It was the battle of the NFL's two rookie starting QBs, but in the second half it became a battle of the Jets against themselves.
The Jets prevailed.
We scored the 27-20 triumph over our long-time rivals, the Bills, at MetLife Stadium as Geno Smith led the Jets past EJ Manuel and company.
"I love the fact that our team found a way to win," said head coach Rex Ryan, whose Jets defeated the Bills for the fourth straight time at home and the seventh time in eight
meetings overall. "Take away all the other stuff. We persevered and we won. That is really encouraging to me. That tells you about the fight and the spirit of this team."
At first today was easy, then in the second half it got increasingly tough. But Smith's 69-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes with 9:23 to play took the momentum away from Buffalo and lifted the Jets, not the Bills, to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the AFC East.
Before the big pass, Smith and the Jets had fashioned a 20-6 lead on two first-half 80-yard touchdown drives and two Nick Folk field goals. Then the Bills got back in the game with two Dan Carpenter field goals of their own, then an 80-yard drive of their own to Manuel's 33-yard TD pass to TE Scott Chandler and his two-point toss to WR Stevie Johnson to tie things at 20 with 10:39 to play.
But six plays later Smith found Holmes for his longest pass play as a pro and Holmes' longest reception since 2007, past third-year CB Justin Rogers and the battered, beleaguered Bills secondary.
"Always, with the game on the line, the ball in your hands, that's the moment you live for, that's the moment you dream of as a kid," said Smith, who completed 16 of 29 passes for 331 yards. "You can't get caught up in the moment, you can't see it as that. ... But you always want to be in that moment and you always want to be successful. It was good to do that today."
"With Geno's poise, he can be as great as he wants to be," said Holmes, who had a career-high 154 yards on five catches. "His opportunity is definitely something that we're going to look forward to for a long time."
Finally the Jets defense, which was sharp against RB C.J. Spiller (10 carries, 9 yards, no receptions before leaving with an injury) and Manuel (eight sacks) for periods and then porous with many of the franchise-record 20 penalties coming on the Bills' fourth-quarter TD march, rose up again to stop Buffalo on its next-to-last possession as Manuel threw a fourth-down incompletion near midfield.
The Jets almost ran out the final 1:43, then new punter Ryan Quigley had his final punt on his first day as an NFL punter downed at the Bills 1 with 21 seconds left to virtually secure the hard-fought victory.
It was a trifecta day for the offense. Besides Smith's yardage (Manuel was 19-for-41 for 243 for the visitors). Bilal Powell rushed for 149 yards on 27 carries. And Holmes (5-154) and Stephen Hill (3-108) both had 100-yard receiving games.
It's the second time in franchise history that we've had at least one 100-yard rusher, one 300-yard passer and one 100-yard receiver in the same game, duplicating the feat achieved by RB Freeman McNeil, QB Ken O'Brien and then-rookie WR Al Toon on Nov. 10, 1985 at Miami.
Smith orchestrated those two 80-yard drives, one in each of the first two quarters, and both involved longballs to Hill, as we opened a 17-6 halftime lead.
The game's opening drive lasted 12 plays and 5:54. In the middle was a 45-yard completion to a wide-open Hill, and at the end was Smith's headlong 8-yard keeper for his first pro rushing TD. It was also the Jets' first opening-drive touchdown since Game 7 at New England last year and their first at home since Game 11 vs. the Giants in 2011.
"That's about as good as it gets right there," Ryan said. "It did set the table and did set the tempo for the game."
The Green & White hit the mid-first-half doldrums but it wasn't as costly as it could have been as the visitors from Western New York closed to within 7-6.
The defense was doing a solid job on Spiller, but then there was Fred Jackson, who broke free after being stopped for a 59-yard run — the longest run by an opponent in a Jets home game since Miami's Lamar Smith went for a 68-yard TD in the Monday Night Miracle in 2000 — to set up Carpenter's 37-yard field goal.
Then Smith tried to find Holmes deep but threw into double coverage and found former Jets S Jim Leonhard instead. With a Vlad Ducasse hands-to-the-face penalty tacked on after the pick, Buffalo began at the Jets 21, yet still had to settle for Carpenter's second field goal from 23 yards out.
Then came the next 80-yard drive, with the last 51 coming on Smith's longball for Hill, who got behind CB Justin Rogers for the TD and a 14-6 lead.
Finally in the first half, we got the ball back after a 3-and-out on our 34 with 43 seconds left before the intermission. A completion to Holmes, a 15-yard interference and a 9-yard Bilal Powell run, and the offense was back in Nick Folk's range. He banged in the 47-yarder at the final gun for the 17-6 lead.