The winds were swirling around Ralph Wilson Stadium, making the high-20s temperatures feel like the high single digits.
The rumors were swirling around the Jets regarding who will stay and who will go once the 2012 season was concluded several hours later in Western New York.
Mark Sanchez, back in the saddle for the last game of the season, battled, as did the Green & White. But he also looked a lot like the QB who lost his starting job to Greg McElroy before last week's game. Sanchez threw an interception returned for a touchdown by LB Bryan Scott in the first half and couldn't generate a touchdown drive.
"We didn't play our best. We gave them a cheap one early. I stared down Kerley a little too long," said Sanchez. "In the first half we ran the ball really well, very effectively. We just didn't have that in the second half. We kind of dropped off there. Then we got in a situation where we were behind and trying to come back to win. We just didn't have it there at the end."
And the Jets, whose season looked in turns very promising, then very unpromising, then at least with a glimmer of a hope at the start of December, fell to their AFC rivals the Bills and RB C.J. Spiller, 28-9, at "the Ralph" this afternoon in a game only T.S. Eliot could love.
The Bills took firm control with 10:52 left in the game when former Jet Brad Smith, lined up as the Wildcat QB, kept up the middle for a 4-yard run to open their lead to 21-9.
It was the first time the Jets had lost to Buffalo in their last seven meetings and the first time on the road in their last five outings. It dropped the Jets to 6-10, their worst finish since going 4-12 in 2007. It improved the Bills to 6-10. The 19-point margin of victory was the Bills' largest over the Jets since they won, 35-7, at Buffalo in 1996.
"Six wins obviously isn't up to anybody's expectations for this team and certainly not mine," said head coach Rex Ryan.
One of the few bright spots: The Jets did not finish in last place in the AFC East, since even with the loss they held the common-games tiebreaker.
Another up note: Shonn Greene rushed for 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, getting that task done on his third carry of the day.
But all of that was cold comfort for the Jets and their fans as they head into Monday morning, baggie day, and the great unknowns surrounding the moves that owner Woody Johnson will want to make in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Losing Their Grip
The second half began with a promising development. C.J. Spiller, who had a 66-yard TD catch-and-run before the half, coughed the ball up on the first play of the third quarter when Mike DeVito forced the fumble and Yeremiah Bell returned it to the Bills 15.
But the Jets couldn't move the chains, then Marcell Dareus moved the line to block Nick Folk's fourth field goal try of the game, turning it into Folk's third blocked FG try this season.
Back came the Green & White after Buffalo's fourth punt, with Sanchez hitting Jeremy Kerley on a 40-yard go route against Aaron Williams to the Bills 32, a play that withstood a Chain Gailey replay challenge. But the Jets went backward on the next three plays and punted.
The Jets dodged a bullet when Rian Lindell's 50-yard field goal try faded wide left with 3:14 left in the third quarter, making him 25-for-28 against the Jets all time but 8-for-his-last-11 vs. the Green & White.
But another Sanchez turnover followed on the next play as Spencer Johnson, beating Austin Howard to the pocket, stripped No. 6 as he started to throw, with LB Nigel Badham recovering at the Jets 34. This time Lindell came on for a 46-yarder, which also was blown wide left by the 20-mph winds.
"I thought he gave us the best chance to win," said Ryan of Sanchez when asked if he considered inserting Tim Tebow into the lineup. "I know you guys love that answer, but that's the truth. I'm trying to win the game and that's it. If I thought Tebow would have helped us win the game playing quarterback or defensive tackle, I would have played him."
After Robert Malone's second punt of the day, Ryan Fitzpatrick took a shot from Muhammad Wilkerson that referee Terry McAulay deemed roughing the passer, and still completed the 37-yard pass to WR Stevie Johnson against Darrin Walls, making the play a 52-yarder in all and moving the ball to the Jets 28. From there the Bills moved to the 4, from where Smith ran in between his tackles for the Wildcat score.
Sanchez avoided turnover No. 3 when his arm was hit in the pocket by the blitzing Scott and the dying quail was intercepted at the Buffalo 37 by diving SS George Wilson, but the call was turned into an incompletion after McAulay's booth review. But the Jets turned it over on downs when Bilal Powell was stopped for a yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Jets 48 with 5:34 left.
Tashard Choice's 13-yard run off right tackle with 1:10 to go rubbed roadsalt into the Jets' wounds as they wound down their disappointing performance in the '12 season.
Familiar Feel to the First Half
Sanchez and the Jets offense kept mostly to the ground on the opening drive. Greene carried three times on the first four plays for 17 yards, thus clearing 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season. Sanchez handed off nine times and threw two passes that counted, both off-line incompletions, before Nick Folk came on for a 47-yard field goal to give the Jets a 3-0 lead exactly six minutes into the game.
The Jets' kickoff coverage team led the NFL with 27 inside-the-20 kicks but ex-Jet Brad Smith didn't cooperate on his first return, going 27 yards to the Buffalo 31. The Bills moved across midfield, then back on a hold on C Eric Wood, then ahead again before the Jets D stiffened to force a punt. That made it six straight games that the opponents hadn't scored a point on their opening drive. An omen?
Not a good one. Soon after Jeremy Kerley fair-caught Shawn Powell's punt at his 10, the Jets found themselves third-and-5. Sanchez dropped back and tried to find Kerley on the slant. Instead he found Scott, lying in wait, screened from Sanchez's vision, and Scott ran the pick back 20 yards for the easy six and a 7-3 Buffalo lead.
It was the first INT-return TD against Sanchez this season (although remember CB Brice McCain's 86-yard return vs. Houston in Game 5?) and the sixHth of his Jets career.
The visitors attempted to dig out of this sudden hole on their next drive. After Joe McKnight's 33-yard kickoff return, the Jets moved into Buffalo territory on third-down completions by Sanchez to TE Konrad Reuland and FB Lex Hilliard and a fourth-and-1 conversion by Greene. Then Bilal Powell burst off left tackle for 18 yards to the 9.
But they could get no closer than the 5 and they almost came away with no points when Folk's 23-yard FG try was tipped by Alex Carrington. But the kick fluttered just over the crossbar and bounced off the stanchion, slicing the Jets' deficit to 7-6 with 10:54 left in the half.
After the D's first three-and-out of the day, the Jets struck for another Folk field goal, this one from 28 yards out, to take a 9-7 lead with 3:49 left in the half. It wasn't easy, as a 33-yard middle-screen completion from Sanchez to Bilal Powell on third-and-6 was wiped out by Austin Howard's hold. So on third-and-16 Sanchez hit Kerley with a bubble screen that he took 40 yards to keep the field goal drive moving.
However, the Jets defense, playing well for most of the first half, got spilled by Spiller once again. Fitzpatrick hit Spiller with a short pass and the Bills' electric Jet killer read his blockers and sped away from defenders for a 66-yard catch-and-run to make it 14-9 with 3:21 to go.
The Jets couldn't get any closer in the half, although they made perhaps the prettiest play of the first 30 minutes when WR Braylon Edwards leaped over Williams, grabbed a Sanchez pass on the other side of Williams' helmet, then brought the ball back to his body and secured it before landing hard on the Ralph Wilson turf for a 19-yard catch.
"The biggest problem is we don't have an identity right now," said Edwards of the offense only weeks after he was claimed off of waivers from Seattle. "We're still trying to search for the 2009 or 2010 season. That season has passed. This is a much different team... We have to identify who we are. Once we do that, we can move forward."
Sanchez completed 17 of 35 passes for 205 yards and one INT for a 51.4 rating. He was sacked once. ... Greene finished with 74 yards on 19 carries for the game and 1,063 for the season. ... Kerley had 88 yards on three receptions. ... Jordan White made a 13-yard reception in the fourth quarter, making him the 22nd different Jet with a catch this season. That ties the franchise mark set in 1987. ... This was the Jets' third game this season in which they didn't score an offensive TD.
The Jets pressured Fitzpatrick but did not sack him as he completed 12 of 26 for 225 yards, one TD and no INTs and an 89.4 rating. ... Stevie Johnson had 111 yards — the only opponent with a 100-yard receiving game vs. the Jets pass defense this year — on six catches, while Spiller finished with 59 yards rushing and 72 receiving for 131 yards from scrimmage.
The Jets had a first-half possession time of 23:15, their most in a first half since they held the ball for 24:50 in their 2009 Game 16 "Win And We're In" triumph over Cincinnati. ... Buffalo had the yardage edge for the game, 334-332.
Folk went 3-for-4 on his FGs for the Jets' entire point production. He finished the season 21-for-27. ... Robert Malone hit a 61-yard touchback punt early in the final period, giving him at least one 50 punt in every game this season.