts and feel for the ball, and his timing is uncanny.
Young players can offer an emotional boost to a team, and Gardner provides that by showing he is made for the NFL. He is fearless by embracing the assignment of covering the best receivers. He is that Energizer bunny that keeps going and going. The Jets have a chance to win because of his play.
It has been a long time since the Jets had a defense that won the game on its own. They finally have a game-changer, and it starts with Gardner. This gives them a fighting chance every week.
Here’s the encouraging part of this win: Wilson showed he can be an NFL quarterback that wins games. This time around, he did not play hero ball as in forcing the issue. He was smart this time around by throwing the ball out of bounds and taking a sack when he had no chance to make a play. He kept the drive going often. He actually made some plays with Garrett Wilson catching some of his passes. He relied on Michael Carter and James Robinson to run the ball. He did not throw an interception against an elite Bills defense.
This is not to say Wilson arrived. But he showed improvement from last week. It showed by his play and the way he responded. If he can play like this, he will be serviceable and just maybe one day he can be an elite quarterback.
The Jets can make the playoffs with their defense and an efficient quarterback play. In a sense, Wilson is the wild card of all this. He can be either great or awful. On this Sunday, he did not have to be great, but he sure wasn’t awful to the point he cost the Jets the game. He gave the Jets a fighting chance by navigating them to a win.
The Jets coaching staff put on a great performance. Jets head coach Robert Saleh had his team ready to go from the start, and they did not flinch at all. Mike LaFleur had a great day and possibly his best day as a Jets offensive coordinator by getting Wilson to play to his strengths by running for first downs and utilizing Carter, Robinson, Garrett Wilson, Denzel Mims, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios.
This win against a Super Bowl favorite said many things about the Jets. They stood up to the bully by showing grit and resolve. They managed to get fans interested again by giving them a reason to believe in and be proud of. They actually are going to be relevant in November and December for a change after having their season over in September before the baseball season ended for most of the last decade. They are heading in the right direction finally at 6-3 in what is a competitive division. Hope has now turned into reality. The final eight games are going to be must-see TV here in the tri-state area starting in a couple of weeks when the Jets head to Foxborough for a rematch against the New England Patriots.
Going back to training camp, the players always believed along with the coaching staff and front office. Now, the fans are understanding why and they have brought in.
A win like this will only make the Jets and their fans wanting for more.
This writer can be reached on Twitter: @LeslieMonteiro6
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