The Jets' roller-coaster season ran into a buzzsaw of a defense at Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills neutralized the Green & White run game, won their matchups in the trenches and took rookie QB Zach Wilson to the turf eight times.
The Bills (11-6) for the second straight season won the AFC East title and are now looking ahead to the playoffs, while the Jets (4-13) begin to prepare for an offseason and April's NFL draft in which they hold two of the first 10 selections and four of the top 40.
"There were a lot of ups and downs, things that I want back," said Wilson, who was 7-of-20 passing for 87 yards and was the Jets leading rusher with 24 yards on 2 carries in the 27-10 loss. "I just started to feel more comfortable, I learned a lot of things -- chemistry with the team and the guys around me. I have to get them the ball and let the playmakers make plays."
The Bills entered the game as the No. 1-ranked team in total defense and the top defense against the pass. At No. 19 against the rush, the Jets knew they first had to establish their run game, as they had done in the previous few games.
"Obviously, they are one of the best defenses in football and we just couldn't run the ball," Jets HC Robert Saleh said. "It was tough sledding. Every time we got something going, their front was dominant."
Wilson, who ended the season by not throwing an interception in five games, put some of the onus on himself for at least a couple of the sacks. But bear in mind he did not have three receivers -- Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios -- available and Jamison Crowder (who missed several games with a calf injury) left the game after aggravating the same calf.
"There were two plays when I took sacks trying to make something out of nothing," Wilson said. "There it's my job to throw the ball away, play field position and give us a chance. Those are boneheaded plays on my end. I have to fix it and get rid of them. I have to learn from them and get better."
For all their struggles on offense in the first half, the Jets left the field trailing by only 13-7. In the first 30 minutes the Green & White had only 3 first downs (4 overall in the game), 69 total yards and ran 22 plays to the Bills 41.
In the second quarter, after a short Buffalo punt, Wilson took the Jets on a 4-play, 45-yard drive that came down to a fourth-and-5 play from the Bills' 40-yard line. From the shotgun, Wilson went through his progressions and connected with a streaking Keelan Cole across the middle. Cole broke free to score his first TD of the season.
"Keelan did a great job winning one-on-one, they had a safety in hole," Wilson said. "I trusted Keelan, put it [the ball] on his body, and he did a great job taking it all the way."
Though Wilson and the Jets finished their 2021 NFL season with two-straight losses, Wilson showed marked improvement after he returned from a four-game absence due to a knee injury. In the first 9 games, he had a 56.1 completion percentage, 6.1 pass yds/att, 8 total TD, 11 INT and 65.3 passer rating. In the three games prior to Sunday, he completed 59%, 6.5 pass yds/att, 4 total TD, 0 INT and an 86.8 passer rating.
See Best Images from the Final Game of the 2021 Season in Buffalo
In addition, the rookie from BYU improved directing drives, from averages of 5.2 plays for 25 yards and 12% TDs to 5.8 for 29 and a 20% TD rate. Wilson also rushed for 4 TDs, most notably a 52-yard TD scamper against Jacksonville.
"I don't look at this result in terms a plusses or negatives in terms of development," Saleh said. "Zach's development over the course of the year is spot-on. The things we wanted him to get better at, he's gotten better at.
"A couple of plays today, he was showing his progression, showing that the things he's been doing haven't been fluky. Being able to run the ball would've alleviated a lot of pressure, but when you're sitting second-and-11, third-and-11, that's tough sledding for anybody. We obviously ran into a bit of a buzzsaw with this Buffalo defense."
Wilson said that he plans to return home to Utah, at least for the early part of the offseason, and take some time to collect his thoughts. He said that 2021 was a whirlwind for him after completing his collegiate career, working out for teams before the draft, OTAs, training camp and then a long 17-game season.
"We're working for something more than just the now, we're working for something in the future," he said. "I have to go back, do a deep dive and see what I have to improve on, do my part and I will take care of it in time."
He added: "It's been a long year."