One touchdown after another, the New York Jets eased all those preseason concerns about their low-scoring offense.
With a whole lot of Mark Sanchez, a sprinkling of Tim Tebow and a dominant first-half effort by the defense, New York manhandled the Buffalo Bills, routing their AFC East rivals 48-28 in the season opener Sunday.
Rex Ryan passed on a chance to say, ”We told you so” to all of his team’s critics and doubters. So did Sanchez, and Tebow, too.
”Vindication, chip on our shoulder, maybe that’s not the right things,” Ryan said. ”We were just excited to play.”
And, they looked it.
Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, including two to rookie Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley had a touchdown catch and a punt return for a score, and Antonio Cromartie took one of New York’s three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the end zone.
”It’s a great win, there’s no doubt about it,” Sanchez said. ”But, we’ve got lots of work to do.”
That’s from a team – labeled by some a ”circus” for its penchant for making offseason headlines, namely acquiring Tebow – that had many wondering what to expect after the first-team offense failed to score a touchdown in the first three games of the preseason.
”It looked like we were making up for lost time there,” Sanchez said.
Added Kerley: ”We knew what we could do. We just showed the world today.”
There were plenty of touchdowns in this one for the Jets, who set the franchise mark for most points in a season opener on Shonn Greene’s late 1-yard scoring run.
”He definitely turned it on today,” Kerley said of Sanchez. ”I think there’s always a big target on Mark’s back and I think he likes it. He’s a guy we trust and know what he’s capable each week, and he showed it today.”
Sanchez had the offense humming along so well, the fans at MetLife Stadium actually booed Tebow when he failed to gain a yard when he took a direct snap in the second quarter. The video board quickly flashed a sign: ”Quiet! Offense At Work!”
Not everything went right, though, as the Jets allowed 195 yards rushing, including a career-high 169 by C.J. Spiller, and All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis left in the fourth quarter with a head injury. It doesn’t appear Revis has a concussion, though.
Perhaps the only other thing that went wrong came early in the fourth quarter when Ryan took a tumble when Scott Chandler knocked into him on the sideline after a catch. Ryan went down to a knee and then laughed as he got up.
The game marked the highly anticipated debuts of Tebow, who worked in the wildcat a little bit and also recovered a late onside kick by Buffalo, and Bills defensive end Mario Williams – who was a non-factor against a Jets offensive line that protected Sanchez throughout and gave him plenty of time to throw. Williams finished with just one tackle.
”As quick as the points got on the board, yeah, definitely,” Williams said when asked if he was surprised by what New York did. ”I didn’t think you would see that lopsided a turnover battle. They got them and we didn’t get turnovers on the defense.”
Sanchez finished 19 of 27 for 266 yards and the three scores and an interception, and was not sacked.
”They kept me upright,” Sanchez said of his offensive line, ”and that helps.”
Tebow wasn’t used that much by the Jets, but added a tricky element to the offense and finished with five rushes for 11 yards and didn’t throw a pass.
”After a little bit, we didn’t show too much,” Tebow said of the wildcat plays. ”We were able to get in there and have some efficient plays.”
Greene had 27 carries for 94 yards and the TD, and Hill had five catches for 89 yards.
Fitzpatrick was 18 of 32 for 195 yards and three touchdowns – to Chandler, Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones – and the three interceptions.
”We’re not going to go around like the sky is falling,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. ”I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to let them do that.”
The Jets opened the game to loud cheers as both Sanchez and Tebow took the field, with the backup quarterback lined up as a slot receiver. Three plays later, Tebow took the snap with Sanchez lined up at wide receiver and handed to Joe McKnight for a 3-yard run.
With the offense moving along, Sanchez took off running and tried to shovel a pass to Jeff Cumberland, who had the ball tip off his hands and right to Bills linebacker Bryan Scott. But the Jets got the ball right back a few minutes later when Revis stepped in front of Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for Johnson.
New York used its wildcat package a few times to get into the end zone on its next drive as Sanchez hit Kerley on a 12-yard pass for a touchdown.
The Jets’ defense stepped up again a few minutes later, this time with Kyle Wilson picking off Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for David Nelson, who later left with a knee injury.
Five plays later – right after Tebow gained 3 yards on a direct snap – Sanchez connected with Hill for a 33-yard score on the opening snap of the second quarter to put the Jets up 14-0.
The Bills couldn’t get much going on their next possession and weren’t helped by the crew of replacement officials. On fourth-and-1 from its 29, Buffalo was called for a delay of game penalty after the officials took a while spotting the ball. Several Bills players yelled at officials, to no avail, and it became fourth-and-6 from the 24.
Brian Moorman punted it 43 yards, and Kerley – zigzagging through tackle attempts – returned it 68 yards for a touchdown, putting New York up 21-0.
There was more bad news for the Bills on their next possession as Fred Jackson injured his right leg after a 7-yard run when he was tackled hard by LaRon Landry. Jackson stayed down for a few moments while he was checked by trainers before walking on his own to the sideline.
He walked around for a while before finally heading to the locker room, a towel draped over his head, with two trainers accompanying him.
”Fred doesn’t look as bad as David,” Gailey said. ”We don’t know how bad David is, but it doesn’t look good right now. We’ll get a further evaluation (Monday).”
Notes: Kerley’s punt return was the Jets’ first for a score since Santana Moss in 2004 playoffs at Pittsburgh, ending the NFL’s longest drought. … Jets CB Antonio Cromartie banged up his left shoulder and had it wrapped after the game, but said he’ll be fine. LB Bryan Thomas and WR Patrick Turner also left with hamstring injuries. … The Bills’ worst opening-game loss came in 1960, a 27-3 defeat against the New York Titans – the Jets’ earlier incarnation.